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Sunday, June 11, 2006
Autopilot

For outsiders who are unfamiliar with Guyana it must be a source of great puzzlement as to how this society functions at all. And it does - although only in a kind of a way. There are high-profile murders and other horrendous gun crimes which remain unsolved; various militias roam the land; weapons disappear from a GDF bond and only one is recovered; drugs flow in and out of the country unhindered - the corruption of the nation's institutions and some officials being the spin-off from this; a voice alleged to be that of the Police Commissioner is caught on tape obtained by what are believed to be criminal elements seeking his removal; a man named in a US grand jury indictment for importing cocaine tells the nation from his hiding place - among several other things - that he assisted in dealing with the crime crisis of 2002-03 and is the only person capable of thwarting a coup d'état; and the matter of the elections is so uncertain and complicated that the public lost the thread of the story a long time ago.

Could all of this - and more - have really happened in one small country within the space of less than five months? Just who is in charge? Well, the short answer is, no one appears to be; the nation is operating on a form of autopilot. And it is not just the security framework which seems to have all but collapsed, but the social fabric has frayed in less dramatic ways as well. The rules of the road are a distant memory, and residents are assailed in their homes by levels of noise from others which the authorities seem powerless to stop. It doesn't matter that the laws are there on the statute book; it would seem that there is simply no sanction which can be enforced against breaking them. And if anyone wants to take private action by bringing a case in the courts - excepting the new Commercial Court which hasn't been tested as yet - the odds are it will be bogged down for aeons. Without effective sanctions you just don't have a society which functions in the ordinary sense of that term.

It is testimony to the innate discipline of the law-abiding members of the Guyanese citizenry, that they still try to go about their business in the normal way, sending their children to school, appearing for work every morning, discharging their duties as best they can in the case of the most conscientious of them, and at least at some level for those who are less so. Even without the economic strain which so many people have to bear, this is a very stressful country in which to live. No one can look into the future with any confidence even three months ahead, let alone three years, and only a rank optimist would be of the firm conviction that it will all sort itself out, although everyone naturally hopes that it will.

Of course we are told about the various achievements which have occurred under this or that administration, many of which under normal circumstances would undoubtedly be worthy of note. But the truth of the matter is that if you have a brand new house, but live in fear of being attacked by gunmen, then your well-appointed abode will give you little joy; and if a new road passing in front of your new house only serves to facilitate the mobility of criminals, then what should be an advantage ceases to be such. In short, infrastructural achievements mean very little in a context where no one is safe.

It is, of course, the government which is responsible for security, and there is little to add to what was said in last Monday's editorial on this subject, save to observe that while everyone agrees that foreign assistance for the police force is required, except where individual cases are concerned, this is unlikely to materialise on an official country to country basis with the urgency that is called for. Considering the situation in which we find ourselves, the administration could at least explore the possibility of seeking assistance from private foreign sources, as the Dominican Republic has done. The government does not appear to recognize that unless it gets some kind of a grip on the security situation in the not too distant future, then it could conceivably become almost impossible for it to put a brake on the centrifugal forces at work in the state.

And as for the rest of the muddle, the two main political parties could at least make a modest contribution to alleviating tension by ceasing their constant sniping at each other. Certainly, if the PPP/C and PNCR never held another press conference, the odds are it would not be noticed by the mass of the population.

More important, if between GECOM and themselves they cannot come to some rational compromise on the current imbroglio to get an election on the road, then really they should not be addressing the electorate at all, because they will have nothing to say that the voters need to hear.

Everyone is past concerning themselves with what the record of one or another party is; as said above, the fact that Guyana is still functioning in a kind of a way is no thanks to any of them. In our dreams we would like to have a country which is relatively secure, where the laws are enforced and by and large obeyed, and where standards of decency are upheld. As said above too, it is a credit to the people of Guyana that so many of them are still law abiding and decent. What we want is for what applies at the micro-level of the citizen to apply at the macro-level of the state.

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