Guyana has had a long history of struggle for electoral democracy. We have seen at first hand the devastating impact of manipulated elections on a country’s development and the psyche of a people. As it is, it will take several generations in the future for the suspicions and accusations over elections to disappear. It is not something that Guyana needs ever again.
Beginning in 1990 there were many reforms which brought about free and fair elections in Guyana. The two most fundamental reforms were an agreed Chair of the Elections Commission and counting of the votes at the place of poll. These were, of course, supplemented by many other laws, regulations and practices that were agreed to between the two main political parties and enshrined in the Constitution or in the Representation of the People Act.
The Chronicle’s obscene calumny against Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh, over several months and getting worse, its contempt of court and the Government’s intimidation of the Judiciary have become deeply troubling. The Chancellor was publicly warned to go on pre-retirement leave and not to hear any ‘political’ cases. Suspicion was expressed that he would start a case and postpone it beyond his retirement date so as to seek to extend his term of office.
What is worse is that a lawyer, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who has responsibility for information and the power to stop the Chronicle since it started its disgraceful campaign several weeks ago, has allowed it to continue. The only conclusion is that the Chronicle’s rampage against the Chancellor, and subversion of the Judiciary, is official Government policy.
On December 29 the Attorney General’s Chambers issued a statement asserting that the lease that had been granted to the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (CJRC) in connection with the property in Kingston, Georgetown, known as ‘Red House,’ was invalid. Extensive reasons were given as the basis for that conclusion. On the following day a statement by Mr. Anil Nandlall, a prominent and well-respected lawyer and former Attorney General, was published. It was an equally extensive statement with a detailed legal analysis challenging the conclusions of the statement of the Attorney General’s Chambers.
In the meantime, on the evening of December 29, a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency informed the public that the President had revoked the lease on the basis of the advice given by the Attorney General’s Chambers and had given the CJRC 48 hours to vacate the premises. The CJRC had occupied the premises for about fifteen years and had accumulated a vast amount of material. Even trespassers are given longer periods to vacate premises by courts. In law, the period given must be reasonable. 48 hours could not be reasonable under any circumstances.
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.