The PPP unanimously decided in about 1994/5 to propose to the Select Committee on Constitutional Reform established by the Sixth Parliament (1992-1997) that a president should serve only two terms. I led the delegation, which included former President Donald Ramotar, and presented the PPP’s position.
The PPP presented the same position to the Constitutional Reform Commission (1999-2000), which I chaired. Its delegation was led by former President Donald Ramotar, then General Secretary. The two-term presidential limit, supported by the PNCR, was adopted by the Constitution Reform Commission and formed part of its recommendations. Article 90(3) of the Constitution was duly amended by Act No. 17 of 2001, unanimously passed in the National Assembly, to limit the presidential terms to two.
No one doubts the dire need of the City Council for resources. Its current income from rates and taxes is inadequate to maintain even the basic services it now provides. The City Council has had to rely on the help of the central government in the past and continues to do so. The central government may have gone along with the parking meter plan because it wanted to support the City Council’s drive to increase revenue and to be itself relieved of the burden. It made a mistake. Many still remember the sustained campaign by the then Opposition against the $2,000 fee for crossing the Berbice Bridge. One of its first acts upon entering Government was to reduce those fees by way of subsidy.
In the face of Government support and the Opposition’s token objections, it took a while for resistance to develop. When the reality of the charges hit home it triggered the formation of the Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM), led by some prominent citizens. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that organized resistance has emerged because the fees are beyond the pockets of private car, taxi and mini bus owners who travel to or move around in Georgetown to work or do business. As yesterday’s press reports, including of Friday’s demonstration showed, big business, middle class employees, vendors and taxi drivers were all represented in the demonstration. A major concern appeared to be the dramatic reduction in retail trade for stores, shops and vendors. This should certainly invite Government’s concern.
Three of the four dailies on Friday headlined the second oil find by ExxonMobil at a well called Payara-1. Past predictions about the presence of petroleum deposits in off-shore Guyana were confirmed when ExxonMobil’s announced its world class discovery, the largest for 2016, at its Liza well. If the Payara-1 turns out to be large, then the predictions of much greater deposits in the area could be accurate and much more oil could be found.
The amount of petroleum deposits that have already been found is enough to transform Guyana. But somehow Guyanese do not yet appear to be impressed. Casual conversations with Guyanese suggest that the cynicism that has developed from decades of promises based on Guyana’s agricultural potential, that Guyana could become the bread basket of the Caribbean and Guyana’s failure to take off economically, continues to exist. When told about the prospect of oil wealth for Guyana, and what it could mean for the future, many Guyanese are dismissive and unbelieving.
The truth is that Guyana would be transformed and we need to choose how. It would not happen overnight, of course, but by 2025 Guyanese would be feeling the impact of the oil income, which would continually increase. The Government appears to be making preparations to establish the legal framework and institutional mechanisms. There is no evidence that it is making any effort to reach out to the Opposition to build consensus from the earliest stage. If the Government wants political and national consensus going forward, it needs to start consultations with the Opposition early or face the possibility of a perennially contentious situation for our oil industry. Former Minister of Energy of Trinidad and Tobago, Kevin Ramnarine, speaking in Guyana recently, urged the establishment of a national oil and gas company to manage the oil industry, whose leadership should be insulated from politics. While this is easier said than done, it can be accomplished if the effort starts now.
Guyana’s economy is declining. The growth rate fell this year and the projection for next year is modest. This means that the income of the Government has declined significantly and so has its ability to spend. Public expenditure is one of the two main props that keeps the economy ticking over and sustains employment, income and services. The othe is private investment.
In making decisions on the budget, the Government found itself between a rock and a hard place. It had to decide whether to reduce spending in proportion to its reduced income or sustain the same or a similar level of public spending as previously by raising funds by way of taxation and borrowing. It chose the latter course by imposing or increasing taxes on individuals and businesses. It has also increased the amount that it will borrow next year, eliminating any prospect of a decline in interest rates.
Since it became known that Dr. Steve Surujballi will be retiring shortly as Chairman of the Elections Commission, popularly known by the acronym, GECOM, there has been a flurry of activity in connection with the appointment of a new Chair. The Opposition has written to Minister Joe Harmon. The Leader of the Opposition announced that he would be engaging in wide consultations, which is a positive step since some of the bodies he mentioned have been critics of the PPP from time to time. Mr. Harmon indicated that the President has written the Leader of the Opposition and has triggering the process.
The process by which the Chair is appointed is provided for by the Constitution. In 1991 Dr. Cheddi Jagan, then Leader of the Opposition PPP, refused to accept the continuation in office of Chairman of GECOM, Sir Harry Bollers. President Carter persuaded President Hoyte to retire Chief Justice Bollers and asked Dr. Jagan for six names, which would be acceptable to President Hoyte, from whom he would choose one to be the new Chair. Among the persons searching for names were myself and Miles Fitzpatrick.