April 2, 1999
The efforts of civil society to get dialogue going again are timely and welcome. A delegation comprising representatives of the private sector, the unions, the consumer groups and the churches met Mr Desmond Hoyte, the leader of the People's National Congress (PNC) on Wednesday and discussed a number of matters with him and other senior PNC representatives The same delegation is scheduled to meet Mrs Janet Jagan, the leader of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) next week.
On March l9 the appointment of the facilitator Mr Maurice King expired. The donors have since indicated a willingness to fund his re-appointment until July and have raised the suggestion that his terms of reference should be strengthened. Perhaps that could be negotiated by the Caricom Secretariat and the donors with the PPP and the PNC. It is certainly desirable that Mr King be given increased powers to help him push and steer the dialogue and to enable him to raise constitutional issues for discussion. The first terms of reference reduced him almost to the role of a notetaker and were not conducive to a vibrant dialogue.
The dialogue process has been in cold storage for two weeks since the abortive meeting between Mrs Jagan and Mr Hoyte. The PNC has withdrawn its demand for an apology by Dr Luncheon for his remarks about unequal status and have indicated that they will accept a withdrawal of the remarks. However they had requested that they be allowed to vet the wording and this has not been agreed. A dialogue could, of course, have been resumed informally without the facilitator and pending his re-appointment. But in fact all talks have ceased.
Civil society is admirably placed to tackle these issues. It can surely craft a form of words for Dr Luncheon that both sides would accept when it meets Mrs Jagan. It can also discuss the broadening of the facilitator's terms of reference and outline some of the issues it feels can be dealt with in the dialogue. The delegation represents many of the important organised interests in the society and its united voice should be heard. Indeed it may even wish to offer compromise suggestions on some of the issues that have been occupying the two parties such as the composition of land allocation committees and representation on state boards.
Civil society had earlier proposed that the dialogue should be expanded to include representatives of civil society. It may well have raised this with Mr Hoyte. Whether that is accepted by the two parties or not civil society can continue to play an important role as an intermediary which can supplement the work of the facilitator particularly when an impasse has arisen on a particular issue. It should seek to have this principle recognised.
It is in the interest of the nation that dialogue be resumed as soon as possible and in a more structured form. Civil society should continue to play a part.