CARICOM intervention likely
--as dialogue hits another snag

Stabroek News
September 5, 1999

The Herdmanston dialogue process which resumed on June 14, has again run into difficulties and it is likely that another CARICOM intervention would be needed to ensure the parties honour the spirit and letter of the Accord.

The breakdown this time around follows disagreement between the PPP/Civic and the PNC as to whether the dialogue process is the appropriate forum for the discussion of land distribution and house lot allocation. This issue heads the PNC's priority list of issues for discussion.

According to a statement issued by CARICOM Facilitator, former Barbados attorney general, Maurice King, QC, the PPP/Civic and the PNC have failed to arrive at a consensus on the approach to the issue.

Agreement has eluded the two parties despite efforts by King at separate meetings with the PPP/Civic on August 30 and September 1, and with the PNC on August 31, "to explore avenues for narrowing the differences between the parties."

As a result of the failure to narrow their differences, King said, no substantive debate has taken place on the issue of land and house lots distribution.

He said that he would continue his efforts to see if the parties could arrive at an accommodation. However, he noted that St Lucia's Prime Minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, who has been assigned responsibility for the implementation of the Herdmanston Accord and the Saint Lucia Statement including the dialogue process, was expected here later this month.

Dr Anthony, he said, "will take the opportunity to review the state of the dialogue and give any assistance that may be necessary to ensure that the letter and spirit of the Herdmanston Accord are achieved."

The statement by King explains that the PPP/Civic has taken the position "that the dialogue is not the appropriate forum for discussing and/or resolving land and house lots distribution."

It said that the PNC "took strong objection to the PPP/Civic's proposal" as it was not prepared to raise issues at the dialogue and not have them settled at the dialogue but be told to go and raise the matter with the appropriate minister.

"The PNC sees the dialogue as a political mechanism for seeking to resolve the problems of the country. The PNC's perception is that the PPP/Civic is introducing another device to frustrate the work of the dialogue. The PNC considers that all [its] agenda items are legitimate items for inter-party dialogue and are consistent with the letter and spirit of the Herdmanston Accord."

King's says that the PPP/Civic's position is that "the dialogue would be more productive in dealing with policies for the national sectors where these policies are partially developed or in the process of formation.

"Where, however, policies have already been developed and implementation mechanisms in place it would be inappropriate for the PPP/Civic dialogue team to question or criticise or amend those policies. In these cases the issues would be more government and opposition issues and should be dealt within that framework."

The PPP/Civic dialogue team, which is being led by its General Secretary, Donald Ramotar, contends that "house lots and land distribution issues fall within the category of government and opposition matters." As a consequence the PPP/Civic dialogue team said that it can only recommend that these matters be taken up using one of the following mechanisms:

* Minister-Shadow Minister Engagements;
* Parliamentary Standing Committees Engagements;
* Parliamentary Motion/Questioning Engagements.

The PNC's position on the issue is that given that the Constitution Reform Commission had recommended that the National Assembly should approve and monitor implementation of the policy by which land allocation and house lot distribution would be undertaken, that it was necessary that there should be agreement on the principles on which that policy should be based.

In his statement, King said that the PNC's proposals for the criteria for determining land and house lots allocation and distribution are:
* the need for transparency and equity in the allocation and distribution of land and house lots;
* the need to prevent the creation of ethnic insecurity and conflict;
* in conformity with good land-use principles, practices and management all land should be zoned and designated for particular usage. The "economic" or "best-use" principle of land utilisation should be applied for agricultural expansion, industrial development and human settlement;
* the preservation, recognition and compensation for indigenous and lost ancestral rights to land;
* the necessity for agrarian reform and the opening of a "second developmental front" in the hinterland;
* the establishment of an independent constitutionally enshrined institution with responsibility for land and house lots distribution, review, dispute resolution and redress throughout Guyana.

King's statement noted that the issue of land distribution and house lot allocation was on the consolidated agenda agreed by the two parties at the dialogue session held on August 9.

The statement said too that at the statutory meeting of the dialogue held on August 13, it was agreed that both parties would document their proposals on land and house lots distribution and the Elections Commission and submit them to the dialogue for discussion with a view to reaching agreement thereon.

The issue was also one which had been under the consideration of the dialogue process since last year. When it was first raised there was some confusion as to what was agreed, with the PPP/Civic dialogue team then led by Dr Roger Luncheon, contending that it had to consult with the subject ministers before it could commit to any agreement on the issue. A meeting was held with the subject minister for house lot distribution, Shaik Baksh, but the PPP/Civic was unable to arrange for Agriculture Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud, to attend the dialogue session to discuss the land distribution issue.

There was also outrage at a list of regional land selection committees which the PNC claimed were packed with PPP/Civic supporters and which led to Persaud withdrawing the list. He explained the withdrawal by pointing out that he had not authorised publication of the list as he had not completed his consultations on its composition.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples