Centre Force: One Voice
by Rakesh Rampertab

Rise, Organise and Rebuild Guyana (ROAR) leader, Ravi Dev says that a new `Centre Force' he is promoting can act as a countervailing force to the two main parties and he is concerned that there is no plan for Guyana's ecological and environmental security.

In an interview conducted with Stabroek News before the current flooding began, Dev said the December 26 India Ocean tsunami should be seen as a warning to Guyana, a country with a below sea level coastland.

"The tsunami should alert us that the coastland is not viable. In 50 years the rising seas will wipe out our coast," Dev said. "Forget tsunami, global warning alone...What is the strategy? Should we do like the Brazilians? Build a city in the interior? We feel it should be done. That is where our future lies.

"We feel the Rupununi should be our beachhead in looking at development geared towards Brazil, rather than being on the coast and only trying to compete with North America."

In order to break the deadlock on governance, ROAR will introduce the concept of a 'Centre Force' in the upcoming general elections due next year, in the hope of forming a national front government.

Dev said Guyana has a government with a simple majority in parliament and an opposition that is not consulted. The 'Centre Force'; a conglomeration of smaller political parties working together would bring about a change in that regard, he said.


From its inception, he said, ROAR has always felt that there was need for a national front government "to give all the various interests a chance to be represented, especially ethnic interests, which is where people vote today. With elections around the corner, we feel that something has to be done. Our proposal is that if the small parties ROAR, (Guyana Action Party) GAP, (Working People's Alliance) WPA, (Justice for All) JFA any of the newer parties that might be formed by Joey Jagan or other names you hear about, Khemraj Ramjattan, Moses Nagamootoo, we can show the PPP/C and the PNCR the way forward." He said while those mentioned above may see things a little differently on particulars, in the broader context, they all have Guyana at heart. With this in mind, the idea of a common programme, using the National Development Strategy (NDS) as a basis, could be taken to the electorate. The NDS, he said was crafted by the widest section of the Guyanese population and was not a PPP/C or PNCR or ROAR document.

However, he said one of the weaknesses of the NDS was that it did not articulate how resources would be deployed to achieve particular goals. Dev said the Centre Force would take the elements of the NDS and devise strategies to achieve the Centre objectives. For example, in making the private sector an engine of growth the Centre Force "would have a position on how the private sector would be the engine of growth. For example, if Guyana has over $100 billion floating around. We could sterilise $50 billion and mobilise the other $50 billion for development by the private sector. This is how Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and other places developed."

He said there would be no pre-conditions to working together as there was "nothing wrong in seeing some things differently and wanting to maintain your identity. But all must be prepared to work with a programme," he said. The main objective of the Centre Force would be to deny both the PPP/C and the PNCR, a majority in parliament. To govern, the government has to pass bills and according to the new rules 50% of the vote is needed at the minimum to pass any bill. If the bill is not passed within three months it fails. In such a situation, Dev said, whoever forms the government, the PPP/C or the PNCR, would have to look at the other side to negotiate to get a majority. "That is basically the intent of the strategy to create this 'Centre Force' - "One of the elements of the 'Centre Force' is consultation and not just a one party position, Dev said. He added that whatever issues were taken to parliament would have to be voted on consistently based on a common programme. Why no preconditions? Because in a one-party setting members would have to leave out some important interests they wanted to represent. No one should be forced to do that, he said stating: "We want to show Guyana that while we may differ in perspectives or specifics we should be able to work together. However, sometimes there would be need to put aside personal interests for the national good. That is the nature of the 'Centre Force.'"

The 'Centre Force' emerged from meetings with many of the smaller parties and individuals over the past six months and has found favour with them. It is not just ROAR's idea, Dev said.

