Making the bigger picture count Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
June 21, 2004

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RELATIONS between Government and Opposition in Guyana have never been very cordial. Leaders and top members of the PPP/Civic and the PNC/R get on well together at the individual, private level. When it comes to addressing public policy issues at the macro level, however, these acquaintances/friendships/colleague-ships (as fellow parliamentarians) fade in the shadows as these issues take on a corporate or party dimension.

Trying to determine why this is so isn’t a pleasant exercise. Neither, apparently, are promptings even by members of the international community for the country’s major rivals to make partisan interests play second fiddle to the bigger picture – the public interest.

Yet, as we’ve all been pleading, the resumption of the “constructive engagement” process is as desirable today as it was when Government and Opposition signed their Communiqué a year ago.

We’ve been re-drawn to this subject of inter-party dialogue by our observation of how the Government and Opposition of Trinidad and Tobago plan to address their own impasse.

Here’s an excerpt from the Trinidad Guardian on arch-rivals Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday acceding to the aspirations of the public for a joint approach to dealing with the scourge of crime and the issue of police reform in that twin-island Caribbean republic:

A close encounter behind the Speaker’s chair and congenial exchanges over tea were what it took to bring Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday closer to a meeting of the minds on the contentious police reform legislation.

The two leaders are due to meet this week, and hope stirs for a joint response to perhaps the sternest national challenge of the times.

Crime has jangled national nerves. The authorities’ failure to cope has led to public despair and spontaneous demonstrations and other gestures among local communities.

Expectations now rise for a fresh access of imagination and new resolve, if the parties can somehow be made to read from the same page of an anti-crime playbook.

The Manning Government holds that such a playbook already exists. Ministers repeatedly cite the UNC’s earlier endorsement, when themselves in government, of the three bills set for debate on June 29.

Over 30 months, the PNM, under two National Security Ministers, and working with two Police Commissioners, have come up with one crime plan after another. In his Budget address last October 6, Mr. Manning announced the creation of a special anti-crime unit headed by Army Brig Peter Joseph.

This topped a 12-point plan that included establishment of a “think-tank” on crime prevention and detection, involving former PNM, NAR and UNC National Security Ministers. Other points included expansion of the Cadet Corps, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Brownies and Boys’ Brigade to “engender discipline” in the schools, and “partnering with communities.”

The Prime Minister concluded by appealing to the Opposition to “support the Government in this exercise.”

Once again, the Government is throwing considerable resources into the effort of gaining Opposition support for a three-year old legislative project. But no accounting is offered for the Budget crime plan of eight months ago.

The public may assume that the October, 2003 plan, whose implementation did not critically need Opposition support, has not worked. By June 2004, then, the Government is falling back dramatically, if not desperately, on three bills dating from 2001, and is promoting them as “anti-crime legislation” to “rebuild” the police service.

Passage of those three bills does require Opposition support, so Mr. Manning is taking up Mr. Panday’s offer of face-to-face talks.

The Government hopes that, when these talks take place, the UNC will have been softened up by the advertising barrage, urging constituents to “contact your MP” and “let these bills pass.”

Yes, as the Guardian tactfully says, “It is a fond hope.”

We in Guyana remain optimistic that despite the barriers that separate them, the Government and Opposition of Guyana will soon resume their constructive engagement, making the bigger picture count.