– knocks Jagdeo call for trust
With the renewed push for power sharing being dogged by questions of trust, PNCR leader Robert Corbin plans fresh consultations to build consensus among national stakeholders on the need for a new system of governance.
“Executive power sharing is necessary and we believe that it should be taken down to all levels of local government so that they could become very important institutions for harnessing the energies of the people rather than having the polarisation that has troubled the country for the last fifty years,” Corbin told reporters on Thursday, a week after renewing calls for shared governance.
The PNCR’s position is informed by its original blueprint on shared governance, which was birthed out of the recognition of the need for all stakeholders to decide on an appropriate approach to institute a change in governance. However, it is unlikely to be wholeheartedly embraced by the governing PPP/C, which has said trust is a prerequisite to any talks, while other opposition parties have favoured an arrangement that would be initiated at the local government level.
Last week President Bharrat Jagdeo said his attempts to get greater cooperation between the political parties “unravelled” in the wake of the leadership challenge within the PNCR and suggestions that Corbin was “too close” to the government.
“Utter rubbish,” Corbin said, in reaction to the Jagdeo’s comments. “I have never heard so much hypocrisy all my life.” He stressed that internal problems within either party could not affect the discussions and noted that even up to their last meeting last year, shared governance was on the agenda. He further stated that problems within the party are of recent vintage, thereby casting doubt on the credence of the President’s claim. “The PNC is a political party that will put its house in order; he [the President] should not bother with that or try using it as an excuse,” he said. “Let him deal with the infighting within the PPP for who will be the next president.”
Jagdeo also said building trust is a prerequisite to greater collaboration between the parties–a point that Corbin poured scorn on. “If you have trust you would not have any need for shared governance,” he declared, while citing the examples in other countries.
Acknowledging the polarisation inherent in the country’s politics, he added that there is now a marked absence of trust and a lack of confidence in the current governmental configuration because large sections of the population feel alienated and discriminated against by the administration. He used the recent flooding of communities along the East Coast to illustrate the situation, pointing out that feelings of alienation permeate villages like Golden Grove, Nabaclis and Victoria when they can point to differences in the treatment of infrastructural works when their villages are under water and neighbouring ones are not. In this context, Corbin said the failure to address the inequitable treatment could lead to violence as has happened elsewhere. “It is my view we should try to avoid confrontation…,” he said, “And as responsible leaders try to deal with the problem before it reaches that stage.”
Corbin also sought to dismiss the view that lingering questions about his leadership of the party and the opposition could undermine the push for shared governance. Calling the issue bigger than the personalities of the political parties, he said it is entirely dependent on the endorsement of wider society. He stated categorically that neither he nor the President could force the issue and he said one of the reasons for the delay in the shared governance talks that was scheduled was Jagdeo’s failure to convince the PPP/C executive to get on board.
He added that the National Stakeholders Forum that was constituted in the aftermath of the Lusignan and Bartica massacres last year was an opportunity to build consensus on the issue. Last March national stakeholders held special security consultations after the massacres, in which 23 people died. They reached several key agreements, including a decision to expedite the outstanding constitutional commissions within a 90-day timeframe, but so far none of the agreements have been implemented.
As a result, Corbin said the government “squandered” another opportunity to make shared governance work. “There has to be the will to find the solutions to the problems which face our country,” he added, while suggesting that some of the internal problems that have beset the PNCR might be the reflective of “a growing impatience with the intransigence of the Jagdeo government and perhaps feelings that another course of action must be followed.”
With a view of mobilising support for shared governance, Corbin is planning renewed consultations with key stakeholders, including political parties as well as civil society organisations. “All of them need to be on board and one has to forget the illusion that the problems of the country can be solved by just elections alone,” he explained.
While advocating power sharing arrangements at all levels of governance, Corbin is cynical about suggestions that it would be meaningful to begin at the lowest level of local government–the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC)–which could be used to test the concept and build trust among the parties. A few years ago, WPA co-leader Dr Rupert Roopnaraine had proposed the formal abolition of the 65 NDCs to be reconstituted as Interim Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (INDCs) to serve until the next local government elections are held. He conceptualised INDCs as organs constituted equally from governing and opposition parties with joint co-chairs. Although the idea received a lukewarm reception by the PNCR, both the AFC and GAP-ROAR have indicated their interest in a power-sharing arrangement that would begin at the local government level, out of recognition of the need to build trust and to empower the people.
But Corbin is unconvinced. “To start at the bottom and then go up in a system that is non-functional would be a waste of time,” he said, while pointing out that it is currently a struggle to reform the local government institutions to ensure they reflect the constitutional demands that people be in charge of the communities. He added that if any “superficial” governmental structure were thrust upon the local government apparatus, the system would still be vulnerable to interference from the Local Government Minister as well as discrimination in the way resources are allocated to the various NDCS and village councils. “It will make a mockery of any shared arrangement you have because the political directorate at the centre will still direct the manner in which [allocations are made] and it will make the [system] non-functional,” he said. Ideally, he envisages a shared governance arrangement that could be institutionalised at all governmental levels at the same time. “[But] I can’t see it working if you have an arrangement only at the bottom while the political directorate at the top is uninfluenced by collective thinking,” he explained. “It may more work if you have shared governance at the top, so that the ideas of everyone are brought to bear on the institutions below.”
At the invitation of the Social Partners civil society grouping, the PNCR presented its original blueprint for shared governance in 2002. It conceptualised a cabinet comprising all the major parties and the re-introduction of a non-executive head of state appointed from the party with the largest popular vote. The blueprint included proposals for proportional representation, as determined by periodic national elections, to be used to fix each party’s level of involvement in the national government. It also noted the need for predetermined structures and procedures to be enshrined in the constitution or in any multiparty agreement to facilitate decision-making by consensus and to resolve disputes in the national executive. It was envisaged that the larger the margin of victory of the winning party, the fewer would be the inhibitions to the exercise of its powers in the multiparty executive. And in order to prevent foot-dragging and undue delays, the design of executive and legislative decision-making processes would incorporate decision deadlines beyond which special mechanisms would be triggered.
The proposed governance system was also to have mandated the participation of the public and civil society in national decision-making and expressly provide mechanisms for the economic empowerment of the disadvantaged.