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, OCTOBER 20, 2004
Fellow Guyanese: TWO HUNDRED AND THREE DAYS AGO, on Wednesday the thirty-first day of March, 2004 I addressed the Nation on my Party’s decision to continue our selective non-participation in the Parliamentary process.
REASONS FOR SELECTIVE NON-PARTICIPATION
The main reasons identified were:
* 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, including the continued abuse of the Parliament;
Ironically, the current PPP/C propaganda campaign being carried through the State media and at our taxpayer’s expense appears carefully designed to blur the memory of Guyanese of the above reasons. Additionally, statements by others recommending PNCR’s full participation in Parliament without reference to the issues which caused the PNCR to implement its decision suggest either a lack of knowledge of the issues or an unwillingness to confront the real problems which face Guyana today.
PNCR REMAINS COMMITTED TO THE DEMOCRTIC PROCESS
The People’s National Congress Reform, however, remains steadfast in its often stated commitment to work with all stakeholders for a better Guyana; for the permanent entrenchment of a truly democratic culture and to build a society that offers hope and not despair to our youth. This objective will not be achieved if the PNCR behaves as though all is well in Guyana and abandons its responsibility and obligation to the more than 43 % of the electorate that placed confidence in it at the last elections.
In my March 31 address, I described the many serious problems faced by all of Guyana’s citizens.
I reaffirmed our irrevocable commitment to work together with ANY, and ALL forces and interests in the tasks of removing the obstacles that stand in the way of restoring decency in our public behaviours and morality in our private actions.
In every village, in every town and in every region of our country, for more years than anyone can remember, our citizens - irrespective of political persuasion, race, gender, religion or social status - have expressed in many different ways their hopes for a stable environment and a secure future. I believe that I described the main elements of these hopes in my address.
The need for peace and a reasonable quality of life;
The wish for equal access to opportunities for advancement;
The desire for our people to be free of political, racial or criminally inspired violence;
The aspirations of most of our young people to secure their future right here in their own country.
PRESIDENT CARTER’S VISIT
On August 12, 2004, ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FOUR DAYS after my address, President Jimmy Carter visited Guyana at the invitation of President Jagdeo and spoke with a cross section of Guyanese Society.
Before leaving, he recalled his first meeting with President Jagan more than twelve years ago. He said that Dr. Jagan “expressed a desire to heal the political polarization and ethnic polarization in our country.” Yet, twelve years later, Jimmy Carter observed that, “the Guyanese Government remains divided with a winner-take-all concept that continues to polarize many aspects of our nation’s life.”
Among the five recommendations made by President Carter were that the political leaders should consult regularly, “beginning with the implementation of agreements reached, as described in the May 6, 2003, Communiqué and other documents”, and that, “Representatives of the People’s National Congress Reform should return to their posts in Parliament”.
Those who canvass the view that the PNCR should participate fully in Parliament in the absence of any meaningful attempt by President Jagdeo and his Government to honour their commitments, even those that relate to the proper functioning of Parliament, could not really be concerned about the future of Guyana.
JAGDEO AND PPP/C CULTURE OF INTOLERANCE
What President Carter does not know - and is now learning - is that the President of Guyana and his cronies in Government have total contempt for the Guyanese people.
What the Guyanese people know and perhaps President Carter recently realised is that the PPP/Civic government has no culture of tolerance for anyone who does not share the view of Jagdeo and his colleagues. Many members of the private sector and more recently the Auditor General have felt the brunt of this culture of intolerance and have been singled out for harassment and victimization. The Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Guyana, Mr. Sorensen, in his capacity as representative of the Diplomatic and Donor Community in Guyana had his own experience recently and we assume the Diplomatic Community would have noted, even if not reacted to, that experience.
It is by now quite obvious to all that President Jagdeo and his colleagues in Government have only,
* Contempt for the Rule of Law;
* Contempt for the Constitution;
* Contempt for the Courts;
* Contempt for all public institutions;
* Contempt of the Parliament,
* And most of all, utter and complete contempt for the people of Guyana!
GOVERNMENT’S ABUSE OF PARLIAMENT
What we in the PNCR know is that, for President Jagdeo, the only purpose of the Parliament is to enable him to crow and prattle to the outside world, to the World Bank, the IMF and the IDB, that democracy is alive and well in Guyana!
What the Guyanese people know is that for President Jagdeo, the objectives of Parliament are simple and these are:
* Parliament exists to enable the Government to ride roughshod over the Constitution at any time;
* Parliament exists to legalize incompetence and corruption;
* Parliament exists to institutionalize and sanction discrimination; and that,
* Parliament in Guyana exists for President Jagdeo to show his scorn, disrespect and contempt for the Guyanese people.
