Negotiations between government and opposition could become a norm if pursued in good faith

Dear Editor,

Two newspaper headlines read as follows:

‘“Only elections can break deadlock” Rohee tells Babu John commemoration’ (Stabroek News March 10, 2014); ‘“Government won’t go to polls over budget cuts” says Luncheon -signals negotiations with opposition’ (Stabroek News, April 24, 2014).

When these statements are taken together one is tempted to echo Marvin Gaye who famously asked “What’s going on?” Do they reflect a difference of perception between party and government? Is it the bad cop/good cop routine? Or is Chairman Mao’s prescription at work, “Let a hundred flowers bloom”?

When the statements are considered separately I am not enamoured of the first, which in my view contemplates the ‘wished for’ (changing the majority?). On the other hand, the second speaks to the ‘now’ and possibly to the future in a positive manner. Indeed the Luncheon pronouncement which references ‘negotiations with the opposition’ can be of great significance if applied beyond the particularity of budget cuts.

If pursued in good faith and with a sense of national purpose negotiations between government and opposition can become a norm of our governance practices. Such an outcome would, I believe, be widely acclaimed in and out of Guyana. Its achievement would however require recognition by all parties that successful negotiations often result from hard bargaining and compromise, and that compromise is desirable, even necessary. It is an honourable and wise course to follow.

An agreement reached recently between Russia and China is perhaps instructive. Commenting on the agreement President Putin of Russia said, “Through mutual compromise we managed to reach not only acceptable, but rather satisfactory terms on this contract for both sides.” (Stabroek News May 22).

In our case past experience and current attitudes point to formidable but not insurmountable constraints. For one thing there is a serious trust deficit between the governing party and those in the opposition. Without naming names there is too much of a Pavlovian reflex in resorting to the blame game and too frequent a recourse to political gamesmanship.

Trust has to be nurtured and built. It cannot be achieved in one fell swoop. No doubt our political leaders and others who are concerned stakeholders can advance confidence building measures and activities which will accelerate the elimination of the deficit. For starters, in my view, a dose of civility and respectful behaviour in and out of Parliament will help enormously.

The real question however is do our elected leaders have the desire and the political will to undertake this journey? Will they say so and do so? Will they succumb to the allure of negotiations and compromise? I am not sanguine they will do so but I hope they will.

Assuming they do, whenever their deliberations end with agreed courses of action these should be accompanied by prescribed means of implementation and means of monitoring and evaluation. The agreement between the government and Region Ten could have profited from the inclusion of measures along the abovementioned lines.

 Yours faithfully,

Rashleigh E Jackson

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