Gov’t more accountable after opposition pressure, says APNU

The main opposition APNU yesterday boasted that its efforts along with the AFC have been able to pressure the government into greater ministerial accountability, although it admitted that little has been achieved in improving the lot of the working poor, except for a small increase in old age pension.

“In a small way there are things that we are doing in the National Assembly—the questions we are asking of ministers and the requirement for them to go back and check with their officers and to come back to the National Assembly with a proper answer—I think [have] redounded to the benefit of the Guyanese people; it’s a small step but we believe that it’s a step in the right direction,” said APNU executive and MP Joseph Harmon told reporters at the coalition’s end of year press briefing.

APNU Vice Chairman, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, added that the National Assembly following the November 28, 2011 general and regional elections has created the environment in which the combined opposition has successfully pushed government to account for public funds in several state agencies.

“Before this, as you may know, many of these entities have not been submitting financial reports, audited reports and what I can tell you is that many of these entities, including NICIL and some less notorious, have in fact produced financial audited reports, they are before us and I will say this is one of the achievements of the parliament in 2012,” he said.

Joseph Harmon

APNU had electioneered steadfastly on reducing Value Added Tax, increasing the minimum wage and cutting graft and other forms of corruption but even with a combined one-seat majority with the AFC in the 65-seat House, the opposition’s motions and bills for various causes have been stone-walled by the government.

Roopnaraine conceded that the opposition has scored poorly in improving the standard of living of the working poor, partly because APNU did not form the government after the last polls.  “We will continue to press on those particular matters in 2013. With the parliamentary strength that we have, we will try to insist that these things do redound and benefit the people on the street because this is of course our greatest interest,” Roopnaraine assured.

President Donald Ramotar has bluntly made his position very clear that government would not support any opposition-piloted legislation that does not benefit from executive input. Attorney General Anil Nandlall recently refined that position, saying that government would not support opposition bills if they are  unconstitutional, inconsistent with current executive policy, or future executive policy or if government does not have the financial resources to administer and execute the law that the bill seeks to enact, or if the bill is deemed unnecessary.

Nandlall, representing the state, has moved to the Constitutional Court of the High Court several times since the convening of Parlia-ment to challenge the composition of parliamentary committees, opposition cuts to the 2012 National Budget and more recently the Speaker’s ruling that restricts Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee’s participation in the National Assembly.

Those legal moves by the state as well as a robust propaganda offensive by government on the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) and an assessment to the Inter-national Community have not gone down well with the APNU. “On the contrary, it was the PPP/C which has attempted to derail the work of the Assembly by challenging legitimate actions in the courts, by using grossly offensive language, by creating farcical debates and refusing access to the state-owned media to the opposition,” said APNU in a statement, which was also read yesterday.

The opposition coalition, which includes the Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR), Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and National Front Alliance, among others, vowed not to flinch from insulating the Assembly from executive interference. “The struggle to reassert parliamentary democracy, however, is far from over and the Partnership vows to continue and intensify its campaign in 2013,” the grouping added.

Other achievements listed by APNU during the past year were ensuring that the opposition had a right to appoint a Speaker of the National Assembly and cutting the budget in areas that were in clear violation of the requirements for accountability and transparency.

A ruling, by Chief Justice Ian Chang, later afforded government the opportunity to restore some of the funds that had been cut by APNU and AFC.
Questioned if the party was holistically prepared should another election be called, given the apparent confidence, APNU leader David Granger said, “We are convinced… from the mood of the public that the government is on the back foot the government is against the ropes .We are convinced that the moral tide has turned against the government and right now it’s not a question of money, it’s a question that public support has drained away from the PPP… I am confident that the opposition is now more beloved by the population as a whole than the government is.”

However, Roopnaraine added that there were issues to be resolved before taking to the polls again. “We have some outstanding issues in relation to elections that we would like see resolved before any elections are held, including local government elections… in 2011 we had major dissatisfaction with the running of the Gecom secretariat and there are elements within the Gecom that we would like to see the back of before we engage in another electoral process,” he said.

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