His party in Government and his colleagues in Parliament have a long and sordid history of demonstrating that,
1. That public accountability is meaningless;How else could one explain the continued breach of financial regulations and the continued calls from Parliament and the Auditor General to stop using the Lottery Funds as a political slush fund managed by President Jagdeo?
2. That assurances solemnly given are empty and meaningless;How else could one explain the procrastination with respect to amending the procurement legislation and the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission? How else could one explain the delay in the Broadcast Legislation that should have been ready for Parliament four months after the Communiqué was signed on May 6, 2003?
3. That commitments made must always be denied later;
How else can one explain the refusal or delay in review of the Electoral System used for the Elections of 2001 and the other recommendations arising from the 1999-2000 Constitutional Review process, including the system of Governance?
4. That agreements faithfully entered into and that firm promises given can be broken with impunity.
How else can one explain the refusal to make equitable time available on state media to parliamentary opposition parties?
Unlike President Carter, the International Financial Institutions and Donor Agencies or the Diplomatic Community, PNCR Parliamentarians have practical knowledge and hard experience of the real workings of this Parliament in Guyana of which they speak so earnestly.
NO PROGRESS DESPITE SELECTIVE NON-PARTICIPATION
We know this Parliament. That is why we had no choice but to embark on our policy of selective non-participation. This policy allows us to enter parliament to deal with issues that we consider important to the advancement of Guyana; to expose any lawlessness, which may be attempted, or to place in the record of Hansard our views on certain matters. For us Parliament is serving no other useful purpose in the present circumstances.
For example, any reasonable person would have expected that since March 31, 2004 last to the time of the Parliamentary recess on August 10, 2004 there would have been some attempt made by the Jagdeo Administration to address some issues of concern raised by the Opposition Parliamentary Parties and other Stake holders, especially after the initial public endorsement of President Carter’s Departure Statement by President Jagdeo.
Regrettably, we have witnessed the manner in which the President chose to deal with the Death Squad and the Gajraj affair; we have witnessed the continued obnoxious abuse and misuse of the State media NCN and the Guyana Chronicle for PPP Party Propaganda; we have witnessed the continuous disregard by president Jagdeo of the Financial regulations as he travels around Guyana with the tax-payers money, the consolidated fund and the Lotto Funds, literally in his back pocket, doling out our money as if it were his own; we have witnessed the refusal of the PPP/C to agree to the Constitutional Reform Committee of the Parliament to meet to discuss urgent matters even after an offer by the PNCR parliamentarians to meet during the last Parliamentary recess; we have witnessed their behavior in relation to advancing the process of Local Government Reform; indeed, we have witnessed President Jagdeo and the PPP/C retreating further from commitments made instead of seeking appropriate solutions. In fact, not much has happened since we commenced Selective Non Participation in Parliament to influence any change in our policy.
CONTINUED BREACHES AFTER PARLIAMENTARY RECESS
A few days ago, after the recess, the PNCR received notice papers summoning the National Assembly of the Parliament to meet on Thursday October 21, tomorrow, to discuss many significant, if not alarming, Bills. This has been done without the required compliance with the decisions of the Parliamentary Management Committee. The reconvening of the Parliament has therefore commenced in breach of the very agreements, which had their origins in the St Lucia Statement and the Hermanston Accord of 1998.
PNCR TO CONTINUE POLICY OF SELECTIVE NON-PARTICIPATION
In these circumstances we wish to make it clear that unless and until there is some change in the conditions, which necessitated our Policy, the PNCR sees no reason to abandon its Policy of Selective Non-participation in the Parliament.
We are deeply conscious of the concerns of many stake holders and our friends outside of Guyana. We have been engaged in a process of wide consultation since March 31, 2004 and value highly the views that various stake holders have expressed. Similarly we value highly the views and suggestions of various Stakeholders and members of the Diplomatic Community made in our most recent round of consultations and have taken them into account as we proceed with the task of building a Platform for Peace, National Cohesion and Reconstruction Parliament’s Consolidated Fund in his pocket, giving jobs to the boys and fixing potholes.
Indeed, it is as a result of those consultations and as part of our continuing policy that we intend to participate in tomorrow session of the National Assembly of the Parliament. But at the same time, we will continue to determine when we will enter Parliament in the future.
THE PNCR REASONING
We have a duty to share with you our reasoning.
