CARICOM backs urgent Jagdeo-Hoyte meeting

By Michelle Elphage
Guyana Chronicle
October 24, 1999

THE Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is backing moves for an urgent meeting between President Bharrat Jagdeo and People's National Congress (PNC) leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte.

Mr. Jagdeo, when he took office more than two months ago, extended an invitation to meet Hoyte and leaders of other opposition parties "to iron out our differences".

But while other leaders have met the President, Hoyte has not yet done so.

Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, Dr. Kenny Anthony, assigned special responsibility by CARICOM heads for Guyana, appeared to have had no success in nudging Hoyte into meeting President Jagdeo after meeting the two separately here last week.

Before flying out yesterday, he called for an urgent meeting between President Jagdeo and Hoyte, saying he had had no firm commitment for such an encounter.

Anthony argued that the meeting was a critical step to help iron out kinks in the political dialogue between the two major parties, the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) and the PNC, and move the process forward.

He told reporters at the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown: "I am convinced that there is urgent need for President Jagdeo and Mr...Hoyte, as the principal representatives of the two major political parties, to meet and engage in constructive dialogue on some of the major issues troubling the people of Guyana."

The political dialogue was "obviously of tremendous importance to the people of Guyana", he said.

"They need to feel some sense of security. They need to feel some kind of assurance that their political leaders can relate to each other, can talk with each other and of course they need to be reassured that the burning issues which affect the society can be addressed by their political leaders," he told a press conference.

He called on civil society to lobby for a Jagdeo-Hoyte meeting.

Anthony, who has to report on the Guyana situation to the 7th special summit of CARICOM heads in Trinidad this week, said he was disappointed at the pace of the structured PPP/Civic-PNC talks and the many issues which have surfaced and compromised the process moving forward.

"Disappointed is the word that summarises my own attitude to the political dialogue", he reported.

"It is essential, absolutely essential that those barriers that have been placed in enhancing that process must be dismantled and eliminated very, very quickly to facilitate the process and the growth and development of that dialogue," the Prime Minister noted.

Anthony held a series of meetings during his two-day visit with the four parliamentary and six non-parliamentary political parties, the Private Sector Commission (PSC), the Trades Union Congress (TUC), and religious, women's and youth groups.

He concluded that based on his discussions it was vital for civic society to get involved in the political dialogue process.

"There are opportunities for civil society to play a very constructive role in facilitating and encouraging the process of dialogue," Anthony said.

"The experience of the intervention of civil society which led to the settling of the recent public service strike and in concluding the arrangements for the transfer of ownership of the Guyana Electricity Corporation, is ample evidence that such participation would be useful in assisting to resolve intractable issues between the two major political parties.

"An appropriate form of such engagement will have to be worked out."

CARICOM leaders will be concerned at the pace of the talks between the two sides since the two community-brokered `peace' accords signed last year between the PPP/Civic and the PNC placed great significance on the need for "effective political dialogue", he said.

"There is not much else that can work in the absence of that dialogue. The dialogue is critical," he emphasised.

Anthony explained that there seemed to be a general change in attitudes among CARICOM member states, where governments have started to give expression to the philosophical commitment of engaging social partners in the process of governance.

"CARICOM itself is becoming sensitive to that issue. Some of us in CARICOM have insisted that CARICOM extends its reach to embrace the wider civil society," the Prime Minister said.

"The heads of government placed a lot of emphasis on civil society, particularly in respect of the constitutional reform process."

He said too there were occasions when the initiatives of its involvement should spring from civil society itself, noting that this was an ideal opportunity for the various interest groups to be heard.

Meanwhile, CARICOM mediator for the inter-party talks, Mr. Maurice King has signalled a willingness to continue the job once his extended term is approved by CARICOM leaders and the two parties.

King, a former Foreign Minister and Attorney General of Barbados, whose second stint as facilitator is coming to a close, said he was willing to "make the effort" despite the many problems which has plagued the dialogue process.

Anthony has suggested that once his term is extended, King should seek to involve civil society more in the political talks.

King was at all the meetings Anthony held while in Guyana.

He was sent here last year September by CARICOM to mediate talks between the PPP/Civic and the PNC. His contract was renewed in March this year.

The Saint Lucian Prime Minister added that his visit to Guyana was not intended to be an "engagement of diplomacy" but was more a fact-finding mission.

Prime Minister Anthony was assigned responsibility by the CARICOM heads in July this year to oversee implementation of the `peace' deals signed between the two major political parties last year.

The Herdmanston Accord and Saint Lucia Statement envisage political dialogue between the two major parties.

The parties signed the two documents amid violence and rising tensions sparked by PNC anti-government street protests in Georgetown after the December 1997 general elections.

The documents were signed by Anthony, then CARICOM Chairman, Hoyte and former President, Mrs. Janet Jagan

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