Address To The Nation Hugh Desmond Hoyte, S.C.

Fellow Guyanese: I accept it as my duty to speak with you at this time of crisis in our nation. It is important that you have a clear vision of the truth and the path that lies before us. This is not a time for platitudes, rhetoric or empty posturing. If Guyana is to have any realistic hope of a prosperous future, some important realities must be understood and some courageous responses put in place as a matter of urgency. We must not deceive ourselves; what is at stake is our ability to achieve social cohesion and economic development as a nation.

I wish at this time to publicly thank those persons who supported the programme of my Party, PNC Reform, and who worked tirelessly and enthusiastically for its success. Thousands of Guyanese in all the regions of Guyana expressed their support for, and understanding of, our programme for the economic and social transformation of Guyana – a programme to which we remain firmly committed. It is indeed a tragedy that thousands of our citizens who wished to express their confidence in that programme through the ballot box were denied the right to do so through no fault of their own.

For many of our citizens, their disenfranchisement and that of many in their communities in our recent general and regional elections is not an isolated indignity, but the further manifestation of profound sickness and corruption in our political and governmental arrangements. It is a painful and humiliating experience to have registered, to have been photographed, to have checked the voters list, to have made a valid claim, only to find that on election day you had been arbitrarily removed from the list or have had your address changed to some far off region. No platitudes or evasions by Observers or by the Elections Commission itself can heal the frustration and anger which these events have generated. It is both cynical and irresponsible to believe that such deep-seated feelings can be wished away or ignored. The election mismanagement has merely reinforced profound feelings of exclusion and injustice that must be addressed urgently and comprehensively.

The harsh reality is that those persons who were discriminated against know that it is but another in a long line of humiliations which they endure on a daily basis. Those of us who have endured the pointless, arbitrary and brutal police raids on our villages, the frustration of joblessness and discrimination, the neglect of our community infrastructure, the exclusion of our young people from jobs and opportunities for education and training, the politicisation of the public services, and the deepening corruption of public life, can only view the election day fiasco as the final insult. It is therefore the considered view of the leadership of the People’s National Congress Reform that business as usual is neither reasonable nor possible at this time. We take the view that radical changes in Guyana must occur if we are to make progress and have any guarantee of peace, stability and development.

I wish to be very frank with you. A cosmetic gesture from any quarter will not be sufficient or sensible. I have heard unconfirmed reports for example that certain persons will be offered public office in an attempt to demonstrate some superficial pretence at inclusion. It is our view that such posturing is irrelevant to the profound difficulties we need to address. Let me also make it clear that we are not talking about superficial dialogue designed to frustrate and defer the necessity for hard decisions. The People’s National Congress Reform is interested in real, comprehensive and permanent change. Nothing else would be good enough.

The fundamental principles of our agenda for political change are clear. They are:


Radical reform of our system of governance.

The immediate arrest of the deterioration in the performance of key national institutions in order to rebuild public confidence.

The drastic reduction of the causes of ethnic grievances and perceptions of injustice.

The tensions which now engulf our nation are not the result of mere disappoint- ment and disillusionment brought about by disenfranchisement. They represent a deep-seated reaction to several years of economic pressures, injustice, exclusion, and marginalisation. They are a manifestation of painful perceptions of hopelessness which will not be wished away by platitudes and political horse-trading. It should also be recognised that the eventual fate of Guyana cannot be benign for any sector or segment of society. The frustrations that are being unleashed will not confine themselves to or affect only the victims and their communities. It must now be clear to even the most obtuse of political partisans that an atmosphere of political instability and communal injustice will continue to discourage investment and create economic stagnation that will consume us all. There are no winners in such an environment. It is an extremely foolish hope for anyone to believe that Guyana can prosper if well nigh half of its people are discontented and angry. All are involved and all are consumed.

The American philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr has written, "man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems".

