No one is in any doubt that the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has a vested interest in the outcome of the Linden talks which took place on Tuesday. What they seem to overlook, however, is that so do a lot of other groups, and so, for that matter, does every citizen who lives in Linden, if not by extension, the nation. As we reported in our edition yesterday, when the meeting between the Region 10 team and President Ramotar convened at the Office of the President for dialogue on the Linden situation on Tuesday, the PSC turned up too. Mr Sharma Solomon, the Chairman of Region 10 told a press conference on Wednesday that he and his team had expressed appreciation for the role that the private sector played, but that they [Solomon et al] had agreed to a meeting with the President. As a consequence the private sector representatives left.
They were not happy about it. In a statement issued the following day, they indicated that the President had extended the invitation to them, so that issues relevant to the private sector could have formed a part of the discussions with Mr Solomon and his team. They went on to say that the Regional Chairman had been asked to ensure that other relevant stakeholders such as the Linden Chamber of Commerce, and representatives of the religious community were also invited, but that he had not done this.
This newspaper went on to quote the PSC statement as saying: “The PSC believes that in light of the repeated calls for open dialogue, impartiality and an independent presence in investigations and discourse, this was a perfect opportunity to involve non-political stakeholders in arriving at resolutions for the collective benefit of all those persons, citizens and entities affected by the events of the last two weeks. By their refusal to embark on discussions in the presence of the Private Sector, the Regional Chairman and his team have denied the citizenry this opportunity and by extension, have refused to take a holistic approach which addresses all of the issues at hand, for all of the people affected.”
Even if, for the sake of argument, it were to be accepted that it would be an advantage to have a variety of groups at the talks, just why, for example, did the private sector body limit itself to its Linden counterpart and religious bodies? As the Region 10 Chairman observed at his press briefing, if the PSC were there other stakeholders such as the unions would have had to have been there too. In any case, it is not as if everyone – including the Region 10 team – is not fully aware of the difficulties the economic sector is experiencing, and not just in the affected region. But then that is the whole point of the Linden protest and the blockading exercise; it is applying economic pressure in an attempt to get concerns addressed.
Exactly what “holistic” approach the PSC was talking about, or why it should have thought that any other approach would not address “all of the issues at hand” is very unclear. Everyone else in the nation has a good idea about what the issues are, because these have been spelt out by the people of Linden either directly or indirectly through their representatives. Exactly what the private sector wants to tag onto this list, other than repeating again how much the economy and business are being affected, cannot be divined. Ultimately, it is the government which has to respond, and everything hangs on exactly what kind of response from them can be negotiated. Once the blockade is lifted, then presumably the PSC’s interests would have been served, but there is nothing they can say now which will expedite that end.
Furthermore, in situations like these, the greater the number of disparate groups at a meeting, the less likelihood there will be of any kind of agreement. These talks are difficult and sensitive, and it is far better for the parties immediately involved to discuss directly without the input of others, or even their presence as observers; playing to the gallery is the last thing anyone wants at a time like this. In addition, if they are part of the ‘dialogue’ independent groups may have their own separate disagreements with one another which confuse the larger picture, or they may take the talks down paths which are at best tangential to the core issues.
And then there is the matter of what the private sector release called the need for “open dialogue, impartiality and an independent presence.” Open dialogue is simply not appropriate in some situations, and this is definitely one of them. Negotiations which are kept confidential until some kind of accord is reached is undoubtedly the way to go here, and it is to the credit of all parties involved that they declined to discuss the details of what took place at Tuesday’s meeting. The more people present at discussions of this kind, the greater the likelihood of leaks, and by extension, the effective sabotaging of outcomes.
As for “impartiality,“ an “independent presence” and “non-political stakeholders,” there is hardly likely to be agreement between the sides on who could be so characterized. Certainly, the PSC cannot expect to be so regarded outside government circles, and not simply because it was invited to the Tuesday meeting by President Ramotar. It appears to have rather a short memory about how its statements – and in the case of the November 28 elections last year, its actions – are perceived by the public.
Its four “pillars” for dealing with the issues at hand, included the objectives of “political and social stability” and the “economic development of Guyana.” These, it must be said, are not in dispute by anyone, but they are large, vague, generalized aims which in and of themselves contribute nothing meaningful to the current discussions. The third was “law, order and accountability for our actions.” In principle this would not be a problem either, except that the devil will lie in the details of any given situation, and since the private sector body hasn’t tagged on the importance of the rule of law to this, they open themselves to an interpretation that they may be in favour of a hard line in current circumstances. Their last pillar is their most honest: “Representation of the interests of the entire Private Sector, particularly the Mining and Forestry Sectors…“ Unfortunately for them, their recent approaches and statements in respect of the sectors they represent may not reflect the best of wisdom. In some situations, less recourse to statements and less insistence on being part of difficult discussions, are the recommended ways to proceed.