Corbin withdraws from dialogue
-cites government intransigence and Gajraj affair
Stabroek News
April 1, 2004

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Leader of the Opposition, Robert Corbin last night announced his party's disengagement from talks with President Bharrat Jagdeo and pressed again for shared governance.

Up to press time last night, there was no response from the Office of the President on Corbin's decision.

Corbin, also the PNCR leader, is now calling for a process which includes the parliamentary political parties and civil society in discussions of urgent and critically important national issues.

He also reiterated his party's stance on a call for a public inquiry into the death squad allegations against Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj, pointing out that the allegations of state-sponsored terrorism, if true, go to the core of democracy and good governance.

Corbin is the second PNCR leader to have withdrawn from dialogue in recent years with Jagdeo because of dissatisfaction over progress. The late PNCR leader Desmond Hoyte had also pulled out of talks with the current President. Following Hoyte's passing, Corbin was elected leader and began a new round of talks with Jagdeo.

The end of the Constructive Engagement process

In an address to the nation aired last night on CNS Channel 6, HBTV Channel 9, VCT Channel 28 and Channel 67, Corbin said, "President Jagdeo by his behaviour, (Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger) Luncheon by his pronouncements and the government by its dilatory performance have already constructively disengaged the PNCR and brought the constructive engagement process to and end."

He said that whether the government will honour the agreements reached during the period the process was alive "is now a matter for Jagdeo and the people of Guyana."

"That a Government can be allowed to behave this way indicates that unless the governance issue is settled Guyana will be moving towards anarchy and decay," the PNCR leader observed.

He said that based on the PNCR's recent experience with the constructive engagement process, his party "will not engage with the President on the same basis as before." The situation in our country, he said, "demands that we must establish a much wider, broader and deeper starting point."

Corbin acknowledges that there would be difficulties in how such a consultative arrangement is designed.

"We will have to find ways of involving those, including religious bodies, which are genuinely concerned about: the rule of law; the business environment; the protection of workers' rights; the contributions of service organisations and other NGOs; the conditions in our hinterland communities; and how gender issues are being addressed." He said that his party has some ideas of how such a mechanism might be structured so that its processes make sense and its results are practical and capable of being implemented.

Why the PNCR has disengaged

As for the reasons why his party has taken the decision to disengage from the discussions, Corbin accused the president of propagandising the constructive engagement process "as a noble gesture by President Jagdeo to display inclusivity and good governance."

He also accused Jagdeo and the PPP/C's official and unofficial propagandists of seeking "to mislead the Nation into believing that the issues dealt with in the Communiqué are as a result of the President's generosity."

He said that an examination of the "matters agreed in the (May 6, 2003) Communiqué will reveal that almost all of those matters caused the PNCR under the leadership of the late Desmond Hoyte to withdraw from participation in the National Assembly for about 14 (fourteen) months because President Jagdeo and the Government consistently and deliberately failed to implement them, albeit they were requirements agreed to by a wide cross-section of Guyanese groups and organisations in the Constitution Reform Commission process of 1999."

Corbin referred to the case of the state-owned media, about which he said the consensual recommendations of the Joint Committee on Radio Monopoly and Non-Partisan Boards should have been enshrined in a National Broadcasting Act - the draft of which should have been laid in the National Assembly four (4) months from May 1, 2003, establishing a National Broadcasting Authority.

Instead, Corbin said the "President and his representatives have produced a distorted and totally unacceptable draft which has been the subject of deliberate protracted discussions."

In addition, Corbin said, "the issue of Equitable Access to the State Media by Opposition Parties has been subjected to the usual stalling tactics, in spite of an agreement on the guiding principles for giving effect to this."

Corbin noted too the government's lack of urgency in the area of public procurement where he says there is "concentrated and entrenched corruption." He said after months of discussion, his party is "still awaiting the submission of the changes agreed to by the Attorney General for conversion into amendments to the Act. He also blamed the "PPP/C's dogmatic position for appointments to the constitutionally mandated Public Procurement Commission," which he describes as being "clearly intended to create a highly politicised rather than a technically competent Commission as required by the Constitution."

He said that current efforts to renege on commitments and undo implemented decisions have not escaped his party's attention. He cited the PPP/C's announcement that it would not be bound by the recommendations of the Disciplined Forces Commission because the PNCR had nominated Professor Harold Lutchman to replace Irish human rights activist, Maggie Bierne who resigned after the commission presented its interim report. The PPP/C had said that since Dr Lutchman had appeared as a witness before the commission he should not be a commissioner.

Another example he said was the government's "undermining of efforts to equip the new Parliamentary Committees to enable them to function effectively."

