Hoyte's de facto govt statement puts dialogue in new light -Luncheon

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
April 10, 1999

PNC leader Desmond Hoyte's statement that he recognises the PPP/Civic as the "de facto" government will throw new light on the attempts by the government to restart the dialogue process. "[This] puts new light to the level of engagement and I believe Mr Hoyte might very well want to introduce some proposals, starting out with his new position that he recognises this government even though it is de facto," head of the PPP/Civic dialogue team, Dr Roger Luncheon, said yesterday.

But before being alerted to Hoyte's position, Luncheon said that the PPP, in the light of the PNC's continued contradictions (refusing to recognise the government but yet making demands of it) was opposed to discussing issues of a governmental nature at the dialogue level as those were the source of contention. This, he said, will make the dialogue truly equal between parties; the PPP/Civic and the PNC.

Briefing reporters as Cabinet Secretary, he said that this was one of the proposals contained in President Janet Jagan's letter to Hoyte to restart the dialogue process. That proposal read: the dialogue should concentrate not on government/opposition engagements but on national issues and policies. It also raised the issue of new teams and looking at race relations, legislation to concretise equal opportunities and the national development strategy and other social issues.

Hoyte, however, told reporters that while the topics Mrs Jagan broached are "wonderful" they are not the irritants which have to be solved and which are causing tension in society. The irritants he listed as unemployment, discrimination in the public service, corruption and a perception of bias in land selection among other areas.

His position is that the dialogue can be resumed if the government clarifies that the two sides are talking as equals and Luncheon apologises or is replaced in the dialogue team. He also insisted that in signing the peace accords, Mrs Jagan gave her party's commitment for government action to deal with the irritants.

Asked whether the PPP/Civic's position that government-related issues be removed from the dialogue process is not a breach of the spirit of the CARICOM-brokered St Lucia Statement and Herdmanston Accord, Luncheon said no.

He argues that in the dialogue process, the PPP/Civic had proposed to the PNC that issues that had to be dealt with by the government should be dealt with by the ministers of government and shadow ministers in a separate engagement.

"The proposal to separate the two [engagements] dealt with all recognition that it [governmental issues] would lead to controversy. That is why the PPP dialogue team offered and suggested that a government minister and shadow minister methodology be applied," Luncheon stated.

He said the PNC team did not rule this out but wanted it to be done in the context of parliamentary reform and the PPP/Civic dialogue team did not see the relationship.

He argued that it was the minister/shadow minister engagement which would have dealt with the irritants Hoyte speaks of. And the other critical issues besieging the political process, which are socio-economic in their evolution would have been handled at the inter-party dialogue.

Dr Luncheon said that after the abandonment of the minister/shadow minister engagement, the PPP/Civic was forced to and went along with the PNC and brought in ministers of government for lengthy discourses. However, he said he (Luncheon) did not know many of the issues indepth and the PNC representatives often were not prepared or knowledgeable on the subject either.

Put to him that even a PPP/Civic and PNC engagement will need government action in the agreements reached, Luncheon said that that is where the shadow minister arrangement would come in and even broadened to include other bodies. He said many of the issues raised need to be discussed by the social partners as well.

But why not let the dialogue team then be expanded to include ministers and shadow ministers who can deal definitively with issues? Luncheon said he does not see why such a proposal cannot be entertained.