Bolstering the Accord
February 18, 1998
The Herdmanston Accord signed by the leaders of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and the People's National Congress (PNC) is one month old. Progress has not been spectacular. First, there was some delay in finalising the composition of the audit team. Then it was felt that the supporting legislation had to be put in place before the team started its work. Because of the problems of convening parliament due to delays by the parties in the naming of parliamentarians and the complications of convening the regional councils which produce directly and through the National Council of Local Democratic Organs l2 of the 65 members of parliament it now seems unlikely that the audit team can start work before the 8th March, l998. Parliament is scheduled to meet on the 26th February, l998 and the supporting legislation for the audit will hopefully be passed during the following week.
As often happens in these cases, the implementation of the accord in this respect has taken longer than expected due to unforeseen difficulties. But what is much more disappointing is that there has been little progress on a complementary aspect of the Accord namely the setting up of arrangements for sustained dialogue between the parties. True there have been three meetings, two at the respective headquarters of the parties, which is a kind of progress, but the dialogue has been limited to immediate formalities and has not begun to blossom out into that broader discussion on constitutional reform that many had hoped for and that will hopefully inform the work of the Constitution Reform Commission to be set up under the Accord. In other words, the real dialogue has not started and the spirit of reducing tension and promoting harmony that is meant to undergird the Accord is nowhere in evidence. The best proof of this is the PNC decision to hold separate Mashramani celebrations which involves non-attendance at the flag-raising ceremony at the National Park on Republic Day. But there have been unfriendly statements on both sides and the PNC is clearly not prepared to accept the government as legitimate even for this interim period.
In other words, there is no momentum of goodwill behind the Accord. The parties are going through the motions but are doing as little as necessary to observe the bare formalities. It is therefore absolutely necessary that Caricom maintain a presence in an effort to bolster the Accord and get real dialogue under way. In this context, the return of Mr Hugh Cholmondeley, an experienced UN consultant who is representing the interests of Caricom is most welcome. He has the experience to help the parties maintain and develop the dialogue and to put on the table in a joint meeting the various controversial issues that have arisen. We believe it is essential that someone of this stature should be readily available to monitor the Accord and keep it on track and to provide an impetus for dialogue that may otherwise be lacking. It is also good to know that several Caricom Prime Ministers may be here for Republic Day. Their presence too can help to improve relations between the PPP and the PNC and promote dialogue.
The Accord is a piece of paper. Without a real effort on both sides, which the two leaders had promised at the time in a joint statement, it will not provide an adequate solution. The audit is meant only to be the first step in an ongoing process of dialogue and constitutional reform. Given the continuing stark animosities one wonders if the Accord can survive the audit which will clearly lead to some substantial disappointment on one side or the other. A momentum and dialogue are needed to keep things going.