Just over a week ago, before President Granger left for Cuba, he pronounced that there would be ‘gridlock’ unless he was given the right to recommend names for inclusion in the list of six persons the Leader of the Opposition would recommend to him from which to choose the Chair of GECOM. In other words, the President was demanding the right to choose his own nominee, perhaps up to then the most astonishing interpretation of the several that the President had made of the Constitution and the CCJ’s decision. Fortunately, with the appointment of Justice Claudette Singh, this is no longer an issue.
But he has otherwise outdone himself. It was reported in SN last Friday July 26 that President Granger told members of civil society on Thursday that “the President cannot tell the Elections Commission when elections must be held neither can the courts.” He also reportedly said that the CCJ issued no coercive orders and therefore the Government is not in contravention of the orders of the court or of the Constitution. Presumably, President Granger delivered the same message to the diplomatic community, the Commonwealth Secretary General and the Caricom Secretary General, to all of whom he spoke. On this mindset, the danger remains that the President could still refuse to dissolve Parliament and fix a date for elections.
The crisis facing Guyana, due to get worse on March 22, when the Government loses its legal authority, was not the result of the actions of evil people. Not Charrandass Persaud for voting for the no confidence motion, not the PPP for encouraging him to do so, not APNU+AFC for seeking to stay in office for as long as possible in defiance of the Constitution. The crisis has emerged from the same culture that caused the PNC to rig elections, the PPP to abandon its pledge in 1992 to implement shared governance and in 2011 to fail to seek a coalition with the Opposition. The main political parties reflect the fears, anxieties and insecurities of the two major ethnic groups, each of which feels that unless it holds political office to the exclusion of the other, the economic and physical security of its supporters will be jeopardised. Each has its own narrative of grievances against the other, recent and historic, and each is as compelling to its owner as the other.
This systemic weakness has bedeviled our political culture since 1955 when the PPP split into two parties and became in 1957 the PPP and the PNC. Ethno-political fears have since remained the most dominant feature of our political system and which undergirds all political developments. If it continues, the major ills of our society such as underdevelopment and continuing poverty, political instability, periodic crises, corruption, emigration of skilled Guyanese, and many others can never be resolved.
The statement issued by the Bar Council of the Guyana Bar Association during last week quoted a dictum of the Chief Justice (ag) in the case of Attorney General of Guyana v Dr. Barton Scotland, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo and Mr. Joseph Harmonas follows: “I hold that the NCM [no confidence motion] was carried as the requisite majority was obtained by a vote of 33:32. The President and the Ministers cannot therefore remain in Government beyond the three months within which elections are required to be held in accordance with art 106(7), unless that time is enlarged by the National Assembly in accordance with the requirements of the said art 106(7).”
President Granger responded at a political rally at Vreed-en-Hoop, that he remains President until a new president is sworn in. The President made no reference to elections. Minister Harmon clarified on Friday afternoon that a date will be fixed for elections when the court cases are completed. He gave no indication that the March 21 deadline for the Government to remain in office will be adhered to. It therefore appears that the Government intends to remain in office, even after March 21, if the cases are not over, which is very likely. After March 21, the Government will be illegal. It will not be entitled to hold office, not entitled to make decisions, not entitled to enter contracts, not entitled to convene the National Assembly, not entitled to pass laws and not entitled to fix a date for elections.
By virtue of the now familiar Article 106(7) of the Constitution of Guyana, elections are due to be held within three months of the passage of a no confidence motion in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018, that is, by the end of March. The court has no power to alter the Constitution by extending the time. Only the National Assembly, by a two-third majority, can do so.
The first step after the passage of the no confidence motion ought to have been a directive from the President to the Chair of the Elections Commission to provide a timetable for the holding of elections before the end of March, 2019. This is what the Opposition Leader, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, ought to have insisted on at his meeting with President Granger on January 9. Instead the Opposition allowed itself to be ensnared in a charade of fruitless consultation with the Elections Commission. That it would have been fruitless was later signaled by a chorus that a new electoral list was neededand by a delay in the meeting. The most recent, flimsy, excuses are that time is needed for the training of elections day staff and the mobilization of supplies. These can be accomplished in weeks. Existing trained staff for local government elections only need to be upgraded and supplies can be acquired by emergency procurement.
Of all the other Caricom countries, Guyana has enjoyed the closest relations with Trinidad and Tobago. Language, common colonial history, ethnic make-up, common cultural patterns, similar systems of government and laws and long established people to people contact have all come together to keep us close.
During the period of the 1970s to 1980s when Guyana’s economy was flatlining, Trinidad and Tobago continued to supply Guyana with petroleum products on credit. During the 1990s, at the conclusion of the debt forgiveness process under the Paris Club arrangements for Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago forgave Guyana the single largest amount of debt of hundreds of millions of US dollars. This largesse should not be forgotten. Even though it has been almost impossible for Guyanese business people to get permission to invest or for professionals to get jobs or to reside in Trinidad and Tobago, relations between the governments of Guyana and of Trinidad and Tobago have always been cordial.