HONOURING THE 21ST AUGUST, 2012 AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF GUYANA AND THE REGIONAL DEMOCRATIC COUNCIL, REGION 10
Dr. Roopnarine: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Without rehashing, as you have cautioned us not to do, the actual events of the Linden protest of 2012, I think it would be useful, nevertheless, to remind ourselves of the sequence of events surrounding the signing of the 21st August agreement. At the signing ceremony that was actually scheduled for the 20th, the Chairman of the Region declined to actually sign the agreement because the work on the Commission of Inquiry that was actually being pursued elsewhere had not been completed so that notwithstanding the assembled persons - the media, Members of the Government, members of the political parties, members of the Region – we, in fact, had to defer the signing until the following day and on the 21st, in the morning of that day, the parties sat together and completed the Terms of Reference for the Commission of Inquiry, removing the clause that, in fact, caused concern among the opposition parties. We then, in fact, had this ceremonial signing and, at that signing, the Chairman of Region 10 had expressed the wish which he communicated in writing to us that the leaders of the Opposition parties in Parliament should bring the agreement for the endorsement of the National Assembly. He did write such a letter to us on the 21st August. It has finally reached us today, some ten months later, appended to the motion in the name of my Colleague Member of Parliament, Ms. Kissoon, so that we get a sense of the ebb and flow of events.
The agreement, as I said, was scheduled for signing the day before and notwithstanding all the preparations and the assembled gathering, the Chairman, as I said, had great concerns that the Commission of Inquiry did not arrive at the conclusion so we dispersed. So it was on the 21st August that we actually sat together again. By this time, the problems in the Commission of Inquiry Terms of Reference had been resolved and it had been resolved because the Government withdrew its insistence or the inclusion of the clause that had, in effect, caused problems for us here in the Opposition.
We have to ask ourselves: what is the valve of this debate on the agreement now, almost one year after it was signed? I think there is a value. First, I think it permits us, now removed from the heat, turmoil and violence of those days, days that were marked by the wounding of scores of citizens and the shooting to death of citizens, to carefully examine the sequence of events that led up to the tragedy of 18th July and to draw the necessary lessons if we are to avoid such excesses in the future.
Secondly, it provides us with yet another opportunity to gauge the value of a agreements in general and to understand the true reasons for the implementation deficit since, I think, we can all agree that the history of implementation of agreements forged over the years, usually at moments of national crisis, has not been stellar. Since our parties are currently engaged in discussions in and out of select and standing committees on a number of crucially important issues such as the Local Government legislation, the Anti-Money Laundering legislation, the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project, the GPL among them, it is more necessary than ever, if these engagements are to be fruitful, that we commit ourselves to the strict and timely honouring of agreements we reach. This touches on an issue on which Members of the Government most recently and plaintively my friend, the Hon. Prime Minister, already to ‘ceremonise’ at great length on the issue of trust.
How do we build trust? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we overcome the legacy of mistrust now half a century old and counting? The PPP argues that trust is a precondition for the establishment of institutions of shared governance and national reconciliation. I do not think this distorts their position. I must confess that I have always found this a somewhat tawdry evasion and an alibi for inaction. Coming from a party that once vaunted its adherence to the principles of dialectical materialism, it is, to my mind, a woefully undialectical view of process and we ask ourselves: did the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland trust one another before entering into the arrangements of the Good Friday Agreement? Did the clerk in Mandela trust one another before entering in the shared government arrangements of the transitional government of national unity that closed the chapter on Apartheid? Did the Arabs and Africans in Zanzibar establish a government of national unity because they trusted one another? In the drive for negotiated solutions in the Palestine/Israel conflict in the Syrian catastrophe - they mentioned only the most advanced current crises - are they doomed to defeat because of the lack of trust between the parties of conflict?
Thirdly, the Linden upsurge of 2012 has lessons for the forms of struggle available in a parliamentary or, as the Attorney General, who is not here, would insist, a constitutional democracy. Why do people take to the streets even when and where elected governments exist? I would not cite the example that some commentators like to cite, namely the Arab Spring, because most of these revolts were against tyranny and unelected despots, but, more recently, the protests in Turkey and Brazil, I think, teach us important lessons, important lessons partly to tell us why people felt the need, for these elected government situations, to take to the streets and, importantly, to note the difference in approach of the Governments of Turkey and Brazil.
