There are no insuperable obstacles to the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission and government needs to understand that because of its minority status in the National Assembly, it has lost its capacity to have a majority on the Commission, says former House Speaker, Ralph Ramkarran.
“Tackling corruption is in the government’s interest and it does not matter that it would not have the majority on the Commission, unless it has a wish to protect special interests, which will defeat the objective of the Commission,” he wrote in an article published in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek. Ramkarran, a former longstanding PPP executive, parted ways with the party in June following fallout from an explosive column he penned in which he said that corruption was pervasive and the government needed to do something about it.
In yesterday’s article, the former PPP stalwart noted that ten years have passed since the Commission has been enshrined in the Constitution. “During this time the allegations of corruption in procurement, and generally, have sharply escalated and no additional legal or administrative anti-corruption measures of a substantial nature have been implemented. The mechanism to deal with a substantial area of corruption allegations exists in the Public Procurement Commission,” he observed.
“In the past, except during the authoritarian era of Burnham’s rule, where commissions were expected to comprise both government and opposition members, each would make their nominations and the appointments would be made. On this occasion the PNCR unwisely demanded that all the nominees had to be approved by all the political parties. As was to be expected, this led to gridlock. In a speech in the National Assembly of the Ninth Parliament President Donald Ramotar, then an MP, explained that the delay in appointing the Commission was due to the PNCR’s insistence on unanimity,” Ramkarran wrote.
He said that now that Ramotar has become president, his government has changed its position and joined the PNCR in its “shortsighted” insistence on unanimity, which he had criticized in the National Assembly. “We have seen that such insistence, enshrined in the Constitution, has resulted in gridlock in the appointment of a chancellor and chief justice. But the government has now gone further and has declared that the appointment of the Public Procurement Commission is not a priority,” Ramkarran observed.
“Corruption is a major issue in our politics and it will not go away. It is baffling that with all the divisions and controversies arising generally from our politics, and now from the government not having a majority, that it would not want to get the issue of corruption out of the way. This leads to widespread speculation in the press and elsewhere that the government has no intention of curbing corruption because its members, friends and supporters benefit from it,” he said.
The former Speaker of the National Assembly also noted that the opposition is now in a majority position and can afford to drop its insistence on unanimity. “It may wish to consider proposing members who are qualified and independent but would not cause the PPP to see red flags, notwithstanding its commitment to the flying red flag in its party’s song. A chair can be selected by the tried and tested Carter method. These are certainly not the only ideas available for a resolution of the differences which no effort is being made to resolve. But there must be goodwill,” he said.
Ramkarran said that if the political parties choose the path of disinterest and gridlock, then the issue will have to be left to the electorate. “Both parties will have to explain their positions to the electorate as to why they insist on gridlock and why Guyanese people cannot be protected from corruption when a strong and potentially effective constitutional mechanism, the Public Procurement Commission, is provided for in the Constitution,” he asserted.
The political parties in Parliament have to formally make their nominations to the Public Accounts Committees