I am encouraged by the degree of interest that has been demonstrated by a wide variety of organisations and individuals in finding proximate solutions to the issues of injustice. Many have been kind and patriotic enough to make available to my Party the benefits of their thinking in oral and written advice. We appreciate this concern and welcome the interest shown. We are studying these suggestions with great urgency and will continue to take such advice seriously.

We do wish to make it quite clear that from the perspective of the PNC Reform, we are not interested in a mere selfish grubbing for government office. This does not, in our opinion, meet the requirements of the principles that I have outlined. What we are interested in are cast iron guarantees, processes and arrangements that would satisfy us that the rights of the marginalized and the vulnerable are protected and that the economic, cultural and political space of all Guyanese citizens is protected by the rules and procedures of governance and political life.

There are several issues on which we will be making clear and substantial demands. Public tranquillity and progress can only be guaranteed if a political Party in government is able to guarantee that the system of governance is transparent and fair. There must be credible, agreed arrangements, procedures and mechanisms that effectively constrain the government and state institutions to act reasonably and justly to all citizens. These arrangements must offer cast iron guarantees that ethnic exclusion will be eliminated. The reforms which we advocate must include, as a priority, the establishment of mechanisms for joint monitoring and implementation of agreed programmes.

We are not interested in circuitous negotiations and delaying tactics. We would expect a clear indication of the willingness to deal with the issues urgently and seriously. In that regard, the PNC Reform will make public what it considers as an initial list of issues for resolution. The solutions to the problems raised by those issues would indicate to us whether others are serious about justice, peace and development in Guyana. Our demands include:

Establishment of a joint programme for the resuscitation of the bauxite industry and the Linden community within an agreed time frame;

An immediate enquiry into police brutality, extra judicial killings and systematic police harassment of selective communities with a view to preventing their re-occurrence;

The immediate end to the political monopoly of state radio and the introduction of independent management of GTV, GBC, the state-owned newspaper and the National Frequency Management Unit;

The immediate establishment of a specially funded and independently administered broad based community development and antipoverty programme for remedying the problems affecting marginalized communities;

Creation of a special fund independently administered to provide jobs and relief programmes for the unemployed, especially young people;

The implementation of a programme of land and house lot allocation and distribution that would eradicate political and other forms of discrimination;

Provision of basic infrastructure for deprived villages and communities including Drainage and Irrigation systems to make backlands cultivable;

The de-politicisation of the public service including the appointment of a professional Head of the Public Service;

The implementation of the legislation for the reform of the local and regional government system;

The enforcement of agency shop and check off for the PSU;

Guaranteed subventions to the Critchlow Labour College;

Nationally agreed programmes for dealing with border and security issues;

The recapitalisation of the army and the restoration of its capacity to protect our national interest;

The overdue reforms of government tendering and contracting procedures;

The dismissal and or prosecution of corrupt government officials and functionaries;

The immediate implementation of all-party management of parliamentary business; and

The immediate implementation of all agreed Constitutional Reforms.

If these issues are not quickly resolved that will indicate a lack of seriousness about change, dialogue, or collaboration in development. We stand ready to defend our principles and our constituents but we also stand ready to partici- pate in a meaningful engagement that will ensure the protection of what we believe to be our fundamental interests and those of our supporters.

In the meantime, I urge all workers and supporters to remain mobilised and motivated. The price of victory is eternal vigilance. We should not cease to watch and work until our demands are met. I urge you to keep faith with your Party which has brought you safe thus far over so many decades. The PNC Reform is your strength and bulwark. Do not despair.

‘Say not the struggle naught availeth

The labour and the wounds are vain

The enemy faints not nor faileth

And as things have been, things remain

If hopes were dupes, fears would be liars

It may be, in yon smoke concealed

Your comrades, chase e’en now the fliers

And but for you possess the field’

Let not the prize be lost through apathy or indifference. Each citizen has a vested interest in the success of the reforms that are so urgent and imperative.

All must be involved!

March, 2001