ADDRESS TO THE NATION BY MR. ROBERT H. O. CORBIN, M.P. LEADER OF THE PEOPLE'S NATIONAL CONGRESS REFORM LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2004
Fellow Guyanese: The nation is in crisis and I consider it my moral and constitutional responsibility as well as an expression of my own deep personal concern that I address you and share some of my views and those of my Party on the way forward.
I sincerely believe that, irrespective of our race, religion or social class, we all yearn for a society, in which we can live together in peace and harmony eschewing racial prejudices and conflicts; where we have a strong and sustainable economy that encourages wealth-creating processes, develops the skills of our youth and works to the benefit of all, justly distributing the rewards of success; where the system of governance guarantees equal opportunity for all our citizens to improve the quality of their lives; where jobs, job opportunities and services can be available to all without discrimination or corruption; where all forms of corruption, entrenched privilege and inequity are eliminated; where crime would be minimal; and, where our environment facilitates peaceful and harmonious living.
In simple language, WE WANT PEACE AND A REASONABLE QUALITY OF LIFE; WE WANT TO BE TREATED FAIRLY AND JUSTLY; WE WANT OUR CHILDREN TO HAVE EQUAL ACCESS TO ALL OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADVANCEMENT; WE ALL WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN CONTROLLING OUR OWN DESTINY; WE WANT TO KNOW THAT WE CAN LIVE WITHOUT FEAR OF CRIMINALS INVADING OUR HOMES AND ROBBING US OF HARD EARNED PROPERTY; WE WANT TO BE FREE OF ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE WHETHER RACIALLY OR CRIMINALLY INSPIRED; AND, MOST OF ALL, PARTICULARLY OUR YOUTH, WE WANT TO KNOW THAT THEY CAN HAVE A FUTURE IN GUYANA AND NOT ELSEWHERE.
The question we all face is, how do we work together to achieve this?
Regrettably, after nearly twelve years, of simmering conflict, confrontation, division, corruption and mismanagement, our dear, great and green land of Guyana has become a bloody, fearful, poverty-stricken and lawless land.
This situation has been exacerbated by our failure as a people, after nearly fifty years, to find political consensus or a system of governance that is more accountable and responsive to the popular will. We are therefore still confronted by several questions:
How can we work together to reduce the growing racial divisions in our country? What can we do together about crime, violence and the confirmed link between corruption, death squads, politics, government, drugs, heavy weapons and money-laundering? How can we together attend to the fears of our Indian brothers and sisters that they are targets of violence? How can we together attend to the fears of our African brothers and sisters that they are the targets of systematic discrimination? How could we attend to the fears of all Guyanese that they are the victims of poverty, bad governance and crime? How can we together start a process where every citizen thinks of himself/herself as a Guyanese, first and as a member of a particular race second, recognizing that there is no conflict between the two identities? How can we together examine the effects of the above developments on our society and our social relations and the impact on our economy? How can we all agree on constructing and sharing a vision of the future that will create a just, secure and productive society?
I am also keenly aware from my many meet-the-people visits across the country that most of you are concerned about these matters, albeit, some of you have already lost hope of these questions ever being resolved and consider migration as your best option. The startling implications of the recent Rights of the Child survey which revealed that the majority of our youth are planning to migrate cannot have escaped us, especially those of us who occupy positions of leadership in our society. When the majority of our young people plan to leave Guyana we do have a crisis. Whither Guyana’s future? We must therefore find ways of engaging our citizens about these urgent questions rather than continuing meaningless exercises geared to buy time for partisan political advantages or vicious character assassination with constant and divisive racial overtones.
My Party, the People’s National Congress Reform, and I are in no doubt that,
the PPP/C’s dilatory approach and down-right reluctance or refusal to implement decisions made under the dialogue process and later the constructive engagement:
the arrogance and the insensitivity displayed by President Jagdeo and the Government in responding to requests for an inquiry into the issue of state-sponsored death squads, (the Gajraj Affair), despite the available evidence and the daily disclosures about Government involvement; and,
the wider breakdown in the rule of law in Guyana;
have destroyed the very basis on which we hope to build a better society and economy for all Guyanese and threatens our very existence as a nation.
