Poppycock politics in Guyana

Analysis by Rickey Singh

Wednesday, August 22, 2012    

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A strange political development took place two days ago in Guyana, where strange political occurrences have become the norm.

The Georgetown-based Caricom Secretariat released to the media on Monday morning a statement that, following "the unfortunate incidents surrounding the protests at Linden on July 18, 2012, which led to the deaths of three citizens of Guyana, the secretariat has been engaged with the Government of Guyana on a continuous basis..."

Further, that at the request of the Guyana Government (of President Donald Ramotar), Caricom "has recommended three distinguished Community nationals to serve on a Commission of Inquiry which is expected to probe and report on matters related to the events of that day..."

The three chosen Caricom nationals, said the secretariat, are Justice Lensley Wolfe, a former chief justice of Jamaica and current chairman of its Police Public Complaints Authority; KD Knight, a senior counsel who held the portfolios of national security and justice, and foreign affairs and foreign trade in the previous PNP Administration; and Dana Seetahal, senior counsel and former independent senator of Trinidad and Tobago, and a columnist of the Trinidad Express.

So far, so good. Hours later, on that same day, a scheduled meeting of representatives of the Government, parliamentary opposition and the Region 10 Council (that includes the bauxite mining town of Linden) was aborted.

The declared intention was to have, on Monday, a formal signing of the terms of reference for ending the month-long "Linden crisis" and pave the way for the work of the Commission of Inquiry to begin. So what happened?

Competing for support

The real reason perhaps resides in the ongoing competitive politics between the two parliamentary Opposition parties — A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), that includes the dominant People's National Congress, and the Alliance for Change (AFC) — for political support in Linden, which has been viewed as a traditional stronghold of the PNC up to last November's general election.

There have been variations in public political posturing between APNU's leadership and the Region 10 Council chairman on the terms of resolving the crisis in Linden.

The three killings of protesters on July 18 have been linked to police shootings and subsequent waves of arson and other criminal activities that have resulted in millions of dollars in losses and with the town's future now seriously jeopardised.

Significantly absent from last Friday's final meeting before the signing event scheduled for Monday afternoon was any representative of APNU's minority opposition partner, AFC. That, however, was not a surprise, especially to those monitoring the behaviour of the AFC's leader, Khemraj Ramjattan, a lawyer and defector from the governing PPP.

He had earlier admitted to involvement in "mobilisation" of protests by Lindeners against the Government's proposed phased hike in electricity tariff for eventual equalisation with the rest of Guyanese consumers.

That was the core issue and was still being used to literally fan flames, even after the Government had put the proposed tariff hike on hold and agreed to a general review of expressed social and economic discontent in Linden, for which the terms of reference and personnel for a special technical committee had been agreed.

However, as recently as August 10, the AFC's Ramjattan had told the local media of his party's rejection of any inclusion in the terms of reference for the independent probe into the killings of the three demonstrators who "may have organised, mobilised or promoted the protest on July 18..."

The harsh reality is that it is difficult to separate the tragedy of three deaths and the injuries suffered by at least a dozen protesters from the related incidents of July 18.

According to the sophistry of the AFC's leader, "even if Ramjattan went up there (in Linden) and organised the thing (the 'thing' being the protest), what's wrong with that? It is the exercise of a constitutional right".

What is most disturbing for Guyana's future political stability and social/economic advancement is not that the lawyer/politician Ramjattan could be so insensitive to the problems affecting Lindeners. Rather, that his self-serving platitudes could have succeeded in influencing the APNU, and, by extension, the PNC, into backing away from Monday's expected signing of the terms of reference for the independent commission of inquiry.

Consequently, there was the amusing scenario on Monday of the Opposition welcoming the announcement of the three distinguished Caricom citizens chosen for the independent probe, while still failing to reach consensus with the Government on the Commission's terms of reference.

As one well-known lawyer reacted when we spoke yesterday about this surprising development, "You simply cannot discuss text without context". Fair enough.

But the trio of identified commissioners for the coming probe, which has been in the making for more than a fortnight, may perhaps need to reflect on the implications of the poppycock politics in Guyana for more than Lindeners.

Currently it is manifesting in ongoing bartering between two opposition parties that together control a majority of one seat in the 65-member Parliament. The bartering involves more than painful political somersaults and is quite costly in its social and economic consequences for more than the bauxite mining town of Linden, which has a population of some 40,000.



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