A welcome return
February 24, 2003
The highlight of Wednesday's marathon sitting of the National Assembly was, of course, the return of the PNCR to Parliament after an absence of nearly a year.
Another positive aspect was the behind-the-scenes discussions by the PPP/C and PNCR MPs to try to clinch an agreement on a compromise motion. In the end it failed to deliver the goods but nevertheless the effort epitomises the essence of healthy political interaction which the country has seen too little of in recent years.
Beyond these two positives, there was little else to celebrate. The session began at the Ocean View Hotel Convention Centre at 2 pm and the debate on the motion reached its end a staggering 12 hours later. As the MPs wended their way out of the stand-in parliament chambers bleary-eyed and buffeted by the political rhetoric, they too, must have wondered whether it was worth it.
It was painful to hear and read of speaker after speaker on both sides of the house trotting out the same well-worn, set-piece arguments that dull the senses and add little to the advancement of the political culture and the debate on very serious issues like crime, the power crisis and the moribund bauxite industry. There were some glimmers of hope but as is often the case the two sides had diametrically opposed views of the state of affairs in various sectors and who was responsible for it. At the end of it all, few members of the public would say that the mega debate had improved the situation. For some it had only made things worse. As the political behemoths manoeuvre in the breathing space created by the passing of the PNCR leader and the election of a new one they have been led back to the scene of some of their most bitter confrontations and on Wednesday they feasted for hours on it.
Both parties must show greater innovation and deft footwork. Mr Corbin scored points when he forwarded the motion for consideration at Wednesday's sitting and the PPP/C reciprocated by agreeing to the suspension of the Standing Orders. It was clear from the outset that the matters contained in the motion were too many, too complex and too contentious to be deliberated on in one session. Moreover, many of these issues would have required the input of the President and discussions at Cabinet level. There were also some elements of the motion that would not have been accepted and both sides would have had to exhibit flexibility to achieve the desired outcome.
The best solution would have been to have an exchange in Parliament on the issues, agree to an adjournment and then reconvene once further negotiations had taken place between the two sides and the required consultations done with the President and Cabinet. It required this kind of preparation and it would have sent a powerful message had both sides been able to agree on how the power crisis should be handled and signal unanimity in their condemnation of criminals still wreaking havoc on the East Coast. In the end it failed because the nature of the debate doomed it to failure.
Attempts towards political reconciliation and normal parliamentary life should not be allowed to deteriorate into an endless talk shop and aimless verbal sparring. We must make optimum use of every ounce of goodwill and windows of opportunity. The format of Wednesday's debate made this impossible.
The focus must now be on a meeting between the President and Mr Corbin and the attendant expectation that the two can break the gridlock by compromising on issues like the membership of the committees and the allocation of seats to the various parties. Based on the experience of the Jagdeo/Hoyte talks and their subsequent collapse, there is definitely a need for third party monitoring in any future dialogue of the implementation of decisions and whether good faith is being shown. No one wants to see the continuation of the acrimony and instability that followed the unravelling of the political dialogue last year. The country anxiously awaits the convening of a meeting between the President and Mr Corbin.
The army is in a very difficult situation having to buttress the police force and perform patrol functions in an unstable part of the East Coast. That said, its performance continues to be unacceptable and raises numerous worrying security dilemmas. On Friday, as disclosed in an army release, five men with AK-47 rifles were robbing a mini-bus when an army patrol arrived in the area. The bandits opened fire on the patrol and fled. The patrol returned fire and one of the bandits was injured on the arm. The patrol pursued but, according to the army, was impeded by villagers of Friendship who put themselves in the line of fire between the soldiers and the bandits. Astounding. It tells a lot about the scale of support for bandits in Buxton/Friendship but it doesn't explain how the army bungled. How could the army be deterred by a group of villagers? Coming after residents of Annandale had to rescue a kidnapped boy while soldiers let his abductors flee to safety it is unpardonable. Why didn't the army mobilise reinforcements to pursue these men having had them in visual sight? After all, these were men with AK-47s. Furthermore, why didn't the army arrest the entire lot of villagers for aiding and abetting dangerous criminals? The army surely knows it has powers of arrest and transferral to the police. It did this with the Good Hope trio. Does Camp Ayanganna have a follow-up press release?