GUYANESE MUST THEREFORE BE PREPARED FOR ACTION NOW TO SAVE OUR NATION FROM DESTRUCTION.
Since assuming the Leadership of the PNCR in February 2003, I have consistently worked to ensure that a climate was created for genuine development of our country. This was not only because of the PNCR’s policy of Putting Guyana First, but also, out of a recognition that Guyana is doomed if the major political parties do not find a way to resolve differences and a mechanism to involve all stakeholders in the business of Government. Unfortunately, Guyanese have short memories and many may have already forgotten the state of Guyana in February 2003. What ever may be said of the rhetoric between then and now, no one can honestly claim that the PNCR did anything over the last year to impede the functioning of the PPP/C Government. There was not a single march or demonstration; there was no civil unrest. I traveled widely abroad speaking to Guyanese in the diaspora, encouraging them and others to invest in Guyana. We tried, as a Party faced with serious economic problems in many of our constituencies, to stimulate economic projects within the limits of our capability.
Our late Leader, Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, had warned that unless President Jagdeo understood and dealt with his, “lack of character” problem, future discussions with him would be a waste of time. Yet, given the mandate from my Party over a year ago I was authorized to try again in the interest of our country. I entered into the constructive engagement process, notwithstanding our experiences of the past, in the hope that the new situation presented ample opportunities for real change; for political understanding that could lead to a new system of Governance. Indeed it was President Jagdeo who placed Inclusive Governance on the agenda of Constructive Engagement. Such an approach would have been to the benefit of all Guyanese irrespective of political affiliation or ethnicity. Regrettably, I have to report that we appear to have come full circle. You, my dear citizens be the judge of the state of our nation today.
My best efforts to alert the nation to the difficulties being encountered in the constructive engagement process, including my report to the Nation on December 10, 2003, were greeted by extensive Government propaganda exercises rather than a serious attempt to resolve the issues raised.
In fact the entire Constructive Engagement process is now being propagandized as a noble gesture by President Jagdeo to display inclusivity and good governance. I will not waste valuable time in fending and proving as we have past that stage now. On this matter I need only reiterate a few facts which seem to have been forgotten by many.
The President and the army of PPP/C official and unofficial propagandists have sought to mislead the Nation into believing that the issues dealt with in the Communiqué are as a result of the President’s generosity. This is far from the truth. An examination of the matters agreed in the Communiqué will reveal that almost all of those matters caused the PNCR under the leadership of the late Desmond Hoyte to withdraw from participation in the National Assembly for about 14 (fourteen) months because President Jagdeo and the Government consistently and deliberately failed to implement them, albeit they were requirements agreed to by a wide cross-section of Guyanese groups and organizations in the Constitution Reform Commission process of 1999. For example,
the Constitutional amendments necessary for the establishment of the Ethnic RelationsCommission were approved by the National Assembly by early December 2000 on the understanding that this Commission would be established and able to function in advance of the 2001 National Elections;
the Constitutional amendments for the establishment of the Parliamentary Sectoral and other Constitutional Committees of the National Assembly were passed by the National Assembly by the end of the third quarter of 2001;
in the case of the State-owned Media, now re-christened the National Communications Network,(NCN), the consensual recommendations of the Joint Committee on Radio Monopoly and Non-Partisan Boards should have been enshrined in a National Broadcasting Act – the draft of which should have been laid in the National Assembly four (4) months from May 1, 2003, establishing a National Broadcasting Authority. Instead, the President and his representatives have produced a distorted and totally unacceptable draft which has been the subject of deliberate protracted discussions. In addition, the issue of Equitable Access to the State Media by Opposition Parties has been subjected to the usual stalling tactics, inspite of agreement on the guiding principles for giving effect to this. And, while this procrastination is taking place, the government continues to manipulate the State media for Party propaganda;
In the case of Public Procurement, the area of concentrated and entrenched corruption, after months of discussion, we are still awaiting the submission of the changes agreed to by the Attorney General for conversion into amendments to the Act; and,
The PPP/C’s dogmatic position for appointments to the constitutionally mandated Public Procurement Commission are clearly intended to create a highly politicized, rather than a technically competent Commission as required by the Constitution.