Let me repeat that the PNCR considers Parliament an important institution that underpins our democracy and it has never been easy for us to adopt the strategies, which became necessary. For us, Parliament is the place for formal conduct of the nation’s business.
We are however confronted with reality and we have to be concerned about the future.
By my count, there are FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SEVEN DAYS before the last day of March 2006.
According to the requirements of our Constitution, March nineteen 2006 is, for all practical purposes, the deadline for holding the next General and Presidential elections in our country.
What can we expect our Parliament to accomplish by that date?
As one of the four opposition parties in Parliament,
We have a right to expect that Parliament will discuss the future of our country and the worsening crises of governance, corruption, crime, incompetence, criminalization, drugs and HIV-Aids that continue to contribute to the degradation and disenchantment of our people.
Instead, we all know that President Jagdeo and his colleagues in Parliament are comfortable with these sicknesses. Their spin-doctors tell us that these sicknesses are in fact prescriptions for health and good governance that will take us all to the Promised Land.
Indeed, in the midst of all our difficulties we are bombarded with the message that, Guyana is going places” Guyanese know differently.
We are convinced that in its present circumstances, Parliament is only a place where the views and recommendations of Opposition Parties are recorded merely for posterity.
Our selective attendance in Parliament means that, despite its many shortcomings, we will attend parliament to participate in any activity to advance the Constitutional reform process and a new system of Governance before the next Elections; we will also use every opportunity and occasion to warn our citizens and our many friends in the region and farther a field, about Guyana’s continuing crisis of governance and the pitfalls that await us as we journey through the next five hundred and twenty-seven days.
The responsibility for recognizing these dangers and creating the conditions for attending to them, lies squarely on the shoulders of President Jagdeo and at the door of his party and his colleagues in Parliament.
PNCR WILL CONTINUE ITS STRUGGLE FOR A BETTER GUYANA
We will continue to do what is required of us within the law. We will continue to fight for justice, fair-play and building a Guyana where every citizen enjoys the same basic rights and a country where we all live in peace and are able to develop our different cultures.
For our part, our consciences are clear.
If we do not succeed in this quest, then the responsibility for failure will rest squarely at the door of President Jagdeo, his party in government and his colleagues in Parliament.
Imagine it took President Carter to remind us that the NDS, developed under the direction of Bharrat Jagdeo, had as one of its key provisions, a call for participatory democracy, within which opposition parties would share fully in shaping policies of the nation. Regrettably, he concluded that instead of achieving this crucial goal of inclusive and shared governance, the Guyanese government remains divided with a winner-take-all concept that continues to polarize many aspects of the nation's life; that most members of parliament are directly dependent upon and responsible to the political party that chooses them, and not to the people whom they profess to represent; that publicized agreements reached between political leaders have not been fulfilled. and that, the promises of constitutional reform have been frustrated.
President Carter agreed that after fifty years of fierce political rivalry and conflict Guyana’s problems could be solved, “only with basic constitutional changes in the system of governance.”
PNCR WILL ONLY PARTICIPATE IN A PROCESS TO ESTABLISH A NEW SYSTEM OF GOVERNANCE UNDER PROPERLY MANAGED ELECTIONS
The question, which we have to answer, is whether after knowing these facts we will continue on a journey that will inevitably lead to the continuation of the old conflict and disaster. The answer is clear for the PNCR. We will not. It is for this reason that we have advocated that there must be a new system of Governance before the next elections and we are prepared to work with all Guyanese to achieve this objective.
For the period ahead the PNCR will continue to work with all Guyanese for that change for we are convinced that it would be futile to proceed without it. It is in this context that we will also work for the correction of all the errors surrounding the Administration of the Elections by the Elections Commission and we will not participate in an Elections until we are satisfied that all the corrections have been made. The exercise would also be futile if we proceed to correct the electoral flaws and there is no change in the system of Governance.
I consider it essential to inform the Nation in a timely manner of the position of the PNCR so that, as is being attempted now with Local Government Elections, we cannot be blamedfor causing undue delay or creating confusion.
EARLY NOTICE GIVEN TO ACHIEVE PROGRESS IN A TIMELY MANNER
We have given early notice not only of our position but also out willingness to work both inside and outside of the Parliament for the attainment in a timely manner of these objectives. Finally, in the period ahead, we will travel throughout the length of Guyana to inform all Guyanese of all political persuasions of our position and encourage them all to join in this noble effort.
Time is not on our side.
Let us hope that good sense will prevail as we use the remaining FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SEVEN DAYS to prepare a safe and secure future for our country.
May God continue to guide our dear Nation.
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