Pres Ali shuns US willingness to facilitate talks with opposition

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 August 2023, 20:03 by Denis Chabrol

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton declines to shake President Irfaan Ali’s hand at a 2022 Emancipation Day activities in New Amsterdam.

President Irfaan Ali on Wednesday virtually ruled out a role for the United States (US) in facilitating talks with the opposition, a day after the US offered to help broker bipartisan talks on Guyana’s development.

“I don’t know why there needs to be brokerage of any conversation. I don’t know that I need someone to broker a conversation,” the Guyanese leader told reporters minutes after addressing an event at the Guyana Defence Force’s headquarters at Camp Ayanganna.

The President said if Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton reaches out to him, they could have a conversation. “The Leader of the Opposition can pick up the phone tomorrow and call me and I’ll answer him,” he said.

Outgoing American Ambassador to Guyana Sarah-Ann Lynch told Gordon Moseley’s morning programme, Jump Start, that Washington would be willing to bring both sides to the table. “The US stands ready to help in that role for sure. I think open dialogue, frank discussions are very important and I think bringing the people together is key to the ultimate success of Guyana so certainly the US stands ready to do whatever we can to bring all parties together,” she said. A United States Agency for International Development Governance Assessment on Guyana had recommended power sharing to engage in order to manage the country’s oil wealth efficiently.

Asked whether he would make a last-ditch effort to seek a meeting with the Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton by formally writing him, he said that was on the cards. “I don’t have to formally write someone to talks to them,” he said. The President said why Mr Norton could not try calling him rather than propagate the “convenient narrative” that he was not meeting.

“It is inconvenient for the truth which is the Leader of the Opposition has no interest in meeting with the President. That narrative is too inconvenient for some to carry,” he said.

Dr Ali said that as President he is responsible for all Guyanese including the Opposition Leader, a responsibility he takes “seriously.” The President indicated that he would guarantee consultations with Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton based on requirements by Guyana’s constitution. “Whatever it requires of me in the execution of my duty to fulfill my responsibility in keeping with the constitution, my lifeblood would ensure that occurs,” he said.

The President reiterated that his engagement with the opposition was not confined to an individual or office but with “every single person” regardless of  Mr Norton’s demeanour towards him. That includes a lawsuit by the Opposition Leader to block consultations on constitutional matters, “does not have the basic decency” to shake his hands or apologise for APNU+AFC’s alleged attempt to rig the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections. “If I come over to you and shake your hands and you refuse to shake my hands, you’re telling me I want nothing to do with you. Or is my hand too filthy? I know what my hand is,” he said.

Dr Ali recalled that Mr Joseph Harmon, as Shadow Housing Minister and as Opposition Leader, had engaged with the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration on important development issues. “Engagement is not about in the public domain. Engagement is about building relationship. Engagement is about nurturing relationship, engagement is about building trust,” he said.

Mr Bharrat Jagdeo, then President and current Vice President, had said the opposition and the People’s Progressive Party Civic need to build trust before they could consider a new form of governance such as power sharing.