Logjam as usual
June 13, 2004
Guyanese politics is in the usual logjam. It has often been remarked that the local population is weary of politics; however, at this stage in the proceedings, exhausted might be a better description. Both major parties, of course, must take responsibility for the current situation. Through a combination of misjudgment, mistrust, misunderstanding and intransigence, they have created yet another of those tangles which are so difficult to unravel. Only this time, civil society, such as it is, doesn't have the energy to make even a feeble attempt at intercession.
Of course, the governing party had a unique opportunity to move the situation forward, only they miffed it. They were given the golden gift of a concession from the PNCR on the matter of the death squad inquiry, and they turned their backs on it. It was not, of course, made directly to them, but it was an important concession to their constituency nonetheless. This was the agreement of the PNCR within the context of the People's Movement for Justice (PMJ) to include the events of the post-jailbreak period in the terms of reference of any proposed commission of investigation. As it is, we now have an inquiry centred only on the Minister of Home Affairs, without any probe of either the Buxton 'criminal enterprise,' or the larger issue of the genesis of the death squad.
This concession did not have to be wrung out of the PNCR; the PPP/C got it free gratis, so to speak. It was therefore a huge face-saver for the government which would have made it infinitely easier for them to adopt a bi-partisan approach in setting up the commission. Had they gone this route, they would have cut the proverbial Gordian knot.
And why didn't they opt for this? They have argued that constitutionally speaking the head of state is not required to consult the opposition when setting up a presidential commission - a legalistic argument, one might have thought, which would have done the late Forbes Burnham credit.
However, the fact that they are not legally required to consult, does not mean that they shouldn't; and in this case, politically speaking they most certainly should have done so.
It might be noted in regard to the narrow terms of reference of the inquiry that the President was reported as commenting that if they had included post-jailbreak events, it would have gone on for too long and become political. Well, hardly. What could be more political than a commission investigating your Minister of Home Affairs? In addition, by widening the scope of the inquiry the scrutiny potentially falls on both major parties, not one.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the government did not want an inquiry in the first instance, and now it has been forced to accept one, it has ensured that it has limited the parameters - something it could not have done if it had been obliged to consult.
It is particularly unfortunate that there is no provision in the terms of reference for witness protection, for example, or possible in camera hearings in some circumstances. The sketchy framework under which the commission is authorised to operate, is not exactly a formula guaranteed to unearth anything useful about the period 2002-03, concerning which the public has so many unanswered questions.
As it is, after the government decided to proceed on a unilateral basis, questions were raised about whether Mr Crandon, who has been named by the President as one of the commissioners, could actually take up the position for constitutional, or perhaps conflict of interest reasons. Had they consulted in the first place this would not have happened. However, one still has to ask why it is that the President is prepared to entertain criticism about Mr Crandon's appointment raised first by the Guyana Human Rights Association, but not criticism raised by the PMJ (which the government incorrectly sees as simply an arm of the PNCR).
The answer, it seems, is contained in an interview with NCN's Mr Dwayne Fowler in May, when President Jagdeo was reported by GINA as saying, "We pander too much to the PNCR and they play it deliberately as a strategy to get donor support because they promise to disrupt and not participate and this is how they become relevant. They then get attention... and it encourages them to further take intransigent positions." It was a revealing statement. In other words, the PPP/C subscribes to a species of dominoes theory: make no concessions (even when presumably, as in this case, the main opposition has made one and/or when there is a rational basis for doing so) because otherwise the PNCR will cause disruption in order to get even more concessions. So much for all the talk about dialogue.
Now all of this does not mean to say that the PNCR should not be in Parliament; quite the contrary in fact. That party's absence from the National Assembly is its contribution to the political tangle. By operating outside Parliament it is not representing the interests of its constituency, it is not representing the interests of the nation, it is not putting in the work necessary to improve the functioning of the institution, it is undermining its own stated position that it wants a better-functioning democracy, and it is giving the government a wholly justifiable reason to say that it is still not playing the democratic game by the rules.
Exactly where we go from here is not immediately apparent. The ideal is for the PPP/C to use the delay occasioned by questions over the propriety of Mr Crandon's appointment, to hold consultations at some level with the parliamentary opposition over other aspects of the commission of inquiry; and on the other side, for the PNCR to show good faith by returning to Parliament. Will those things happen? The prognostications are not good.