Impressive progress
Stabroek News
May 5, 2003

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Friday's long-awaited meeting between President Jagdeo and Mr Corbin heralded an impressive array of agreements which had been made possible the night before during an exhaustive meeting of their emissaries.

First and foremost, the PNCR is back in Parliament where it should have been all along and the Parliamentary Management Committee and the sector committees are now on the verge of being operationalised. There has also been agreement on the enquiry into the operations of the police force and the Ethnic Relations Commission has been accorded an auspicious launch. Both the government and the PNCR should be congratulated on these agreements.

There had been little doubt that the differences between the two sides on questions such as the composition of the parliamentary sector committees and their size were easily surmountable once there was reasonable dialogue. The crucial ingredient missing for nearly 14 months in the calculus was trust and the political will to get the job done. Amid the 14-month stalemate, criminals and extremists occupied the vacuum created to sow terror, murder and havoc. It is a signal lesson to our political parties that their inaction and indifference could have dire consequences. Those criminals and extremists are still out there. Their space may now be smaller and their purchase less firm as a result of Friday's dramatic developments. But let there be no mistake about it, the criminals and the extremists lie ever more furtively in waiting, waiting for failure of these political agreements to renew their vigour.

So, the President and Mr Corbin must do their utmost to ensure that their fullest efforts are deployed to match the expectations that people now have for a constructive engagement of their parties in and out of Parliament. A previous attempt failed comprehensively and disastrously. The dialogue initiated between President Jagdeo and the late PNCR leader Mr Hoyte promised much in the early rounds of meetings and there was great optimism. Then all of a sudden the entire framework of discussions collapsed and there was a fundamental loss of confidence between the two leaders. If the government, the PNCR and other interest groups are asked today for the reason why the talks foundered there will be diametrically opposed views on what transpired. There is no capital to be made now in trying to prove points and to establish where the blame for the failure lay. What is critical here is that the talks now underway between President Jagdeo and Mr Corbin must not fall victim to the same weaknesses that doomed the earlier instalment.

As pleased as the Guyanese public will be that their leaders can conduct talks in an atmosphere of bonhomie as was evidenced by Friday's encounter, the average man/woman in the street will not lulled into relying on the goodwill of their leaders alone. There must be a neatly structured dialogue which, while it may be conducted behind closed doors, is placed fully in the public domain with the endorsement of both sides. The agenda, the various decisions taken or instructions given should be monitored by a credible group which has the ability to do this and the confidence of both sides. The public's interest in this renewed engagement at the political level must be taken seriously and not trifled with. It is hoped that today's continuation of Friday's meeting will address this issue and hopefully the social partners will be in a position to assist in the formulation of a monitoring mechanism.

There must also be a dose of realism and truth about the anticipated fruits of the dialogue. The talks cannot be a remedy for every problem in the country neither can it provide overnight solutions. The country faces a serious human resources deficit and is plagued by the inability to get things done. Whatever decisions are agreed or pursued by the two leaders must be framed with this caveat in the backdrop.

Regardless of its limitations, once the dialogue is in good faith and good intentioned it will improve relations between the parties - and their constituencies - and create that much needed quality of trust to invigorate the significant steps now being taken.

And there is much that can flow from the initial steps taken. The Parliamentary Management Committee will give all parties some say in the manner that the business of parliament is run and the agenda is set. The Ethnic Relations Commission can play a seminal role in the dispelling of ethnic insecurity and adjudicate over matters that cause offence or injury to one person or group by another. The parliamentary sector committees can play a major role in influencing official policy by mobilising expert opinions and providing insightful critiques of the government's performance in these areas. All of these engagements can help build participatory democracy and the sharing of governance if the opportunities are grasped wholeheartedly. Future meetings between the two leaders will open up more vistas in the political landscape but caution must also be exercised to ensure that the undertakings do not overburden an already weak bureaucracy.

For parliamentarians and the dialogue committees to adequately and competently discharge their mandate they require resources to visit all parts of the country, convene discussion groups, do research, compile reports etc. Hopefully the leaders will address this issue in their ongoing discussions.

One of the issues which supporters of both leaders will hope that they focus on today is the continuing crime rampage and Buxton's role in it. This single issue must have the leaders fullest attention and the required law enforcement action must have their blessing.

Friday's developments have provided cause for optimism and hope. The leaders and their parties have much work to do to realise the great expectations.

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