Mr Ramotar, the General Secretary of the PPP, is becoming rather well travelled. The President took him on his peregrinations around the Middle East as well as to Suriname and elsewhere, and now he has attended the two-day Mercosur summit in Brazil, courtesy of the Head of State – and the Guyanese taxpayer, of course. He has been on Cabinet outreaches too – again courtesy of the Guyanese taxpayer – exercises which in addition to their substantive purpose also serve as a thinly veiled excuse for allowing him and the party’s rural constituents to become better acquainted. As for the overseas trips, one can only assume he is getting a crash course in diplomacy.
This open sponsorship on the part of Mr Jagdeo of one of the contenders aspiring to become the PPP presidential candidate, had earlier caused one of them – Mr Moses Nagamootoo – to voice his objections on a TV talk show. He called it “unfair,” and one presumes that the other hopefuls are in agreement with him, even although they have not spoken publicly on the matter. The fact that the President appears to be giving open backing to one aspirant in particular, however, is not the primary concern for the public at large; it is rather the fact that there has been a blurring of the line between the government and the party.
It was an issue which was raised during Dr Luncheon’s press briefing on Thursday. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be apologetic,” we quoted the Cabinet Secretary as saying, “about that recognition of the importance of the General Secretary of the governing People’s Progressive Party. I don’t believe that you would have us believe… that there is some slavish line that separates the governing party in the Westminster model from the executive.” He then went on to ask rhetorically, “Wherein lies the source of its plans and programmes and strategies?” The inevitable answer then issued forth: “It’s the governing party.”
In the first place, it’s not a question of recognizing the importance of the General Secretary of the PPP; it is the highest office in the party, and that makes it inherently important. But it must have lost some of that intrinsic ‘importance’ if in order to give it recognition, the incumbent has to be included in government delegations to foreign capitals, whether or not at taxpayers’ expense. Are the party and government afraid that no one will notice Mr Ramotar if they don’t do this? Is he really so self-effacing as to be invisible? If so, then they should be looking at other ways of promoting him in the eyes of their constituency and in the international arena.
As for there being no “slavish line” separating the governing party from the executive in the Westminster model – well Dr Luncheon is wrong; there is. There would be a national outcry in the UK, for example, if the Chairman of the Conservative party who held no government post, was included in Prime Minister Cameron’s delegations to the EU talks or on official visits to foreign states.
And the claim that the party is the source of the government’s “plans and programmes and strategies” hardly bolsters the Cabinet Secretary’s argument. While it might be a policy source in an inspirational sense and in so far as a party wins office on the basis of its manifesto, constitutionally, it is the government which is responsible to the people of Guyana for formulating policy, etc. As Dr Luncheon will recognize, it is hardly unknown for governments to deviate from manifesto promises, although normally when an administration implements an alien programme it will be necessary to try and carry the party with it. Having said that, however, it might be observed that in this country President Jagdeo cut himself adrift from party moorings a long time ago, and exactly what correspondence his decisions as head of state and government have with Freedom House views is by no means clear as far as the electorate is concerned.
The reporters on Thursday clearly were not mollified by the Cabinet Secretary’s remarks, and he was asked whether Mr Ramotar’s inclusion in delegations for overseas visits was not indicative of the party paramountcy of PNC days. Dr Luncheon was adamant that this was not comparable to the official position of the previous administration. “Definitely he [Mr Ramotar] has not had the red, yellow and green flying over the Court of Appeal buildings making government an appendage of the ruling party,” we quoted him on Friday as saying. The fact that the symbols of party paramountcy are absent, of course, would not mean that it wasn’t implemented, although it must be said that in a general systematic sense it hasn’t been.
When the issue of the General Secretary’s international tours and local outreaches had come up a few months ago, the Cabinet Secretary had been quoted as saying that Mr Ramotar contributed to the government “ideologically, programmatically and operationally,” and that he had a “role to play in the engagement of the government and the Guyanese people.” Again, it can only be said that whatever contributions Mr Ramotar makes to the government, should be behind the scenes, because he has no constitutional role in terms of the administration of the country, and should not, therefore, be given official accreditation as a member of a government delegation.
And if he is playing a role in the “engagement of the government and the Guyanese people,” that too would be irregular. He certainly has a role to play – and presumably a vitally important one – as the most senior officer of the PPP in the “engagement” of the party and the Guyanese people, and no doubt it is hoped that this would in turn redound to the benefit of the government. However, he cannot have any official role of intermediary – or whatever other function it was Dr Luncheon intended to convey by his comment – between the administration and the public.
As said above, the President is no longer on a Freedom House leash, so it would be difficult for the PPP to establish full party paramountcy in the PNC sense at the present time, even if the upper echelons of the party were inclined to move in that direction. That said, including Mr Ramotar on overseas trips, etc, still confuses the spheres of the party and government and is in consequence, highly improper. In addition it opens both the General Secretary and the President to the inevitable allegations about subsuming the government under the party, although at this stage in his term, Mr Jagdeo probably does not care what people think. However, given Mr Ramotar’s ambitions as a presidential contender, he might be advised to operate with a greater sensitivity to the rules. And if he really feels he needs exposure on the diplomatic front, there is no substitute for ample reading on foreign affairs; it will give him a solid grounding in the field.