After first and Second

Asked for his views on the 'Third Force' articulated by GAP's Leader Paul Hardy, Dev said he does not like the word "third" as it comes after first and second, which "somehow means last in the Guyana." The `Third Force' he feels would be another duplicate of the PPP/C and the PNCR, expecting to replace them. "The political reality of Guyana is that the 'Third Force' is not going to replace the PPP/C or the PNCR in the short term. The PPP/C and the PNCR are entrenched and voters are voting for them because of their insecurities." Bringing in a representative from another race such as the PPP/C did in bringing in Odinga Lumumba to represent African interests when he was not their chosen representative, he said, would make no difference to the electorate. He said the concept of the 'Centre Force' was similar to the concept of the Third Force in some regards but taken further. "Our perspective on the matter, however, is that you don't have to be in one party especially in the beginning. As separate parties we must work on a common programme." Nagamootoo's concept of a national agenda to get the major political parties to work together (SN 14/01/05), he said, was like a bolt from the blue as it related to the concept of the 'Centre Force.' "I don't think the PNCR and the PPP/C will sit together. The smaller parties can show it can be done." He said this common platform would be a yardstick to measure the PPP/C and the PNCR. Working together in parliamentary select committees has given Dev some hope that there can be consensus in a smaller group on a matter concerning Guyana. "It is just that when you go to Parliament, you're forced to be the government and the opposition. I am hoping that these discussions with the smaller group would set the ambience of collaboration for Guyana," he said.

You don't have to be President

The Patriotic Coalition for Democracy (PCD) has been one example of the success of the 'Centre Force' in Guyana. Then PCD did not become one party but took up the issue of 'free and fair elections' to which all the parties agreed. Interestingly, he said, there is a rule that the opposition can introduce bills in Parliament. But at present it cannot because the government would not support them. Under this new dispensation, he said, "If we can deny both the PPP/C and the PNCR the majority of seats, it will not matter who introduces a bill." With the 'Centre Force', "ROAR would be willing to go either way. You don't have to be President of Guyana to make a difference to the country," he said. In the 'Centre Force', the parties' leader have accepted the idea that they are not going to be president but they would have to be committed to remain in Parliament and not to coalesce with the PPP/C or the PNCR to maintain the fluidity needed in parliament, he said.

The eventual programme in the run-up to the elections is one which all smaller parties will sign on to, sharing one platform and talking to each other. Dev said PNCR Leader Robert Corbin has spoken about the 'Big Tent' concept to embrace everyone but ROAR was not in agreement. He said if there is a coalition supporting either the PPP/C or the PNCR things would be back at square one since a coalition with either of the big parties would not solve Guyana's problems. "It is possible that in working with the smaller parties if there is enough in common to become one then coalition would be an option," he said. However, within such a coalition, there are certain concepts that can be used and still maintain certain interests. For example, he noted that under the umbrella of the Democratic Party in the USA there is a women's caucus, African-American caucus, and Hispanic caucus, among others each with their own interest. They are permitted to sit apart from, yet put forward their ideas and plans to the Democratic Party.

He said there were certain things that might make some of the smaller parties come together in a coalition but based on the country's Constitution, a coalition was not a precondition for success. "We are looking to be a 'Centre Force', to go into parliament to offer this fluidity based on a national programme. If GAP could pick up another two seats, and ROAR, two more, it means there could be a 'centre control' having one voice on national programmes."

He feels the 'Centre Force' has a greater chance of giving hope to young people who want to see concrete things and not just imitations of the PNCR and the PPP/C. He hopes the smaller parties would target the young, clearly articulating a programme that takes care of their future. Sixty per cent of Guyana is below the age of 25 and this should be a big motivation for the smaller parties. He said the PPP/C and the PNCR were still at the "level of debating. This debate is just going to be a cuss down, gamesmanship, one-upmanship, who bluffing who, who ducking, who dodging, who dealing and I think young people are going to be turned off of that."

Run up to the elections

Dev said, security, economic strategy and nation building are national priorities in the run-up to the elections and in discussions with other members in the 'Centre Force' ROAR would try to make sure there are clear answers to positions by all the political parties on the security question, he said. "If it expects to be credible, the PNCR would have to take an unequivocal position in denouncing violence in whatever form. To solve political problems violence could not be an option in the security question has to be addressed by every party. We are going to solve it but we have to take a position on how to deal with it, up front and very early."

This government, he said, has to state very clearly where are the special weapons for the special force to be trained, armed and equipped that the parliament voted on to deal with heavy violence, two years after the bill was passed. "Government has its role to play. Is it getting our forces - not death squads - our legal forces to deal with it?"

On the economic issue, he said, there has to be a clear strategy for Guyana's progress. Not having a strategy to make choices to get out of the economic problems was dooming Guyana to remain dependent on primary products, he said. He feels the PPP/C government has "failed signally" in devising economic strategies. On the issue of nation building, he said, there has to be some commonality of purpose for going forward. "People have been forcing us to be one culturally.

