May 10, 1999
The surprise announcement by visiting Commonweath Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku that he had managed to wrest an agreement from the PPP/Civic and the PNC on reviving political dialogue is most welcome news.
At a press conference yesterday at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel, the outgoing Commonwealth Chief revealed that following separate discussions with the leadership of the PPP/Civic and the PNC both parties had concurred on resuming talks on the basis of mutual respect and equality.
"In this context, they agreed that the remarks that the parties were not equal and the subsequent breakdown of the dialogue were regrettable and ought not to have occurred", a statement released by Anyaoku said. It added that the two have also agreed that the "political dialogue between the parties which is to proceed on the basis of (an) agreed agenda should not be confused with dialogue between the government and the opposition".
The country owes a debt of gratitude to Chief Anyaoku for his sterling efforts at coaxing the two sides back to the dialogue table after months of enervating and uncalled for paralysis of this vital plank of the Herdmanston Accord.
What should have been a bump on the road to concinnity between the PPP/Civic and the PNC on a clutch of critical issues turned out to be a Gordian knot which the leaders of the two parties, the dialogue facilitator, Maurice King, CARICOM and civil society groups were unable to rend.
It is without doubt the best news for months amid the economic turmoil, industrial unrest and the Cold War between the two parties.
When the euphoria has dissipated, Guyanese will however have to soberly reflect on the inability of the two parties to massage mature and significant changes to the barren and bitter political landscape that was the fruit of the 1997 general elections.
The Anyaoku intervention could well end up in the category of the highly-vaunted, stop-start mechanisms which the Herdmanston Accord and the St Lucia Statement must be classified as.
This third chance given to the political dialogue must yield tangible results as the highly sceptical public will understandably refuse to believe that the two parties are committed to defusing the political tension that has seeped into all nooks and crannies of life if this opportunity slips by.
The mechanics of this resuscitated dialogue are still to be worked out but it is clear that the old order cannot prevail.
Firstly, both parties must commit themselves to eschewing the type of firebrand rhetoric which sparked the original crisis. Anyaoku's statement dealt with this and said that both parties "agreed for the future to avoid behaviour and language that is capable of undermining the constructive nature of the dialogue". This is a commitment which was also embedded in the Herdmanston Accord but was honoured in the breach.
Secondly, given the intractability between the two dialogue sides both parties should consider changing their personnel. It is particularly crucial for the PPP/Civic since it was its representative, Dr Roger Luncheon whose insensitive remarks led to the impasse.
Thirdly, it is apparent that without supervision the PPP/Civic and the PNC will be unable, at this point, to cultivate fruitful dialogue on their own. Presumably Facilitator King will now be inclined to return and continue his mission on behalf of CARICOM. He too, will recognize that it cannot be business as usual. The returns from his first effort were disappointingly spare and were no doubt due to the terms of reference which limited his potency and the unstructured and timeless nature of the talks between the two sides. The two parties in their own interest should revisit the terms of reference for the facilitator to enable him to be a real broker in these talks. Mr King should be free to be open with the public over hurdles that are being put in the way of talks by either party.
Fourth, an agreed agenda with reasonable time frames should be non-negotiable. Otherwise topics of discussion will meander aimlessly from one point to the next without ever grasping the nettle. Undoubtedly the PPP/Civic and the PNC have their own key agenda issues i.e. recognition of the government, meetings between ministers and their counterparts, discrimination, victimisation, land lots allocation etc. These should all be neatly defined with time frames for discussions. Two other issues are worthy of being placed on the agenda: fleshing out constitutional reform positions so that there can be some type of convergence on matters where the two sides are far apart and instituting measures to improve relations between the two parties - i.e. joint forums or meetings between their executives and supporters - so that the polarised and poisoned atmosphere that continues to shroud the country can be lifted.
Fifthly, each dialogue session should be followed by a public statement on agreements reached or positions taken and the specific action that will be pursued by both parties to give effect to any decision taken.
Sixthly, resumed dialogue should recognise that Guyana has to be quickly weaned off of external solutions. An internal dynamic must be set in train to productively harness the political energies of the country in these talks. The private sector and its civil society colleagues have lobbied for such a role in the dialogue and the parties should agree to their presence in some form so that they can take over from Mr King eventually.
In tandem with constitutional reform, healthy and vibrant political dialogue can go a far way towards bringing to the fore the deep-seated grievances that wrack the country and finding workable solutions. Goodwill is needed for this and Chief Anyaoku has handed both parties another precious chance.