THE PRIVATE SECTOR COMMISSION SHOULD ANOINT ITSELF AS A GOOD OFFICER
The Donald Ramotar administration must be congratulated for agreeing to a Commission of Inquiry into this past week’s disturbances in the mining town of Linden, after initially only committing itself to a probe.
The leader of the opposition, Mr. David Granger, must be congratulated for risking his political future by meeting with the President and no doubt for pressing for a Commission of Inquiry which was readily agreed to by the Head of State.
Donald Ramotar is demonstrating that he is not inflexible. He is showing also that he is certainly willing to compromise. He has shown these tendencies ever since he took office. His willingness to make dialogue and political engagements productive can stand critical scrutiny. But then anyone who knows him personally will appreciate that he is good to the core.
The AFC must also be congratulated for meeting with the government. However the apprehensions with which it approached the engagement with the administration is not likely to be helpful. There may be some things that the AFC may consider as non-negotiable, but in times of crisis you cannot grandstand by imposing preconditions to any agreement. You have to speak first, and if in the course of those discussions your non-negotiables are not respected and you do not feel the need to compromise on these, then you can express your reservations and not sign on to the agreement. But to demand preconditions is highly presumptuous and counterproductive.
The AFC is a party of the middle class and will inevitably be aligned, like the United Force was in the sixties, to big business. The private sector in Guyana, however, no longer needs a political party to represent its interest. It has its own representative body called the Private Sector Commission.
The Private Sector Commission (PSC) has made its usual noises, calling for the parties to meet on the issue. This was similar to the call that it made following the impasse with the Budget discussions, when it conceded that the loss of over four billion dollars from the Budget could affect business. Then it said it was willing to play a role in promoting dialogue between the parties. There is no better time for the PSC to demonstrate its seriousness about this than now.
Despite the willingness of the President to willingly engage with the opposition parties, there remains a need for someone to help the sides to overcome differences that could lead to a breakdown of talks. There is also a need for someone to ensure that this process of engagement is permanent, because this is what the country needs.
For too long there has been a tendency for there to be talks, and as soon as major differences occur, for the talking to stop. Then it takes a major crisis, such as the one we experienced this past week, for the parties to sit down back together.
Perhaps, if the opposition parties had not soured relations with the government over their intractable and ill-advised positions taken on the Budget, we would not have created the vacuum that led to the terrible events of this past week.
What is needed therefore are ongoing discussions. The Private Sector Commission should anoint itself as a good officer towards this end. It should endeavour to bring the parties together so as to smooth out areas of conflict. The PSC should provide backup support to the process so as to avoid the situation whereby it is taking far too long for a draft terms of reference to be developed.
The terms of reference for the Commission of Inquiry into this week’s events should be wide-ranging. It should foremost seek to determine the circumstances that gave rise to the deaths of the three persons killed; it should detail and examine the circumstances surrounding the destruction of property in Linden. But it should also seek to examine the issue of the electricity tariffs that in the first place gave rise to the protests.
There is no need for the government to place this issue of the tariffs back on the negotiating table at the moment. Let the Commission of Inquiry make a determination as to the phasing-in of the increases.
By having these issues addressed by an independent commission of inquiry comprised of persons totally from outside of Guyana, the government and the public will have an impartial assessment of the decision that has evoked such problems in Linden.
The Donald Ramotar administration should not prevaricate on finding overseas persons to constitute the commission of inquiry. Such a commission will enjoy greater public confidence and allow for its opinions to be taken more seriously. To try to appoint locals to the inquiry team will also create mini-controversies which the country can do without at the moment.