Civil society should be involved in dialogue --Anthony

by Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
October 24, 1999

A suggestion to involve civil society in the Herdmanston political dialogue process is being mooted by St Lucia's prime minister, Dr Kenny Anthony.

Dr Anthony said too at a press conference he hosted yesterday in the Caricom Secretariat at the end of his two-day fact-finding visit, that he was disappointed that the progress being made in the area of constitutional reform had not been mirrored in the political dialogue process. He emphasized the need for removing the barriers to its progress.

Dr Anthony, who will be reporting on his visit to his colleague Heads when they meet next week in special session in Trinidad and Tobago, said that civil society here should help to create the environment to facilitate the meeting between President Bharrat Jagdeo and People's National Congress leader Desmond Hoyte as the "principal representatives of their parties."

Dr Anthony explained that as a result of his discussion with the parties and civil society groups, he was "convinced that there is an urgent need for President Jagdeo and Mr Hugh Desmond Hoyte as the principal representatives of the two major political parties to meet and engage in constructive dialogue on some of the major issues troubling the people of Guyana. The letter and the spirit of the Herdmanston Accord and the Saint Lucia Statement must be honoured in principle and in practice."

He said that he had not tried to bring about such a meeting during his visit, but that both President Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte had recognised the importance of such a meeting. Such meetings were provided for both in the St Lucia Statement and the Herdmanston Accord, but there has only been one so far which was convened in March between then president, Janet Jagan and Hoyte. It was aborted as a result of their failure to reach agreement on the agenda items.

Since Jagdeo's accession to the presidency, he and Hoyte have been exchanging correspondence on the possibility of arranging such a meeting. No details have been disclosed by either side as to the nature of the exchange.

Commenting on the political dialogue, Dr Anthony said that as a result of the meetings he had had, he was "satisfied there is need for the involvement of the civil society in the political dialogue process between the PPP/Civic and the People's National Congress (PNC)".

"... I am satisfied that there is need for participation by civil society in the process of engagement between the two major political parties."

He explained that "the experience of the intervention by civil society which led to the settling of the recent Public Service strike and in concluding the arrangements for the transfer of ownership of the Guyana Electricity Corporation is ample evidence that such participation would be useful in assisting to resolve intractable issues between the two major political parties."

He said that "an appropriate form of such engagement would have to be worked out." As to where the initiative should come from to facilitate civil society involvement, Dr Anthony said that the responsibility for doing so was not exclusive to CARICOM and that it was important that the Guyanese people should be more involved in the process.

The process of political normalisation, he stated, was not about the political parties, but that "fundamentally the issue is about Guyana".

Dr Anthony said too that there was need for removing the barriers which were impeding the advancement of the process. Pressed for an example of these barriers, Dr Anthony pointed as an example to the PPP/Civic proposal that a number of the issues to which it had agreed being placed on the agenda should now be dealt with by the Minister responsible.

"... whether of course that suggestion satisfies the intention expressed in the Herdmanston Accord is one matter that one might wish to raise."

Also, he said that there was the issue of the time constraints, which in turn posed the question as to whether the agenda should be crowded with issues which "at this time are not necessarily of great political moment, or not crucial to resolving ongoing anxieties".

Another example of barriers which he offered, was the challenge of implementing decisions already taken in the process.

"It is important for the political parties here to understand that they cannot ignore the need for the people of Guyana to be confident about the process - the need for them to ensure that they minimise and eliminate the insecurity that people feel on a number of issues."

Commenting on the need for CARICOM to be more assertive in its efforts to get the dialogue going, Dr Anthony said that while there were problems with getting consensus among the fourteen CARICOM Heads on an appropriate statement, the best guarantee of progress in the dialogue process would be the support of the Guyanese people for Maurice King QC, the Facilitator to the dialogue process.

Dr Anthony explained too that should the Heads decide to agree on King's continued engagement in the process, he would like to see him more engaged with civil society.

However, with regard to the continued involvement of CARICOM, Dr Anthony explained that CARICOM Heads had ways of expressing their disappointment in an unambiguous manner if the process continued to frustrate their expectations.

With regard to constitutional reform, Dr Anthony expressed satisfaction with the progress being made and the commitment of the PPP/Civic and the PNC to the Herdsmanston timetable for holding general elections by January 2001.

However, he did stress that "it is important that the electoral system be agreed on, that the Elections Commission be set up and that all myriad ancillary matters be put in place for holding elections. "These matters must be concluded urgently because of limited time available between now and January 2001."

Asked if he had given advice to the parties about the resolution of that issue, Dr Anthony confessed to not being familiar with the Constitution Commission report on the issue. But he said that he had explained that some expert advice would be needed if the electoral system were to be a mix between proportional representation and some other desirable characteristic. The CRC report recommends that the system under which the upcoming general elections should be held should have the virtues of proportionality while at the same time guaranteeing geographical and gender representativeness.

Before meeting the press yesterday Prime Minister Anthony had separate meetings with representatives of the non-parliamentary parties and Trades Union Congress (TUC). Both of these meetings ran over the allotted time resulting in the press conference being delayed almost an hour after its scheduled 11.30am start. With Prime Minister Anthony at the meeting with the non-parliamentary parties and the TUC were King and Anthony Severin, Cabinet Secretary to the St Lucia government. At the press conference with him were CARICOM Deputy Secretary General, Dr Carla Barnett and King.

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