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Dumas: PM’s talk of dialogue too late
Former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas says any national dialogue must be organised by civil society organisations and not the Government. Dumas was responding to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s plan to engage citizens in a national conversation, starting this month. In her New Year’s message, Persad-Bissessar had signalled her Government’s intention to reach out to the public and to afford citizens an opportunity to raise issues of governance.
She said: “The national conversation will be my Government’s continuing progress report to you. And it will be a two-way conversation that gives you, the people, the opportunity to direct us on where and how we must now proceed.” Dumas said yesterday, however, that while he agreed in principle with holding a national conversation, he had concerns about its timing. And he suggested that civil society organisations should engage the Government in those consultations.
Dumas said if the Government were to manage such an initiative, it would seek to direct the outcome and meet its own objectives, and those consultations could be seen as public relations exercises. Some citizens have said on social media Web sites that the exercise proposed by Persad-Bissessar was being held too late.
Dumas too said he wanted to know why the exercise was being held “so late,” the Government having been elected since May 2010. He said since 2010 he had publicly advocated the need for a national conversation to chart the course for future development of the Caribbean nation. Citizens must be cynical about the proposed event, he said, as it was being held about 15 months before the general election, which is due by May 2015. He said he was maintaining his “cynical neutrality” on the matter.
After losing an unprecedented four elections last year, he said the Government may want to use such consultations to help it in the 2015 general election. “Why do it so close to the end of your term? If it was done in 2010 it would have been an excellent idea, which would have been openly embraced by the population,” Dumas said. He said if consultations had been held then, the People’s Partnership government would have signalled to the country that it was different from those that went before.
He also accused Persad-Bissessar of contradicting her own message, saying the Prime Minister has promised a new Constitution and the population has not had a chance to discuss it. He pointed out that the report on constitution reform prepared by a committee chaired by Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar had not been made public. It seemed clear, he felt, that the Government had its mind made up already on the matter even before consultations were held.