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OPINION: President’s invitation, Opposition Leader’s response -both leaders must find common menu of issues

Last Updated on Friday, 22 April 2022, 7:26 by Denis Chabrol

by GHK Lall

On Wednesday, the media reported that His Excellency, President Irfaan Ali would be reaching out to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Aubrey Norton, with an invitation for consultations on appointments.  Some of these appointments have been pending for a while, and are for offices of the highest importance.  I unreservedly commend the President for taking the first step in issuing this invitation, which is both timely and necessary.  My expectation is that the Opposition Leader would respond positively and early.  He did publicly, but attached some positions of his own, as to what should be part of the agenda for such a meeting.  I think that this should take on all the urgency of local leadership summit.

It is my hope that the response of the Opposition Leader, and the agenda items that seem to be nonnegotiable, are not showstoppers.  That is, they derail what is vitally necessary for this society.  I look at the list of additional items that Mr. Norton came up with, and I agree that most of them have a place in any President-Opposition Leader conversation of substance.  On the other hand, I cannot see how the Government’s side, meaning the President, would agree to allow most of the matters tabled by Mr. Norton’s to be folded into the meeting/consultation on appointments to service commissions.  As carried by Demerara Waves on April 21 under the caption “Opposition Leader wants governance, other issues to be added to the agenda with President”, quite a few of those areas pinpointed by Mr. Norton represent Achilles heels for the PPP Government.  I highlight a few only such as the work of Guyana Police Force (troubling), relief distribution money (uneven), discriminatory practices targeting Opposition-led Councils (ongoing), and patrimony relative to the Natural Resource Fund (up in the air).  They are areas with government weaknesses, and potentially glaring exposures.

It is my position that given the likely disagreements embedded in any discussions related to those issues, and the accompanying fallouts, the President would either resist or drag his feet to including them in any present agenda.  Still, I respectfully recommend that both leaders refrain from drawing any red lines in the sand, regarding what must on the table of discussion and what just can’t be.  I urge both men to take the mature approach, and work around the original limited agenda issued by the President, and the more expansive one coming from the Opposition Leader, to find common ground for compromise.  I know it is a dirty word in this country (compromise), but it is the first meaningful test about how sincere both leaders and their groups are.  No leader, and no side, should want to get everything; or prepare for such a meeting, with the usual all or nothing mentality.  That will move us to nowhere, gets us nothing, other than what we live with today, and rather uneasily, if not worse.

For his part, Mr. Norton managed to sound flexible as well as steely at the same time.  When he was asked what his response would be should the President balk, he parried with his use of the word “reasonable” to describe the kind of man he assumes the President is, maybe he hopes him to be.  In the next breath, he also answered that he was ready with his own thinking (possibly fallback options) if the President were to prove to be unreasonable.  From my vantage point, reasonable and unreasonable are heavy duty words, when the contexts of Guyana are considered.  They possess attitudes, likely qualities, of a hand outstretched in expectation, while managing to convey an element of cautioning (note I did not use ‘warning’) that any road that could be construed to be “unreasonable” should be shelved, since what follows thereafter could be problematic, even rise to the level of the undesirable.

In view of the swift and spirited, if not targeted, response of the Opposition Leader to the President’s invitation, the ball is now in the latter’s half of the court, and he must run forward with it just as quickly.  He must not call too long a timeout, or put the ball out of play.  I think that that would be a blatant foul, one that should result in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, even expulsion from the field of play.  I may have taken this too deep, but the President has a duty to see this through, he must not flinch, he must not sweat.  He must not fear to discuss any of the nationally serious issues that his opposition counterpart put before him.  This is what wise and profound leaders do.  I think that President Ali, if he works hard at it, may surprise himself by finding that he has a little of both wisdom and profoundness inside of him.  I prefer to err on the side of being overly generous to the young leader.

As an aside I note that while the Opposition Leader did identify the Natural Resource Fund and patrimony, he was not specific, even deliberately silent, on overall oil management.  Perhaps, I am jumping the gun, in that “good governance” is a big enough umbrella under which to cover oil-related matters.  Nonetheless, I would suggest that the Opposition Leader hastens to make that same oil and its stewardship a lynchpin of any conversation, public presentation, and national position that he engages in, since it represents so much for Guyanese today and in the future.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that national destiny and national peace could very well hinge on this oil.

Now both leaders have spoken and/or written.  Now both men should continue to probe for ways to go forward for a different Guyana.  I will give both of them, the benefit of positive visions for all of this society.  They have much work to do, hard work, to get from where we are to a place that is higher and better.