Why has the Government failed to proceed with constitutional reform to implement the proposals contained in its manifesto for the 2015 general elections? According to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, the blame for the delay lies at the feet of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform. He said that a draft Constitution Reform Bill has been before the Committee but that the Committee has yet to consider it. As if in answer, a news item appeared on Friday stating that the Standing Committee will be meeting. The results of the meeting are not known at the time of writing.
Readers will recall that the coalition’s core manifesto proposals for constitutional reform for the 2015 elections include separate presidential elections, the person gaining the second highest votes becoming the prime minister and any party gaining 15 percent or more of the votes being entitled to a share in the government.
At the Georgetown mayoral elections on November 30, AFC Councillor Michael Leonard was nominated by his lone colleague. Having only two members, no one seconded the nomination and it was declared to be invalid. This event, embarrassing for the AFC, symbolizes the declining from its heyday in 2005 when Raphael Trotman, Khemraj Ramjattan and Sheila Holder, all MPs representing the three parties represented in the National Assembly – the PNCR, the PPP and the WPA – decided to establish the AFC. There was great anticipation by many who had become jaded with the main political parties, the PPP and the PNCR. Adding to the expectation was the fact that the landscape was arid. The WPA, the last party of significance that had attracted a degree of popular support, had been established in 1974. However, by the time free and fair elections returned in 1992, it had lost traction and failed to achieve significant electoral support. It obtained 2.4 percent in 2001, which it contested with the Guyana Action Party. The TUF, which was established in 1960, obtained 16 percent support at the 1961 elections. Returning at the 1980, after an absence during the 1970s, it could only persuade 2.9 percent of the electorate to support it. At the local government elections recently held, the AFC secured only 3.9 percent support, after having obtained 10 percent in the 2011 general elections.
The AFC is at a fork in the road. Logic would suggest that it should take the bend leading to independence. Necessity for survival, as the AFC would perceive it, would force it to take the bend leading to further subservience to APNU. At the time when the AFC was established, the nature of the Guyanese electorate was changing. The decrease in the Indian population and the growth of the Amerindian and Mixed populations, together with the dominance of ethnic considerations in politics, were having an impact on voting patterns. Most important, the middle class which had been decimated by impoverishment and migration in the 1970s and 1980s had grown again and was impatient with ethnic politics and insufficiently robust economic growth, which was possible as the latter Hoyte and early Jagan years had shown. The economic benefits which were later available to business did not reach the rungs of emerging entrepreneurs, while they saw favoured ones benefiting handsomely from ‘connections.’
The PNCR appears to have had no difficulty in accepting the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its appellate jurisdiction. The CCJ was established in 2005. As a court of original jurisdiction its function is to interpret and apply the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which established the Carribean Community. Hoping that it would replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) as the final court for most of the region, the Heads of Government agreed to clothe the CCJ with an appellate jurisdiction to determine appeals in civil and criminal matters for member states which cease to allow appeals to the JCPC and accede to the jurisdiction of the CCJ. In 1999-2000 the PNCR agreed, without having to be persuaded, to a recommendation by the Constitutional Reform Commission that the Constitution be amended to provide for Guyana’s accession to the CCJ when it was established.
In a statement published last Friday, Vice President Carl Greenidge reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the CCJ. Notwithstanding adverse decisions and that only four Caricom countries so far have joined the Court’s appellate jurisdiction, the Government was satisfied with its competence and quality. The CCJ was in the news recently when it held that a law which provided that cross dressing for an “improper purpose” was unconstitutional. Also, the electorates of Grenada and Antigua, like St. Vincent a while back, rejected the CCJ as their final court in place of the JCPC. The steadfast support of the CCJ by the Government of Guyana is welcome to all lawyers and should be to all politicians.
Firemen are first responders who are required to help and protect victims and their property. While purporting to do so, many fireman seize the opportunity to steal from victims. The stealing of property by firemen from the Fly Jamaica aircraft which had mechanical problems and landed with some difficulty at the CJIA, is a shameless and sickening disgrace. It was far more extensive than has been reported.
In the past, burglars invaded my late parents’ home and stole a number of items. Four or five policemen came to investigate and as they were leaving, one of them swiped my father’s wristwatch from a table. Some years later, firemen entered the Cameron & Shepherd building in Avenue of the Republic, where I then worked and sill do. The top floor was on fire. After they left, all movable objects of value that could be fetched out had vanished. Long before then, criminal activity by members of the disciplined forces and corruption in the society had been simmering and growing. Corruption by prison officers has reached alarming proportions. Little of consequence was done by successive governments to stop the slide. The result is that it has now escalated by leaps and bounds throughout the country. Thieving and corruption are now part of the national culture. It includes murder in the course of robbery and paid killings, including by members of the disciplined forces.
Prior to the announcement of the date for local government elections, there was speculation, particularly in Opposition circles, that the Government would find reasons not to hold the elections. It was believed that the Government had performed so badly that it would suffer significant losses and would not want to expose its flank, now that general elections are only two years away. The announcement in July by the Minister of Communities, Mr. Ronald Bulkan, that local government elections will be held on November 12 killed that speculation. The more significant news came later. It was reported that APNU and the AFC could not agree on a joint slate for the elections and would be going to the electorate separately. The long term viability of the coalition was put on the table. But observers welcomed the opportunity that it would give some indication of the relative strengths of the political parties, not by the number of seats they win, because of the element of the first past the post system in the elections, but by the number of votes that they obtain. Caution would have to be exercised in such assessments because of the expected low turnout, unless polls are conducted to determine the percentage turnout of supporters of each of the three contesting parties. Polls such as these complicated and are not conducted in Guyana.
The campaign has not met with great public enthusiasm. The coalition has suffered criticism from a poor economy, reports of corruption and bad governance for the Auditor General’s Report and the absence of President Granger, who has been receiving medical attention in Cuba over the past two weeks. Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, known as a dynamic election campaigner while in the PPP, has had to concentrate in rejuvenating the flagging fortunes of the AFC, which has been receiving very small attendances at its public meetings. It might well be that these factors will result in an especially low turnout of the governing parties’ supporters and will suppress their overall results. PNC/PNCR/APNU supporters have traditionally stayed away from the polls since the 1979 Referendum when wishing to express their disapproval.