I am not at this time attempting to discuss the non-implementation of the decisions of the Constructive Engagement process but only illustrating that the issues therein were not concessions of the Jagdeo regime to the PNCR but were in large measure requirements of our amended Constitution to which most of the stakeholders in Guyana subscribed. SO MUCH FOR THE LIES BEING PEDDLED DAILY ON THE STATE RADIO.
My dear fellow Guyanese,
The fact that it was necessary to have a prolonged Hoyte/Jagdeo dialogue, a fourteen (14) month boycott of the National Assembly followed by a Corbin/Jagdeo Constructive Engagement process spanning almost eleven months to force the PPP Government to implement the provisions of the Guyana Constitution is indicative of the gravity of the governance issue.
Current efforts to renege on commitments and undo implemented decisions have not escaped our attention. Two examples will suffice:
the indication that the PPP/C will not be bound by the recommendations of the Disciplined Forces Commission; and
the undermining of efforts to equip the new Parliamentary Committees to enable them to function effectively.
It is evident that the statements by the President that he is open to continued engagement could not be serious and appear more hypocritical when compared with their actual performance. The question of whether constructive engagement is at an end does not arise. PRESIDENT JAGDEO BY HIS BEHAVIOUR, LUNCHEON, BY HIS PRONOUNCEMENTS AND THE GOVERNMENT BY ITS DILATORY PERFORMANCE HAVE ALREADY CONSTRUCTIVELY DISENGAGED THE PNCR AND BROUGHT THE CONSTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT PROCESS TO AN END. Whether they will honour agreements made therein is now a matter for Jagdeo and the people of Guyana. That a Government can be allowed to behave this way indicates that unless the Governance issue is settled Guyana will be moving towards anarchy and decay.
The only reasonable course of action is to search for new ways of working together to identify problems, to examine options, to take decisions about agreed solutions and to monitor performance in the best interests of all of Guyana’s citizens. For the future then, we will NOT engage President Jagdeo in any further bi-lateral discussions save and except those required under the constitution. The plight of our country can no longer be addressed only by the leadership of the ruling party, the government and the Opposition. Future discussions of urgent and critically important national issues must also engage the parliamentary political parties and civil society organizations. Of course, there are difficulties in how we design such a consultative arrangement. We will have to ensure that civil society organizations and individuals are not mere mouthpieces of any political party. We will have to find ways of involving those, including religious bodies, which are genuinely concerned about: the rule of law; the business environment; the protection of workers’ rights; the contributions of service organizations and other NGOs; the conditions in our hinterland communities; and how gender issues are being addressed. We have some ideas of how such a mechanism might be structured so that its processes make sense and its results are practical and capable of being implemented. It is my ferment hope that these ideas stimulate public discussion. BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT, BASED ON OUR RECENT EXPERIENCE WITH CONSTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT, WE WILL NOT ENGAGE WITH THE PRESIDENT ON THE SAME BASIS AS BEFORE. THE SITUATION IN OUR COUNTRY DEMANDS THAT WE MUST ESTABLISH A MUCH WIDER, BROADER AND DEEPER STARTING POINT.
It is important for me to re-emphasis the serious implication for this country of the Gajraj Affair which through evolution should be renamed “Jagdeo’s Arrogance”
Since January 15, 2004 I wrote to President Jagdeo calling for an independent and impartial inquiry into allegations of a state-sponsored death squad(s) and the involvement of Minister Gajraj in directing its operations. Such an inquiry must comprise suitably qualified and acceptable persons including an international presence/involvement. The call for this inquiry has been made by every significant religious, social and political organization in Guyana and has been echoed by International Organizations and Governments. The need for such an inquiry and the abundance of evidence to support such an inquiry have been well publicized over the last three months and I would not use this time to repeat what is already in the public domain.
The real issue of national concern at this time is that, despite claims of the existence of a democratic process in Guyana, the President of our Nation and the Government can comfortably ignore all of these calls and feel no obligation to respond. And as if that were not enough, the President himself, in a recent TV interview, described the death squad affair as “a tiny issue”.
