Parties reach accord

Stabroek News
January 18, 1998

After shuttling between the leaders of two main political parties, the three wise men from the Caribbean Community were yesterday able to hammer out an agreement which would reduce tension, promote harmony and lay the basis for political co-operation in a manner designed to restore Guyana to a state of normalcy.

With just about 15 minutes of Saturday remaining, Sir Henry Forde who led the team, was able to announce to the media, which had been standing by since 7 p.m. at Herdmanston House, that the leaders of the People's Progressive Party/Civic and the People's National Congress had agreed to a menu of measures which would be implemented according to an agreed timetable.

The agreement was signed by President Janet Jagan, and PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte and was countersigned by Forde on behalf of the Chairman of CARICOM, Dr Keith Mitchell. The main elements of the agreement are an independent inquiry (audit) to be carried out in two phases, the first of which has to be concluded within three months from January 17; a moratorium on public demonstrations and marches which will be declared simultaneously with the lifting of the ban which had been imposed on these activities; and the establishment of a Constitutional Commission which will be mandated to conclude its deliberations and present its report to the National Assembly within eighteen months from January 17, i.e. on July 16, 1999.

Among the matters to be addressed by the Constitutional Reform Commission will be measures and arrangements for the improvement of race relations in Guyana. The parties have agreed that the Commission is to be established by law, with a wide mandate, and a broad-based membership drawn from representatives of the polical parties, the labour movement, religious organizations, the private sector, youth and other groups in the society.

Its terms of reference and its membership will be determined by the National Assembly after consulting with the political parties. The process for implementing the changes recommended by the Commission has to be concluded in sufficient time to allow for fresh elections to be held within eighteen months of the presentation of the Constitutional Commission's report to the National Assembly.

The audit will be carried out without prejudice to any judicial process arising from the December 15 elections. Its first stage will consist of a review of the due process of the count on and after December 15 (including the role of the Elections Commission), with a view to ascertaining the votes cast for the various political parties. It will also examine the validity and authenticity of all relevant documents.

The second stage will involve an audit of systemic aspects of the electoral process, including the post-balloting phase. Responding to questions from reporters after making his initial statement, Sir Henry said that the personnel and funding for the conduct of the audit, which would be carried out by personnel from the Caribbean Community had already been identified.

The audit will encompass all electoral regions, but priority will be given to Regions 4 and 6. Both the PPP/Civic and the PNC will co-operate in the enactment of any enabling legislation that may be required for the effective conduct of the audit. In addition, they will accept the findings of the first stage of the audit as binding on them, and the enabling legislation will allow for such findings to be admissible for the purposes of any Election Petition.

Sir Henry Forde indicated that steps had already been initiated to provide assistance in the drafting of the enabling legislation. To oversee the implementation of the terms of the agreement, both parties will each appoint a senior representative with plenipotentiary powers for ensuring the smooth and uninterrupted translation of the agreed undertakings and arrangements into practice in a manner which supports the return of the country to normalcy.

The two parties are also committed to activating arrangements for "sustained dialogue" between them, with a view to fostering greater harmony, and resolving issues on which agreement can be reached. They will issue a joint statement confirming their commitment to the agreed process of dispute settlement, and their resolve to avoid the use of language which is accusatory or inflammatory.

They also have accepted that the Chairman and Bureau of CARICOM will retain an interest in the implementation of the measures, and remain at the disposal of both parties. In his concluding remarks Sir Henry said that the only winners emerging from the agreement were the Guyanese people as both President Janet Jagan and PNC leader Desmond Hoyte "have sincerely committed themselves to a process conducive to closing the fissures which have appeared in the society."

Forde noted that there would be a need for "the termination of the strident and controversial statements which would have negative effects both inside and outside the country." He said that the agreement would require the support of all sections of the society, particularly the media, which had a special obligation and responsibility "to ensure that the flow of news is devoid of rumour and hype."

Sir Henry and his colleagues, Sir Shridath Ramphal SC and Sir Alister McIntyre, were assisted in their shuttle diplomacy by the leader of the local observer mission mounted by the Electoral Advisory Bureau, Hugh Cholmondeley, whose experience and diplomatic skill and knowledge of the country made a significant contribution to the success of their work.

Sir Henry and his colleagues left early this morning after arriving here on Wednesday evening. During their stay they consulted with a wide cross section of the community, including the political parties, the business community, the Trades Union Congress and other non-governmental organisations and individuals whose suggestions contributed to the formulation of the terms of the agreement reached.