No 'equals' problem once conditions met - Luncheon

by Michelle Elphage
Guyana Chronicle
April 10, 1999

THE governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) is willing to resume inter-party talks with the main opposition PNC "as equals" once governmental matters are excluded from the discussions, a top spokesman said yesterday.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon, told reporters it had been observed that the PPP/Civic dialogue with the main Minority PNC (People's National Congress), had "unfortunately" concentrated on matters that were Governmental and sectoral policies.

"The (PPP/Civic) today is stating that in light of the PNC's continued contradictions, it would be formally opposed to issues of a governmental...policy position being included in matters that we hope would be dealt with in the resumed dialogue meetings under the Herdmanston Accord," Luncheon declared.

"We insist that those matters should be, and are properly dealt with at other fora...if and when the dialogue excludes those areas where the Government is engaging an opposition party, then yes, they will be meeting as two political parties and, of course, in the context of that engagement, they will speaking as equals."

"Once the Government is principally a party to the discussions between two political parties, there is no way that the administration would ever concede that the ruling party - the Government - is the equal of the opposition party", he stressed.

President Janet Jagan, in an effort to restart the stalled talks between the two major parties, wrote PNC leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte Tuesday proposing that the two sides meet with new teams on a specific agenda, including race relations and laws to concretise equal opportunities.

The structured dialogue between the parties under Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Facilitator, Mr. Maurice King, got stuck late February with Hoyte accusing Luncheon, then PPP/Civic team leader for the talks, of saying he and his PNC counterpart, Mr. Lance Carberry were not equals.

Hoyte had called for a withdrawal of Luncheon's remarks and a public apology before the talks could continue. He this week indicated that if the PPP/Civic changes its team, what will have to be clarified was whether the two sides would speak as equals.

Luncheon yesterday, however, conceded that there will be cases where the "thin line" between government policy and activities of the ruling party will have to be looked at.

But he maintained that the Government prefers to separate the business of its political party and the administration.

"I don't see why Mr. Hoyte should have difficulties with that. He has spent years embracing paramountcy and being a part of that. So he should be aware of the (PPP/Civic's) rejection of paramountcy, and our clear cut separation between Government and Government policy and party and party operations," he emphasised.

The PNC had adopted a policy of party paramountcy over the Government while it was in office.

Luncheon said the PPP/Civic still intends to put forward a new dialogue team as proposed in the President's letter to Hoyte, but stressed the importance of adopting an agenda that omits the discussion of government actions and policies.

The top Government official said the separation of the issues does not go back on any commitment offered by President Jagan when she signed the two CARICOM-brokered `peace' deals - the Herdmanston Accord and the St. Lucia Statement - last year with Hoyte.

"We couldn't be so myopic. The proposal to separate the two dealt with our recognition that it would lead to controversy," he maintained.

He explained that was why during the dialogue meetings, the PPP/Civic team proposed that governmental policies and actions be discussed at the level of meetings between Ministers and PNC Shadow Ministers.

The PNC had, however, insisted that the meetings of the Ministers and their opposition Shadows should be done in the context of parliamentary reform.

"We were amazed because I don't believe it had any relationship with parliamentary reform. This was purely a matter of representation...that there are constituents out there from either groupings that would want matters dealt with, and the involvement of the Minister and the Shadow Minister was a fairly useful...tool.

"So we made provision for what Mr. Hoyte called `irritants' to be dealt with outside of the dialogue, and those critical issues that had besieged our political continue to occupy our time," Luncheon declared.

"But after the abandonment of the Shadow Minister/Minister engagement, we were forced and we went along, bringing Ministers of the Government...who weren't even members of the PPP, to sit down at the dialogue and to discourse at length on sectoral issues..."

"The notion is that the discussions on governmental issues has been primarily the area that has led to the controversies that have destroyed the gains that were being made in the dialogue process."

He indicated that up to yesterday, the President had not yet received a response from Hoyte to her letter, noting that if as suggested he has rejected the proposal, he will have one of his own to make.

Luncheon argued, too, that Hoyte's continued non-recognition of the Government added to the difficulties the dialogue was faced with.

"At the level of the dialogue it creates problems. Because the dialogue implies that matured decision-making based on, what I would refer to as unassailable assumptions, would arise," Luncheon said.

But the Head of the Presidential Secretariat has also indicated that some of the considerations guiding the Government's opinions on certain matters will now have "new light" with Hoyte's declaration Thursday that the country has a de facto Government.

CARICOM leaders brokered the `peace' deals amid violence and rising tensions from PNC street demonstrations in Georgetown after the December 1997 general elections.

Meanwhile, Luncheon apologised for "errors" which he said he and other PPP activists committed at a public meeting of the party, which might have influenced the PNC to believe the party was abandoning its commitment to Constitution reform and the CARICOM deals.

"At a recent public gathering, I had made mention of a year (2003) for a PPP/Civic administration that was inconsistent with the pledge," Luncheon told reporters.

He, however, argued that the PNC had no basis for using a "sole utterance" to arrive at conclusions that the governing party was deserting its pledges.

The `peace' deals envisage elections by 2001, instead of at the end of the Government's usual five-year term since the December 1997 polls.

And representatives of civil society yesterday met President Jagan as part of their intervention to reach resolutions on the political impasse in the country.

They met the PNC leader late last month and are to have follow-up meetings.

Luncheon said the approach by civil society seems to "have merit", but he stressed that consensus on any proposal was most important.

"The proposals to be brought today (yesterday) will be considered to see if there is a major role in resolving the political and socio-economic issues of the day," he added.

"That initiative may very well be able to broaden the discourse", he said.