A basic tenet of democracy, ‘the right to life' is being routinely and systematically violated by the PPP/C Government and Jagdeo considers it a tiny issue. Guyanese must now judge the value which the President places on the life of each citizen. It is therefore not surprising that the perpetrators of this crime feel comfortable with the beastly process of recruiting young men who are victims of Guyana’s economic circumstances, turning them into killers, and finally eliminating them when they have served their purpose. The fact that we must picket and march to get the state to address the issue of organized murder is a clear indication of the state of our democracy. There could be no doubt that
the scourge of death squads in Guyana has undermined the democratic process and the social contract with the people fundamentally breached. The government has also clearly indicated its intention of breaching the Constitution of Guyana which enshrines the fundamental right to life for every Guyanese citizen and its legitimacy can therefore be called into question.
Consequently, as the PNCR has already stated, the death squad(s) issue goes to the core of good governance and must be addressed within that context. Unless the issue of good governance is addressed, the democratic process in Guyana will also be dead. The people of Guyana must now take a stand. We must say to Jagdeo and the Government: Thus far and no further. We must be prepared to struggle and fight with all the weapons at our disposal within the law and the Constitution to protect our fundamental right to life.
The state of terror that now pervades the land impacts directly on the free will of the people. There can be no right to choose or right of association in a country where the political party in Government seemingly has the power to kill at will. This goes directly to the core of the extent to which people feel this new situation will affect their freedom of choice in the electoral process. We are fully aware of the PPP/C terror tactics in some communities in every election since the 1950's. People are systematically targeted with threats to their lives, property and the well being of their female folk. This new situation gives more potency to this terror campaign and renders as meaningless the entire concept of freedom of choice in the electoral process.
I must therefore call on all Guyanese irrespective of ethnicity to stand up and be counted. This is not a partisan, political issue.
I speak now directly to all PNCR members and supporters in the Corentyne, in New Amsterdam, in West Coast Berbice, in East Coast and East Bank Demerara, in Bartica, in Essequibo, in the North West District and Rupununi, indeed all over Guyana.
We must resist at all costs or our future is doomed. Make no mistake about it. However we need to remember at all times that the PNCR rejects all forms of prejudice and discrimination based on race, colour, gender, religion, age or disability. As such, we promote and continue to promote respect for basic human rights. We must condemn all violence whether economically or racially inspired and we must resist all attempts to promote ethnic conflict at this time. Ethnic and racial conflict is neither in the best interest of the PNCR nor Guyana. Personally, I think such an approach is an affront to the dignity to our Indo-Guyanese population. For the PNCR, however our mission is to continuously reach out to all Guyanese irrespective of ethnic origin and we have a special responsibility to protect all those who at this time are bold enough to venture out of the old mould.
I call on the Church and all people of God to take whatever action you deem necessary to let the Government know that this issue will not be allowed to die; I call on the Trade Unions and the workers to act now; I call on Guyanese overseas to give your support on this matter and I call on the International Community, both financial institutions and Governments to bring whatever pressure is necessary to bring the Guyana Government to its senses.
The PNCR has commenced a programme of action and will continue to work with others concerned entities and persons to induce the President and the government to honour their moral and legal responsibility to the people of Guyana by holding an independent inquiry into the existence of death squads.
IN THE INTERIM THE PNCR WILL CONTINUE ITS SELECTIVE AND GRADUAL NON-PARTICIPATION IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, OTHER PARLIAMENTARY PROCESSES AND STATE-SPONSORED ACTIVITIES.
AT THIS JUNCTURE WE WISH TO STATE VERY CATEGORICALLY THAT MR GAJRAJ HAS LOST ANY AUTHORITY TO BE RECOGNISED NOT ONLY BY OUR PARTY BUT ALSO BY THE CITIZENS OF GUYANA. THE RESPONSE FROM THE GOVERNMENT WILL DETERMINE OUR CONTINUED TACTIC OF FURTHER DE-RECOGNITION. WE HOPE IT DOES NOT REACH THE POINT OF DE-RECOGNITION OF THE ENTIRE GOVERNMENT. WE HAVE TODAY COMMENCED A SERIES OF COUNTRY WIDE MEETINGS AND WILL BRIEF THE GUYANESE PEOPLE OF OUR INTENDED ACTIONS. OUR ACTIONS AT THE REGIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL LEVELS ARE ALSO BEING INTENSIFIED WITH A VIEW TO BRINGING FURTHER REGIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE TO BEAR ON A REGIME WHICH IS IN BREACH OF INTERNATIONALLY ACCEPTED NORMS AND STANDARDS OF GOVERNANCE. WE ARE ALSO EXAMINING THE INVOCATION OF INTERNATIONAL QUASI JUDICIAL AND JUDICIAL MECHANISMS FOR THE BRINING OF THOSE WHO HAVE UNLEASHED STATE TERRORISM ON THE GUYANESE PEOPLE AND HAVE DEPARTED FROM THE UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES OF THE RULE OF LAW.
