The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) yesterday accused the government of creating unease by exaggerations about the opposition’s budget cuts, particularly in Amerindian communities, and has called on the administration to stop.
The opposition – A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) – using their one-seat majority in the National Assembly last month made cuts amounting to $20.8 billion of the $192.5 billion budget originally proposed by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh.
APNU and AFC expressed concerns about a lack of accountability for some allocations as well as the need to trim wasteful spending in order to better address the cost of living.
The GHRA said in a press release yesterday that last Saturday its executives discussed Amerindian issues and reviewed other critical concerns, including the budget exercise, electoral reform activities by Facing the Future, international technical cooperation, mining, the labour movement, the new National Commission for People with Disabilities, the Sexual Offences Act, and HIV/AIDS.
The GHRA charged that a “systematic programme of disinformation is being carried out in Amerindian areas” with respect to the budget cuts, and the association cited Facebook contributions from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs (MAA) and Office of the President staff.
GHRA contended that this is “beneficial for visits to communities by the Minister of Amerindian Affairs accompanied by advisers and security personnel in communities reportedly spreading misinformation about budget-slashing.”
However, GHRA pointed out that by contrast legitimate opportunities to meet Amerindians leaders, such as recent meetings of toshaos, held in Annai were, by-passed by officials.
The GHRA said further that it has received complaints about a lack of consultation with respect to a Micro-Projects Development Fund which is being developed jointly by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
This raises once again the “free, full and informed consent” issue with respect to consultations in Amerindian communities, the human rights body noted.
According to the GHRA, relations between the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and Amerindian organisations have deteriorated in recent years due to the systematic attempts to weaken or eliminate the latter from influencing decision-making regarding such matters as LCDS, protected areas, land demarcation, and elections of toshaos.
Against this background, the GHRA said it is encouraging Amerindian organisations to prepare a protocol, setting out the substantive requirements to be met in order to conform to the principles of “free, full and informed consent” by any external consultation process.
The GHRA said that in addition to the adequacy of consultation issue, it has noted in the press with some concern that the UNDP is approaching the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF), which is the fund for the financing of activities identified under the LCDS, for a grant of US$1.8M to allow preparation of the Micro-Fund project.
The GHRA then posited whether involving a domestic partner, for example the Toshaos Council, would not be more economical, transparent and locally accountable.
While reviewing critical issues, the GHRA observed that the budget exercise was “the first parliamentary expression of the division of political power produced by the results of national elections in November 2011.”
However, without referring to specifics, the human rights body asserted that “the fact that a ruling party was unable to rubber stamp its budget through the Parliament for the first time since 1968 is in itself a welcome sign of democratic evolution.”
“Unfortunately,” the GHRA added, “the present ruling party, rather than take credit for democratic progress, appears to remain in denial of the November election results.”
The GHRA also put the spotlight on the use of what it called “excessive language,” in which the opposition was described as “dictatorial.” Moreover, the GHRA cited the pressuring of public sector workers to demonstrate in front of Parliament; holding candlelight vigils at the state-owned NCN TV station; using state media to sustain distorted panel discussions; and the on-going disinformation campaign in interior areas as indicating “resistance to political negotiation as created by the recent elections.”
Meanwhile, the GHRA observed that the willingness of the major opposition party to discuss a budget deal at the Office of the President in the middle of the Parliamentary debate was disconcerting to citizens trying to follow Guyana’s “rickety political process.” In GHRA’s view, “resolving national budgetary issues by party leaders in this manner is only possible because in our system MPs are not accountable to constituencies.”
The human rights body said further that even informal budget meetings should take place in Parliament, not at the Office of the President or the courts or at party headquarters and the fact that this particular meeting appeared to have ultimately created distrust on all sides of the political spectrum “may turn out to be not a bad thing in the long run.”
Considering the action of the Chief Justice in refusing to entertain a constitutional motion over the composition of Parliamentary Committees, and the budget cuts achieved by the APNU and the AFC, the GHRA noted that these recent developments have provoked speculation over the possibility of snap elections being called by the PPP/C government.
“The alternative, more positive response to such setbacks, would be for the ruling party to treat both as wake-up calls to engage more constructively in Parliament,” the GHRA advised.
“By contrast,” the association maintained, “a snap election would reflect a desire to return to the ethnic dictatorships which characterised Guyanese politics since the 1960s.”
“Moreover, since the ruling party has to date offered little to either its own supporters or other citizens, particularly the young, with respect to jobs, education or a more attractive future, any snap election could only be won by appealing to ethnic loyalties,” the GHRA posited.
Looking at electoral reform, the human rights body noted that the coalition of civic bodies under the umbrella of Facing the Future (FtF) had completed the second phase of its activities at the end of March. It was agreed, particularly in light of possible snap elections that Facing the Future (FtF) should focus on the single issue of reform of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), the GHRA executives said.
The association also noted that the call for an Elections Commission free from control by contesting parties has been a constant recommendation by not only local civic bodies but also international and domestic election monitors since the first monitoring of elections was organized by the GHRA in 1980.
The human rights body emphasised that use of the terms ‘independent’ and ‘professional’ must imply protection of the electoral process from the immediate direction, influence and control of both the government and of political parties.
Meanwhile, the GHRA recommended that in view of the long-standing controversy over the composition of Gecom, the political parties should support a process of consultation involving all interested civic organizations rather than seeking a formula acceptable only to themselves.
The GHRA also argued that international agencies need to re-assert some distance from the Guyana government and its agencies in order for the possibility of technical support to play its intended role. At present, according to the GHRA, there is no distinction between politics (negotiating solutions with beneficiaries and other actors) and technical factors.
“The preference of both GOG and Inter-Government Organisations (IGOs) is for everything to be considered technical because they do not then have to take anyone else into account and can involve themselves at levels of decision-making which IGOs should be much more restrained about.”
According to the human rights association, more distance would allow IGOs to show much more concern over the degraded quality of governance as the main reason for poor delivery of programmes.
“At present they are so caught up in a process in which everything has to be deemed ‘technical’ that they cannot do this (otherwise questions might be raised about why they are involved in certain things).”
Over the years, the quality and diversity of external experts engaged in Guyana is bewildering, GHRA said, and no system is in place to ensure uniformity of implementation or practice. At best everyone brings what worked somewhere else and at worst are here because they can’t work somewhere else, the GHRA remarked.
“The mechanism for dealing with this ought to be a clear commitment to conformity with national policy,” GHRA recommended.
Unfortunately, GHRA said, interest on the part of the government in asserting national policy is not consistent and rehabilitating technical support to the point where it is distinguishable from governance considerations is a pre-condition of healthy partnerships.
At present, GHRA said, partnerships are determined by political compatibility and virtually nothing else, while civil society organisations generally feel the need to position themselves outside of any governance framework and play a subordinate service delivery role for whatever international agency they are funded by.
The GHRA said further that international agencies play a similar role with the national government to the point where they find themselves unable to be objective in their assessments for fear of upsetting the minister.