August 5, 1999
The imminent resumption of dialogue will give even the most sceptical a little sense of hope, however meagre the results may have been to date.
Previously, it was decided that the dialogue would not touch on the topic of constitutional reform. Should that position be maintained? Both parties will by now have had a chance to look at the report of the Constitution Reform Commission. They will be aware that this has left some issues unresolved and a considerable amount of work still to be done. It is also the case that nearly all the amendments to the constitution will require the approval of the two main parties. Accordingly, though the report may be referred to a select committee for it to consider and decide on the recommendations and, presumably, to give instructions for the drafting of the revised constitution, itself a considerable task, would it not be desirable to have a collateral process going at the same time in the dialogue between the PPP and the PNC in which they seek informally to find areas of consensus and discuss disagreements. In view of the already tight time schedule that exists given the need for discussion of the report by the select committee, decision on the recommendations, drafting of the revised constitution, approval of that constitution by parliament, holding a referendum on the necessary clauses and putting in place an Elections Commission to prepare for an election (all to be done in l6 months) would it not make sense for the process to be expedited by a simultaneous dialogue on the key issues?
There are other pending issues that had been raised before the dialogue had aborted and hopefully some progress can be made on those, in particular on the improvement of the procedures involved in managing the business of parliament. Would the two parties consider the involvement of persons from civil society in the dialogue in addition to the facilitator, given the useful role played by such elements in the settlement of the strike by the public service union? Those elements may be able to help by narrowing differences, providing data and information and helping the facilitator to keep the dialogue focused and on track.
There is a general feeling that the dialogue could be much more productive if it could get going on a regular and organised basis. This would require a higher level of preparation and commitment on both sides than has been evident to date. Because of time constraints the Constitution Reform Commission may not have produced the quality of report many were hoping for but the commissioners displayed a capacity to work together and compromise that was commendable. Can those involved in the dialogue follow that example?
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