"That does not develop a country. You can be committed to a vision of being a Guyanese to develop the country for unity. I can still be an Indian. You can still be an Amerindian proud of your heritage but you must be committed to a vision to be treated equally as Guyanese to develop Guyana." A similar situation, he said exists in America where Americans in general - whether they are Irish Americans or Hispanic Americans - were committed to developing America in terms of equity, but would still identify with their own cultural heritage.

The Race Question

In Guyana, people are concerned about race. Dev said, "We like to say ethnicity because it is not just race, it is how you identify yourself within an area. Because of valid concerns, the Amerindians are concerned about development in the interior. It is not that they don't like coastlanders. (But) when they see all development focused on the coast, you can't blame a person in Aishalton for not seeing anything but the kind of development to move the interior to a developed stage to trade with Brazil which has put its money where its mouth is, that is to develop Manaus by building interior roads and harnessing power from the Guri Dam in Venezuela. So whether it is an Amerindian or an African who says he is not getting contracts, those are valid concerns. This is where in the 'Centre Force' people would talk openly about their own concerns but not to the exclusion of other concerns. (For instance) people like (Tacuma) Ogunseye of the WPA would be with the 'Centre Force' to say what are the concerns of the people of Buxton, Ravi Dev could talk about the Indian concerns of the East Coast villagers surrounding Buxton, and Paul Hardy wants to talk about the Rupununi and its underdevelopment, all would be free to do so within the 'Centre Force.'" He added, "The race question will not disappear. (It is) based on real concerns and not just perceptions. Therefore, (it) must be addressed openly. We believe that once people begin to see that they are taken care of equitably and with justice, in a few years the problems of race would be gone. It is just that people perceive they are being treated unfairly because their representatives are not there when the decisions are made."

Asked about his party being race-based, Dev said: "We feel that all the parties are raced based and that is why Indians have voted generally for the PPP and Africans for the PNC. It is just that the PPP and the PNC talk a certain language but it's a joke...The people who vote for them know that they are race-based and they vote for them because of the racial criteria." ROAR feels both the PPP and PNC need to accept that they cannot govern openly at this time in the country's history because of race-based politics and that they have to work with the others, such as the 'Centre Force.' Most of ROAR's members are of Indian origin with an Indian perspective, similarly the majority of GAP's membership would have an Amerindian perspective.

"Therefore we must move away from race being something we should hide," he said. "Amerindian, Africans or Indians must not be embarrassed to say that they have some interest in their own. For instance no one, not you, nor I, nor anyone who is not an African can say what it is to be a descendant of a slave. I am being brutally frank about it because the modern world looks upon the Africans in a particular way based on their history and categorises them. So for you to pronounce on a matter that affects the African, you ought to be a little humble and allow the man to speak for himself. It is very possible that you might be able to represent a view but don't assume."

Similarly, no one knows how the Amerindian feels but coastlanders are "surprised that Amerindians are educated. But that is how coastlanders think. They actually want to not to accept that is how they think. We got to be honest about how we think."

The Opposition

Given the institutions, within which it could function, the opposition was not given the space "to make a contribution because of the way democracy works in Guyana: whoever has the majority does what it wants. The opposition has merely been a rubber stamp for PPP's policy, for at no time were we allowed to have an input into the decision-making process." The latest example, he said, was the motion by PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar to set up a new committee to deal with geographical representation at elections when there was already a constitutional committee, of which the opposition is a part, which the PPP/C chairs. "The irony of Guyana is that if the institutions (of governance) don't give you a voice you are forced to go outside. So ROAR's voice has been to use other forums, including the media to show Guyanese that we must move away from this racial politics and have inclusive governance. Not a single statement...not a speech I made in parliament was ever reported in the state media."

The Government

He thinks the government has been reactive during its term in office and not proactive in devising a strategy to move Guyana forward, in which politics should play a part whether cultural, social, economic or political. Being reactive is the PPP/C's major failure, he said, noting that the Stabroek News had recently reported that a road in Leonora was broken up two weeks after it was built, "So when the government talks about the infrastructural works it has done, it has to balance that against the cost, the money which was borrowed - which taxpayers would have to pay back, and whether there was value for the money," he said. "I think the PPP has failed both in terms of lacking a vision for Guyana and in terms of utilising the resources that have come our way in terms of getting us back on our feet."

[Editor's Note: Originally publsihed by Stabroek News, February 24, 2005.]

February 24, 2005
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