Facilitator terms of reference for study by donors

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
March 24, 1999

CARICOM and members of the donor community here yesterday met to discuss the extension of the dialogue facilitator's work here and the terms of reference under which he was operating was one area up for consideration.

The meeting was convened yesterday by CARICOM Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington, in response to a request for an extension of the funding for the work of the facilitator and to discuss the terms of reference under which the dialogue process and the facilitator have functioned, according to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative, Richard Olver. Among those at the meeting were representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Canada.

The donor community, including the UNDP, funded the activities of the facilitator, Maurice King SC, a former attorney-general of Barbados, up to the end of his assignment on March 19. The funding provided was US$81,000 to cover "expenses, travel and miscellaneous costs".

Olver, told reporters yesterday at a briefing on developments related to the UN system here that the donors wished to finance a process which was productive and there were questions in the minds of the donor community regarding the best way to ensure this productivity.

"Thus far the process has been open-ended both in terms of agenda and timeframes and it is our intention to discuss with the Secretary-General, timeframes and agenda as possible elements in the extension period."

Other matters, he said, would include "the period of the proposed extension, the role of CARICOM and its Heads of Government, as sponsors of this process, in moving the process forward, the terms of reference under which the process and the facilitator function." Questions have been raised over whether the terms of reference under which the facilitator functioned were adequate to allow him to do the job of getting the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and the People's National Congress (PNC) to make progress on the dialogue front. Dialogue between the two parties is one of the menu of measures agreed under the CARICOM-brokered Herdmanston Accord which was hammered out following post-elections unrest in December 1997.

Olver said too that the political leaders whose parties are signatories of the Herdmanston Accord "have been fully involved in this process and have indicated their clear desire for the facilitator to continue his work."

The UNDP Representative said that he was "very satisfied" with King whom he thought had done "a wonderful job under very difficult circumstances" but was disappointed with the lack of substantial progress."

Commenting on the criticism that the dialogue should not be restricted to the two major political parties, Olver said that it was the belief of the United Nations that it was "always useful to have parties to any differences talking with each other."

"It is in this spirit that we have been sponsoring these discussions. It was the choice of those directly involved to frame these discussions in this fashion and we respect that choice."

However, Olver said that he was happy that parallel to the dialogue process, the constitution reform commission was now undertaking its work involving a wider spectrum of social forces, including other political parties which could only benefit the wider process of national consensus building towards reconciliation.

"We strongly support the work of the constitution reform commission." One expression of that support was the donation of a Pentium computer which Olver handed over to secretary of the commission, Haslyn Parris, following the press briefing. Yesterday afternoon, too, Olver and representatives of the donor community met with Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee, and Finance Minister, Bharrat Jagdeo, to discuss the allocation of responsibilities for meeting the financing needs of the commission. The commission has a proposed $80 million budget to cover its activities to July 17. Olver said that the donor community "was interested in assuring that these activities go forward to the fullest extent possible and we are coordinating with each other and the government to determine the best way to accomplish that."

Olver refused to be drawn into commenting on the next step in the dialogue process should the PPP and PNC fail to agree on the steps to resolve the impasse in the dialogue. He explained that CARICOM as in the past might want to step in in an effort to assist the process and that he did not want to prejudge their efforts.

He said too when asked about the desirability of meetings between President Jagan as the representative of the PPP/Civic and PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte, that "dialogue should be continuous, occur at all levels and should deal with a wide range of issues in order to be fruitful and we will do whatever the parties ask in order to ensure that it is fruitful as it can be."

Meanwhile in an effort to revive the dialogue, the private sector and its civic partners will meet Hoyte today at their request to discuss their ideas of broadening the dialogue process to include the civic organisations and the other parliamentary parties.

The civic groups are also to meet with President Jagan but the details of the meeting up to Monday had not been settled.

The dialogue broke down over remarks made by the leader of the PPP/Civic dialogue team, Dr Roger Luncheon, to his PNC counterpart, Lance Carberry, during the February 15 session of the dialogue. The PNC had demanded an apology and withdrawal of the remark in which Dr Luncheon said that the PPP and the PNC were not negotiating as equals in the process.

The PNC has since indicated that it would accept withdrawal of the remark but it must be given the opportunity to vet the withdrawal statement so as to ensure that the meeting at which it was made was productive.

The parties have so far failed to agree on an acceptable form of words and King has referred the issue to CARICOM chairman, Suriname's president, Jules Wijdenbosch, for him to resolve. King has since left Guyana and is prepared to return once the issue of the withdrawal statement has been resolved and clear and precise parameters agreed within which the dialogue process when resumed would proceed.