The PNCR’s congress this weekend is coming at a particularly difficult time for its leader David Granger as he faces a challenge for leadership of the party, mounting questions over his effectiveness as Opposition Leader and a bitter discipline row involving MP Vanessa Kissoon and General Secretary Oscar Clarke.
Granger wears three hats having been elected PNCR leader two years ago and he is also the leader of the opposition coalition APNU as well as Leader of the Opposition but almost three years after the combined opposition won a one-seat majority in the National Assembly, Granger’s leadership remains under scrutiny with political analysts and commentators largely saying that he has not accomplished much.
However, Granger last week said that in spite of the fiscal limitations, APNU has accomplished a host of things since the 2011 General Elections. “I do not agree with anyone that our work has not been adequate over the last 30 months. We have achieved a lot more than has been achieved in the last 20 years,” he told reporters. Granger emphasized that over the past two years, the opposition has been working to ensure greater autonomy at the parliamentary level but acknowledged that there is still more work to be done.
APNU holds 26 seats in the National Assembly and the coalition’s achievements are coming under scrutiny as its largest component, the PNCR, holds it 18th Biennial Congress this weekend.
According to several analysts, not much has been done. “I believe that since the 2011 elections, support for the APNU/PNC is presently at its lowest ebb. Contrary to what its supporters expected, the grouping has not been able to either bring them any real benefits or even appear to be making strident efforts at doing so,” former PPP government minister Dr Henry Jeffrey told Stabroek News. He supported a commentator’s statement that the PNC has become a shadow of its former self.
“The problem with Mr Granger is that for better or worse he seems uncommitted to any political philosophy, let alone ideology, leaving him without any apparent political conviction. He has never expressed an opinion on – whether for or against – the statist economic policies of President Burnham or the market based Economic Recovery Programme by President Hoyte. And has scarcely expressed an opinion on the constitution and whether and in what respects he thinks it needs to be altered,” analyst Christopher Ram said in a letter to Stabroek News.
In a scathing review of Granger’s tenure thus far, Ram said that Granger’s parliamentary interests have been unimpressive and narrow, APNU seems to be more reactive than proactive and despite accusing the Donald Ramotar administration of violating the Constitution, the coalition has not moved to the courts and in fact, government has initiated more court action.
“So far as the policy agenda of the APNU is concerned this seems to be driven mainly by the weekly reaction to some issue of the government concerning governance, corruption or misconduct by a government agency. So far as I know the APNU has not produced a single policy paper, barring its manifesto, on any critical or national issues. It has failed to address a policy on reforming the constitution, on dealing with Brazilian, Russian, Indian and Chinese investment and migration into Guyana, on hinterland development, on infrastructural development, on youth unemployment, on education, on health and on the less able sections of society,” Ram said.
Ram noted Granger’s “poorly expressed” comments that APNU has “achieved a lot more than has been achieved in the last 20 years.” There seems something wrong with the framing of Granger’s statement, Ram said. “It is incongruous for the 20-year period that includes the thirty months of the APNU since elections 2011 to be less successful than those of the three years, unless Mr Granger is saying that the previous seventeen years produced negative achievements, an indictment of his predecessors President Desmond Hoyte and Robert Corbin who shared that period,” he asserted.
While, Granger’s personal integrity has always been above reproach, his problem is that for better or worse he seems uncommitted to any political philosophy, let alone ideology, leaving him without any apparent political conviction, Ram said. He added that Granger’s parliamentary interests have been unimpressive and narrow and he has not introduced a single Bill in the National Assembly.
Ram pointed out that Granger’s twelve motions during the period were calls for commissions of inquiry into various issues (6); for the resignation and silencing of Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee (2); the establishment of a National Commissions for Veterans and Heritage (2); and a National Day of Villages but not a single one of these has yet seen daylight. “At the individual level Mr Granger has fallen far short of what many would expect of the Leader of the Opposition,” Ram said.
In relation to APNU, Ram said that the coalition suffered a blow when leading member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) Dr David Hinds gave the APNU an F grade and a further setback when the JFAP’s MP Jaipaul Sharma resigned from the National Assembly and took the party out of the coalition. Then in March of this year co-leader of the WPA Dr Clive Thomas had cause to draw attention to the “great worry, alarm, disquiet and even disgust” by members over APNU’s “seeming lack of direction,” and suggested that proposals by the WPA were being ignored, Ram recalled. “Ironically, Thomas’ plaintive cry appears to have also been ignored,” he said.
However, organisational defects may be the least of the APNU’s problems, according to Ram. He recalled an interview he had with APNU’s leadership some months after the 2011 elections when in response to a question about the legislative agenda of APNU for the Tenth Parliament, its Vice Chairman said that the agenda had been drawn up but that it was first being cleared by the coalition. “Two years later I can only conclude that the APNU never had a legislative agenda,” Ram said.
He added that a glance at the contribution by Granger’s close cabinet, excluding Carl Greenidge, shows that like he, they have added little of substance to the proceedings of the National Assembly. Greenidge, he noted, has introduced five Bills and more than a dozen motions, some of considerable significance. “With (26) members in the National Assembly, the APNU would have been expected to do more – much, much more, particularly when compared with the performance of the AFC which has just over a quarter of the seats held by the APNU,” Ram said.
