The rejection by the National Assembly of the re-tabled Supplementary Estimates, rejected previously, elicited headlines, accusations and counter accusations recently. According to statements in the press the Government re-tabled the Estimates because the Opposition had indicated that it was prepared to reconsider them. To its surprise the opposition voted against the Estimates without asking a single question. After the Sitting the Opposition explained that its complaint against the Estimates had been inadequate explanations and that the Estimates were resubmitted with the identical, inadequate, explanations.
The denial of funds to the Office of the President is particularly painful. On one item only, Presidential Advisory (Cabinet and Other Services) of a total of $401,000,000.00 was reduced by $230,000,000.00 to $171,000,000.00. This head includes the staff of the Parliament office who number over one hundred and is not confined to the few advisers who are employed there. Many of them will lose their jobs and the business of the Office of the President will be grievously hampered.
In view of these dire consequences it was expected that both Government and Opposition will co-operate to resolve these issues. But it appears that they are talking past each other. How can the Opposition promise to reconsider the Estimates and then move that they violate the Standing Orders? How can the Government table the Estimates unchanged when the Opposition complained that they did not have enough details?
The public is either bemused or befuddled.
Neither the Government nor the Opposition wants early elections. Each Party would want to impress its supporters to increase its support at the next round. To do so each side needs to show achievements in order to prove its case. Neither side gains by either depriving funds for employees or having to confess gridlock to the electorate. Each side knows this and they therefore appear to be circling each other warily, trying to seek advantages which may bring gains in the future. All this is to be expected but it might not work to no one’s advantage unless an early modus vivendi is arrived at.
If this happens the Estimates can be considered for a third time. To avoid technical difficulties arising from differing interpretations of the Standing Orders, the National Assembly can be prorogued on August 10, at which time it goes into recess anyway, and convened on October 10, when it is due to resume. The Estimates, with explanations satisfactory to the Opposition, inserted after discussions, can then be properly reconsidered.
This interval will give the parties ample time to eschew posturing, accusations, and counter accusations from which no one is gaining and many employees are genuinely suffering. There will always be disagreements but there is considerable scope for a resolution of most, if not all issues, relating to the Estimates. There is no alternative to this course and the earlier the resolution, the better it will be for Guyana.
The structuring and intensification of the tripartite talks are a necessity. The objective ought to be to ensure that they are wide ranging, encapsulate all the areas of concern of the Opposition, have the capacity to take on Opposition concerns and suggestions and be constructive and purposeful. In these circumstances progress can be made for the country and credentials built up for electoral purposes.
In Canada which had two minority Conservative Governments until last year when the Conservatives won an absolute majority, the electorate had become so fed up with the infighting that it was estimated from polling that 85 percent of the electorate had lost interest in politics. A high degree of gridlock had prevailed and the united opposition had felt that they would be able to persuade the electorate to give them an absolute majority notwithstanding the polls showing that a similar hung parliament would be returned in elections. The opposition pressed and lost out. The electorate may well have felt that it was necessary to resolve the gridlock in order to have effective governance and better the devil you know, the Conservatives, that the devil you don’t know, the opposition. This is good reason for the Opposition in Guyana to take note.
Unless the parties in Guyana can set aside historic differences and mutual antipathy born of deep and long standing divisions, the gridlock will continue and, notwithstanding the wishes of any party, elections will have to be called to try to resolve the impasse in governance. No one would be able to predict the outcome. If no party gains an absolute majority and another minority government is formed, what then?.
Apart from everything else, a great opportunity exists for us to learn to work and achieve together. Our two major parties have never been able together to achieve anything lasting or permanent during the years of their existence. The opportunity exists, the creative leadership is in place, they are equally poised with one in charge of the executive and the other, with the help of the third party, in charge of the parliament. Nothing stands in the way except years of suspicion and bad experiences of attempts to agree in the past.
In this new dispensation it is incumbent on all parties to let the imagination soar, create a new vision for Guyana, discard the shackles which have bound us, just like the two hands breaking the chains on the PPP’s red flag. We have nothing to lose but our chains!