CALM, NEGOTIATIONS, AND A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
Those three persons who were killed on Wednesday in Linden during a protest demonstration did not have to die. It is so terrible and heartbreaking to think about what has happened and the pain and suffering that their families now have to endure.
And for what reason? What was the cause that led to their deaths? What were the circumstances that resulted in them being shot and subsequently to the unwarranted destruction of property?
The cause of the protestors was untenable. The protestors were agitating against the reduction – not the removal – of a subsidy that was applied to electricity and which would have led to a phased increase in rates. In terms of dollars and cents and using the average household consumption for the rest of the country, the increases would not have been prohibitive.
Yet Lindeners found themselves out in the streets calling for the impossible: that there should be no increase at all. This was an unreasonable request.
There was no way that any government would continue to allow one community to pay $15 per kilowatt hour while the rest of country pays over $50 per kilowatt hour. This was an untenable situation, just as untenable as the unreasonable stance taken that Lindeners could not afford any increase.
How could any reasonable government accept this intractable position, especially considering the high per capita subsidy, and the fact that the average household consumption for electricity in Linden is three times the national average?
That large numbers of Lindeners found themselves on the streets, has to do with the intractable positions adopted by certain leaders within the community. It was these leaders and others in the political arena who forced the scuttling of the agreement between the government and APNU over the tariff increases.
There was agreement reached, and it would have seen the increase being phased in and being complemented by development commitments to the people of Linden.
Even after the talks failed, and with it hopes for a consensus on the 2012 Budget, the PPP said it was still willing to honour the agreements made but not consummated with the opposition. So why then was it necessary to take to the streets to ask for the impossible: no increase at all?
After the first round of protests, Lindeners were made to believe that they had power in their hands. They were misled into thinking that somehow they could force the government to not increase the tariffs at all because Linden was the gateway to the interior.
This suggestion which was put to the people of Linden that somehow they could cripple interior traffic was the first salvo that went astray. The people were being pointed in the direction of confrontational politics when there was hardly an attempt at reopening negotiations.
The doors to any such discussion were further closed when some leaders insisted that Linden could not afford to pay anything more. Reason was being spurned for grandstanding.
And with the Congress of the main opposition party only days away, the grandstanding took on a different dimension, because there were those who were keen to use the people of Linden to secure their political fortunes at that Congress. Being in the limelight of the struggle would boost the standing of some leaders at the Congress.
The people of Guyana – all the people- have to understand that you must be careful which leaders you follow. There are some leaders who will take you to glory, but others will take you to the gallows and to the grave.
What happened in Linden last Wednesday should never have happened. There was no need for confrontational politics. The people were being misled into believing that by shutting down the town they could force the government to withdraw the planned increases. That cannot happen. The rest of the country will not accept such discrimination when it comes to application of electricity tariffs.
The protestors should also never have been in a situation whereby they had to block any bridge. No peaceful protests impede the rights of others. You can have a show of force without causing any disruption. Unfortunately, too often in our country, protestors have felt that their point would not be heard unless they engage in illegal conduct such as blocking thoroughfares.
The police had to act to clear the blocked bridge. That blockage was illegal, but the circumstances under which the police acted needs to be clarified, and this can only be done through the appointment of a commission of inquiry into the incidents of last Wednesday.
The circumstances that led to the deaths of those persons need to be investigated by an impartial probe team headed by someone from outside of Guyana.
Even before the police explained its side, the online media in reporting the clashes – and the media houses who were at the protest all day – had indicated that the police were attacked.
If this happened then something went radically wrong with the protests. If the police say to you to move, you must move. If the police were attacked they would have been within their rights to defend themselves.
However, there is concern as to whether they defended themselves in the only way possible and whether less lethal force could not have been used. The answer to this question is dependent on the circumstances under which the police came under attack, if indeed they were attacked.
Already we are seeing some media houses retreating from that version, but that is not anything strange in this politicized country.
The first step, therefore, in resolving this issue, has to be a call by all concerned for calm, and a willingness to reopen negotiations that were closed off after the failure to reach consensus on the Budget.
The second demand should be for an independent commission of inquiry. This should be headed by a jurist from the Caribbean and there should be public hearings.
Unless these initial actions are taken, the situation will only get worse, and the working class will find themselves being misled again and again by those who have their own agendas.