Further, he asserted that it has also been very difficult to discern APNU’s policy and political agenda other than increasing its number of seats in the National Assembly. “A political agenda must certainly be wider than that. It must include how to deal with the excesses of the government, how to confront corruption, how to protect and advance the interests of its supporters, and how to halt the misuse of state resources for partisan political purposes,” he said.
“Granger it seems has taken a position against public protest which pleases the business community but shuts the door on a major tool of democracy. And on any protests against the abuses by the state-owned Guyana Chronicle and NCN,” Ram said. He added that so far as the policy agenda of the APNU is concerned this seems to be driven mainly by the weekly reaction to some issue of the government concerning governance, corruption or misconduct by a government agency.
Furthermore, he added that in the face of all the allegations made by APNU of violations of the constitution and of the laws by the government, including failure to hold local government elections and the spending of billions of dollars on questionable authority, APNU has not initiated a single court action against the government. “Indeed, the alleged violator has done more than the APNU in this regard,” Ram pointed out.
He recalled that last month Minister of Finance Ashni Singh brought to the National Assembly financial papers and a Bill in which he made it clear that up to June 16, 2014 he had spent billions of dollars on programmes and projects which were expressly disapproved by the National Assembly. Implicit in the Bill was the intention by the Minister that he would continue to spend under these same programmes and projects, Ram said. “You would think that this is the stuff of which injunctions are made. Sadly the APNU seems to think otherwise,” he asserted.
Meantime, Granger also has to contend with internal issues and the PNCR has yet to resolve a bitter discipline row involving MP Vanessa Kissoon and General Secretary Oscar Clarke. Kissoon has told Stabroek News that she has no faith in the PNCR’s disciplinary process and actions so far show that she has already been tried and found guilty. Granger suspended Kissoon from the party following an altercation with Clarke and the MP has expressed alarm that the Disciplinary Committee approved by the party’s executive comprises members who validated Granger’s decision to suspend her and who also fall under Clarke’s supervision. Clarke has not been suspended.
The PNCR has said that Kissoon’s suspension was done in accordance with the party’s Constitution but this was rejected by her and over 400 party members from Linden who wrote Granger expressing solidarity with her.
Granger has also told Stabroek News that if the Disciplinary Committee does not make a decision by the time the Congress begins on July 25, Kissoon will not qualify as a delegate. Kissoon has, however, pointed to sections of the party Constitution and said that she expects the party to issue her accreditation card based on its rules though she was non-committal about whether she would attend.
Kissoon has strong support in Linden and was one of the leaders of weeks-long protests in the mining town which erupted in April 2012 after government and APNU agreed to the elimination of the power subsidy for the community. APNU subsequently backed down though in the bitter protests, three Lindeners were shot dead by police.
Granger is also being challenged by PNCR stalwart Aubrey Norton, himself a Lindener, for the party’s leadership post. Norton told Stabroek News that his decision to challenge Granger stems from encouragement he has received from various “party people.” Norton said that during his interactions with party members from across the country, there are many who believe the PNCR’s leadership should be separate from that of APNU. He believes that his wresting the PNCR’s leadership from Granger would allow Granger to devote his full attention to parliamentary affairs while he looks after the PNCR’s business, including getting it ready for the coming general elections. Norton, who served as the PNCR’s General Secretary from 1997 to 1998 said that he wants to make the party more inclusive when it comes to decision making and so intends to draw from the diverse skills and knowledge which lie in members across the country.
Granger also faces another test on whether APNU would support an AFC-led no-confidence motion against the government that would trigger general elections. APNU’s votes will decide if the no-confidence motion succeeds but it is in a tight spot over whether or not to support the move, according to analysts.
If APNU does not support the AFC’s no-confidence motion it would appear even more effete and might also lose significant support to the AFC, Jeffrey has said. Ram has said that it would be strange that APNU would not wish to take such constitutional measures to ensure that the violation of the democratic process is brought to an end. Former PPP stalwart Ralph Ramkarran has said that if APNU contemplates declining support for the motion, it will have to decide what it will tell its supporters when they ask why would APNU want to keep a PPP/C Government in office?
On Thursday, AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan upped the ante in a letter to President Donald Ramotar, saying that the party saw no alternative but to move a no-confidence motion against his administration citing what he said was the unauthorized withdrawal of billions of dollars from the Consolidated Fund.
The coalition has yet to decide on whether it will support the motion but APNU parliamentarian James Bond in a letter in Stabroek News last week said that there is no point in having a no-confidence vote unless the AFC and APNU go to the national polls under one leader. “I…will not attach myself to that [no-confidence] wagon unless the AFC and APNU after attaching themselves to this wagon decide that they would contest the next general elections with one representative of the list,” he wrote. “It would be utter foolishness for there to be a vote of no confidence in the House and when we are out of the House we divorce and go our separate ways,” Bond said.
Bond is seen as a protégé of Granger and his views would have likely been communicated to the opposition leader prior to him making it public. It is likely a signal on how the party may proceed.
Earlier this year, in an interview with Stabroek News, when asked if snap elections is something he supports, Granger had said that APNU does not support them and believes in pushing for good governance by the ruling party. “Having elections without making the PPP more accountable is not going to solve the problems of the country. The PPP must be made to govern the country in a more accountable and transparent manner. So we have not been calling for snap elections or any elections except for local government elections,” he had said.