My Party and I believe that the PPP/C government has been given sufficient time and leeway to act in the proper manner on the Gajraj affair and to implement the decisions of the Communiqué. We are persuaded that Guyana cannot move forward until we resolve these matters and fundamentally reverse the breakdown in the rule of law. At this point in our history, little else matters. These matters go to the core of not only how we want our country to develop, but if, at all, Guyana can be developed. These matters go to the heart our country’s stability, unity and survivability. The participation of a wide cross-section of organizations and groups in the Rule of Law March and Rally on March 20th is firm indication that many other Guyanese share these very concerns.
By now, many of you must have justifiably concluded that too much is basically wrong with our system of government. Our present political system has failed to protect citizens and society from the breakdown in the rule of law. It has failed to protect us from incompetence and corruption in government. It has failed to protect us from acts of executive lawlessness and violations of our human rights and freedoms. It has failed to discourage ethnic tension and discord. Our present political system has not delivered, and cannot deliver, to Guyanese, either peace and security, a good quality of life or hope for the future. Continuing in the old way is no longer an option! Guyana needs a fundamental change in the system of governance if we are to survive and move on. Change in the political process to ensure inclusivity and the genuine feeling of participation by all Guyanese is now an unconditional demand of the PNCR. Our duty to the people of Guyana, but more so to the young people and to future generations, dictates no other course. The time for change is now.
The new system of governance must include all groups in highest forums of national decision-making including those within the PPP who are of like mind. The issue of Governance must not be confused with the ability to win an election, but with creating conditions for all Guyanese to prosper. The PNCR is confident it can win the next elections under any system, but Guyana’s history has shown that winning an election alone does not guarantee good governance.
Shared governance or a government of national reconciliation and reconstruction must now take its rightful place in Guyana. Political parties must prepare themselves to work together for the greater good of Guyana in collaboration with civil society and ordinary citizens. The PNCR is not stating these positions now for the first time. Since December 2002, we have publicly declared our position on this matter and circulated a discussion paper on the principles and mechanisms of a new form of governance for Guyana.
We remain firmly committed to these positions and will intensify the campaign to ensure that a fundamentally new system of governance is in place in time for the next elections.
As we look to the future we must aim at building and achieving just and truly representative system of government based on decision-making at the lowest practical level, effective and functional parliamentary institutions, freedom of information and public accountability.
There’s much talk about elections in 2006 and much more talk about Local Government elections before the end of 2004. Despite our best efforts, we have failed to reach agreement with the Government on the system for these elections and to determine the necessary operational actions that would ensure that the quality of these elections subscribes to the principle that decisions will be taken by citizens in their various villages, townships and communities. In so far as general elections are concerned, no progress has been made in implementing in a timely manner, the recommendations of the Constitutional Reform process with respect to whether the electoral system in 2001 elections is appropriate for elections in 2006. We have also made public our position with respect to the Voters List. Action on these matters needs to be placed on the front burner immediately after the death squad and governance issues are resolved.
My dear Fellow Guyanese,
It is not practical for me to share the entire vision of the PNCR for the future of Guyana at this time but I will in the coming weeks be presenting that vision to you for your own assessment and evaluation. At this time however, I can let you know that we look forward to building a Guyana in which all citizens enjoy the same basic rights and a country where all citizens live together in peace and are able to freely develop their different cultures. We are prepared to work with all organizations and citizens who share a similar vision for the future of our country. To this end we will commence a series of consultations with interested groups and Parties and will be prepared to work with others in formal or informal alliances.
In conclusion, I repeat the time for action is now. History will judge us unkindly if we fail to do so. I invite you to join in the noble struggle for the restoration of morality, decency and the Rule of Law in our land.
GOOD NIGHT! AND I THANK YOU FOR LISTENING.
MAY GOD BLESS OUR NATION.
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