I wrote recently and this is what I had to say on the Linden crisis: Dangerously for the ruling party, the Linden rebellion 2012 was a victory for people’s power in the teeth of an unrelenting propaganda offensive and State-owned radio, television and printed media reinforced by the use of police and military power.
Fourthly, as we prepare ourselves for the long awaited Local Government Elections and anticipate the arrival in this House of the legislation with a new design for a reformed local government system, we must draw on the lesson of Linden. I said before that I believe that in the months and years ahead, the Linden rebellion of 2012 will come to be seen as the most significant blow struck for the self determination of regional and local government bodies against the imposition of authority and control by the central Government since the imposition of the centralising 1980 Constitution that vested supreme executive authority in a President. It was, to my mind, the most robust assertion of the primacy of the declaratory Article 13 of the 1919 revisions of the 1980 Constitution.
My Friend the Hon. Ms. Kissoon has already alluded to the significance of Article 13 and draws the lesson there, too, that what took place in Linden was, in effect, an assertion of the rights embodied in Article 13.
The motion today presents us with the opportunity to do a number of things. I think we need to examine carefully the implementation deficit and consider ways to overcome it. We have heard that the technical and the economic committees are, in fact, in abeyance. There have been struggles over the issue of who would cheer the committee and so on, but the net result is that after all these months and after the intense struggles to establish these committees and reach agreement, that the committees have so far yielded nothing.
The Economic Committee is of great importance not only because it was designed to set out a plan for the economic development of Linden, but it was put there to answer the position taken by the citizens of Linden, that it was not because they did not want to pay the tariff, but because they were unable to do so and we felt that an economic committee should be established to, in effect, determine what were the true economic conditions facing the people of the community.
The Technical Committee that was, in effect, going to examine the entire history of the electricity situation in Linden, that we believe was very important because we had to take into account how Linden had reached the position it had reached in relation to the electricity subsidy, so that too has not yielded anything.
The Land Selection Committee was designed to put an end to what it was felt was the arbitrary giving away of lands to people and it was felt that the region wanted to have an input into how land was going to be distributed, so that too, although it has apparently now been established, I think it is yet to produce the kind of work that it was intended to. In the agreement, as you will see, we had, in effect, anticipated difficulties of implementation and for that reason we had imposed strict timelines on the work of the committees that they were, in effect, meant to come back and report to the plenary after, I believe, two weeks and they were to present the report after a fixed number of days and so on. I want to say that all of that in the agreement has not been honoured. I am not seeking to sit here and say well the reason it has not been honoured is because some set of people did not want to honour them. The fact of the matter is that we fell into, what I can call, a kind of paralysis within the committees and I would urge that one of the things we do today is to recommit ourselves to the terms of the agreement and ensure that these committees are put in place at the earliest opportunity and begin to do the work, not only of doing what it is they were designed for, but also in reporting back to the plenary on the progress that is being made, so that if problems arise within the work of the committees, we are in a position to actually correct them.
The second important thing is that I think we need to identify the lessons we have learnt and to take steps to ensure that there will be no recurrence of this kind of development and that we will be guided in the resolution of these matters not only by our own experience, but by the experience of others. This, to my mind, is the value of the motion today and I, for one, would regret if the motion before us were used, really, as a way of rehashing old arguments and getting back into a situation where we end up by throwing dead dogs over the fence at each other. I think the important thing is to recognise that we have had a problem, not in arriving at the agreement; I remember being present at many of the meetings that actually forged the agreement. I think people on both sides worked very, very diligently to arrive at the agreement we arrived at and it is, to my mind, a shame that after all this time so much of the agreement remains unimplemented. I think if we look carefully at all of this, Mr. Speaker, and try to examine honestly why this has happened and to see what kind of remedies can be found, then the motion today would have served a very useful purpose.
Thank you, very much. [Applause]