He said that it "is evident that the statements by the President that he is open to continued engagement could not be serious and appear more hypocritical when compared with their actual performance".

The Gajraj Affair
Dealing with the allegations against Gajraj, Corbin accused the government of being unresponsive to the concerns of the people. He said that despite claims of the existence of a democratic process in Guyana, "the President of our Nation and the Government can comfortably ignore all of these calls and feel no obligation to respond. And as if that were not enough, the President himself, in a recent TV interview, described the death squad affair as 'a tiny issue'."

He observed that a "a basic tenet of democracy, the right to life is being routinely and systematically violated by the PPP/C Government and Jagdeo considers it a tiny issue. "Guyanese must now judge the value which the President places on the life of each citizen. It is therefore not surprising that the perpetrators of this crime feel comfortable with the beastly process of recruiting young men who are victims of Guyana's economic circumstances, turning them into killers, and finally eliminating them when they have served their purpose."

Also he asserted that there could be no doubt that the scourge of death squads in Guyana has undermined the democratic process and the social contract with the people had been fundamentally breached.

"Unless the issue of good governance is addressed, the democratic process in Guyana will also be dead. The people of Guyana must now take a stand. We must say to Jagdeo and the Government: Thus far and no further. We must be prepared to struggle and fight with all the weapons at our disposal within the law and the Constitution to protect our fundamental right to life."

Corbin contended that the state of terror that now pervades the land impacts directly on the free will of the people and observed that it could affect people's right to choose a government of their choice.

As a consequence he said that he is calling on "all Guyanese irrespective of ethnicity to stand up and be counted. This is not a partisan, political issue."

Speaking directly to his party members and supporters, the PNCR leader urged them to "resist at all costs or our future is doomed' and that they must "remember at all times that the PNCR rejects all forms of prejudice and discrimination based on race, colour, gender, religion, age or disability". As such, he said, "we need to promote and continue to promote respect for basic human rights. We must condemn all violence whether economically or racially inspired and we must resist all attempts to promote ethnic conflict at this time."

Calls to civil society and international community
Corbin also called on the church and trade union leaders to act "as well as Guyanese overseas to give their support on this issue as well as the international community, both financial institutions and governments to bring whatever pressure is necessary to bring the Guyana Government to its senses."

But he said that in the interim his party would continue its selective and gradual non-participation in the National Assembly, other Parliamentary processes and state-sponsored activities.

Policy of de-recognition
He also reiterated his party's position that Gajraj has lost any authority to be recognised not only by the PNCR but also by all Guyanese. "The response from the government, Corbin said, "will determine our continued tactic of further de-recognition" and he hoped, "it does not reach the point of de-recognition of the entire government."

He said that his party had commenced a series of countrywide meetings at which it was briefing the Guyanese people about his party's intended actions.

He warned too that the PNCR is also examining the invocation of international quasi-judicial and judicial mechanisms for bringing those who have unleashed state terrorism on Guyanese people and have departed from the universal principles of the rule of law.

Corbin said that sufficient time had been given to the government to act in a proper manner in the Gajraj affair and to implement the decisions of the Communiqué. "We are persuaded," he said, "that Guyana cannot move forward until we resolve these matters and fundamentally reverse the breakdown in the rule of law."

Shared governance
In reiterating his party's call for shared governance Corbin said that the present political system has failed to protect from incompetence and corruption in government.

Corbin stressed that the "new system of governance must include all groups in the highest forums of national decision-making including those within the PPP who are of like mind."

He said that the issue of governance must not be confused with the ability to win an election, but with creating conditions for all Guyanese to prosper, explaining that though the PNCR "is confident it can win the next elections under any system", Guyana's history has shown that winning an election alone does not guarantee good governance.

National and Local elections
The PNCR leader urged all Guyanese to aim at building and achieving a just and truly representative system of government based on decision-making at the lowest practical level, effective and functional parliamentary institutions, freedom of information and public accountability."

He noted the talk about elections in 2006 and much more talk about Local Government elections before the end of 2004. However, he said that despite his party's best efforts "we have failed to reach agreement with the Government on the system for these elections and to determine the necessary operational actions that would ensure that the quality of these elections subscribes to the principle that decisions will be taken by citizens in their various villages, townships and communities."

About the 2006 general elections he said that there has been no progress in implementing in a timely manner, the recommendations of the Constitutional Reform process with respect to whether the electoral system in the 2001 elections is appropriate for elections in 2006.

"We have also made public our position with respect to the Voters List. Action on these matters needs to be placed on the front burner immediately after the death squad and governance issues are resolved", Corbin asserted.