The National Interest
In the wake of the end of the 2012 budget process in parliament – which saw the Opposition make unprecedented and decisive cuts in the government’s proposed spending – President Ramotar made an address to the nation. In critiquing the Opposition’s actions that he deemed to be ‘motivated by a desire…to score cheap political points”, the President made two very important commitments to the citizens of this country, including specifically, the Opposition.
He promised that his government actions would be defined by the “national interest” and secondly, that he was committed to “dialogue”.
As we have emphasised before in this space, this newspaper can envisage no other lodestone to guide our ship of state than the “national interest”. While it may appear to be self evident, this stricture is more often ‘honoured in the breach than in the observance’, as politicians pander to the gallery to ‘score cheap political points.’
Whether they like it or not, the people of this country, last November, converted politics in the foreseeable future into a ‘three legged race’. One leg of the opposition that controls parliament has been tied to one leg of the government that controls the executive. The race to develop this country, to which all the parties give at least lip service, will only be run successfully if the two participants cooperate.
The Opposition, unfortunately, has announced explicitly that it is adopting a partisan posture in its actions. Mr. David Granger, leader of APNU and of the Opposition in parliament, has declared, “We will continue to work for our supporters because we will use the leverage we have gained this evening to go back to the government and continue talks until we get what we want.”
This will not do: while on the surface it might appear ‘reasonable’ for political leaders to try to satisfy their constituents, the total is not always the sum of its parts. At any particular time, actions for the long term national interest might have to be taken against a particular community’s interest in the short term. The ‘national interest’, a true patriotic leader will have to explain to his ‘supporters’, by definition eventually redounds to the benefit of all communities and constituencies.
And in this spirit, the President’s second commitment is crucial: to have ‘dialogue’ with the people and Opposition. We have noticed, on the other hand the opposition’s insistence on using the term ‘negotiation’ to describe their engagements with the government. There are crucial distinctions between ‘dialogue’ and ‘negotiations’ or even ‘discussions’.
As one facilitator of dialogues pointed out, “”Dialogue means we sit and talk with each other, especially those with whom we may think we have the greatest differences. However, talking together all too often means debating, discussing with a view to convincing the other, arguing for our point of view, examining pro’s and con’s. In dialogue, the intention is not to advocate but to inquire; not to argue but to explore; not to convince but to discover.”
To have a dialogue however, one must be able to clearly articulate the principles that underlie ones actions: not being able to do so leads to the not unreasonable suspicions that one’s actions are ad hoc at best or opportunistic at worse. Dialogue will not be possible in such circumstances.
From this standpoint we have been disappointed by the publicly accepted inability of the Opposition to arrive at a coherent, consistent position for their cuts on the budget. Without such agreement on a common platform, there is always the danger – which became the unfortunate reality on several instances – of the opposition parties ‘outbidding’ each other.
In such a scenario it is not even a ‘three legged race’ that our political leaders are trying to run, but a ‘four-legged’ one in which the two putatively ‘united’ opposition parties are pulling in opposite directions. Guyana is even more guaranteed to lose in such a race for our development. We exhort the Opposition to rise to the challenge of the President and be prepared to dialogue for the national interest.