President David Granger says that when the PPP/C takes up its 32 seats in Parliament, the government will be able to reach out to it for more inclusive governance and he acknowledged that parts of the agreement underpinning the historic alliance between APNU and the AFC collide with the Constitution and would therefore have to await reforms
In an exclusive interview with the Stabroek News last Friday the Head of State said it was following legal advice this would have been discovered.
The coalition government has been criticized by observers for what appears to be a breach of the Cummingsburg Accord, which states that Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo will chair Cabinet meetings; this has not been done.
“When the Constitution is altered then those requirements will more fully be enforced … some things are at present in collision with the Constitution… and that points to maybe a lack of understanding on the part of the persons who drafted it as to how the Guyana Constitution works,” the Head of State told this newspaper when asked about the issue.
However, he said there is a sharing of the chairing of the Cabinet at present as there are some parts which he chairs and other parts the Prime Minister chairs.
He maintained that if he chairs Cabinet meetings it does not breach the accord as it could not be expected that the Constitution—the supreme law of the country—would be breached.
When this question was raised with Prime Minister Nagamootoo he had pointed out that he had not negotiated the accord, but not chairing the meeting was not something that “upsets me personally. We have an active President and we have to make this Accord work, make the coalition work, and for me the things that are minor irritants I would not elevate to any importance.”
Article 106(3) of the Constitution states that the President shall preside over Cabinet meetings; it also sets out that the Prime Minister shall do so in his absence.
Also stated in the accord is that the Prime Minister would recommend ministerial appointments and provide the organisational structures of ministries for the approval of the President and some critics have said this has not been followed.
Asked about this, President Granger stated that the AFC would have had to recommend persons from the AFC to fill ministerial positions such as Agriculture, Business, Tourism and Public Infrastructure all of whom are members of that party.
“The recommendations had to be made by the AFC. I didn’t dream these up. There was no unilateral action on my part in that regard. The APNU made recommendations and the AFC made recommendations,” the President said.
He pointed out that the AFC would have been guaranteed the ministerial portfolios it sought. Pressed further on the issue in the light of what the accord says, he questioned whether it was expected that the AFC would have recommended the APNU’s ministers.
“Recommendations to my mind were made in accordance with the accord. …The two parties made recommendations and that is how we came up with the present cabinet… I couldn’t imagine that one person would have made recommendations for the entire cabinet when we have six parties [in the coalition],” President Granger said.
Some have also said that with the many responsibilities falling under Minister of State Joe Harmon he appears to be the President’s principal assistant as opposed to the Prime Minister but President Granger said that it is not a “correct perception.” He said that Minister Harmon has responsibilities within the Ministry of the Presidency and the Prime Minister has his responsibilities which include being Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly and certain tasks within the cabinet which he has performed.
He also said that Prime Minister Nagamootoo is the architect of the government’s legislative agenda for the next five years which he described as a “very burdensome responsibility”.
Meanwhile, Granger said that the government cannot have engagement with the PPP/C on the issue of inclusive governance since that party has not taken up its position as the opposition party and as such any engagement would have to be between the general secretary of that party and the general secretaries of the two parties in the coalition government.
Granger said that as head of state he has a commitment to work with all of the political parties, civil society and other non-governmental organisations and to this end he has already met the Private Sector Commission and the general secretaries of the two coalition parties sent a letter of invitation to the general secretary of the PPP/C.
“As you know, there is no Leader of the Opposition so we felt it fitting to send it to the General Secretary of the PPP/C. This has been done and we have not received a favourable response,” Granger said.
Pressed further on this issue, he said that the aim was to have a “political agreement” and since there is no opposition or leader of the opposition as yet, then there is no “governmental opposite number with whom we can consult. So we had to send it to the party, that’s the best we can do in the circumstances.”
According to the Head of State when there is a leader of the opposition and the PPP/C would have taken up its seats in the National Assembly, government can them reach out to the opposition. But in the meantime the parties did what was necessary and did it as early as possible.
Asked about the approach his government would take in bridging the divide in light of the fact that nearly 50% of Guyanese did not vote in its favour, the President said engagements with civil society, trade unions, private sector organisations and young people organisations will continue.
“We are not going to be obstructed by the PPP’s obstructionism. We are going to proceed with governing the country. We have a mandate to do that. We would like to have the PPP onboard but if the PPP refuses to come onboard we would continue doing what we were elected to do,” Granger said.
He accepts that the coalition government has an obligation to reach out and this has been done.
No witch hunt
In response to the PPP/C’s claim of a political witch hunt, occasioned by dismissals of several persons close to the former administration, Granger denied that there is any such exercise. On Thursday the PPP/C named former Office of the President Press and Publicity Officer Kwame Mc Coy. It said he was dismissed even though he had submitted sick leave forms to the president’s office and that the dismissal came about before the sick-leave period had expired.
The president said such a claim is a “falsity” pointing out that Mc Coy had not turned up to work even though he was on the payroll of the Ministry of the Presidency. Granger said he was unware of any sick leave but rather that the former employee was absent without leave.
Mc Coy was hospitalized with a broken jaw, an injury he sustained on elections day and was given his marching orders earlier this month.
The president was also asked about the sending on leave of Head of the Child Protection Agency Ann Greene after she had verbally attacked Junior Minister Simona Broomes during a meeting, according to Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence. He said as it relates to Greene there was a disciplinary matter at the ministry and that was the last he had heard of the issue.
“But we have not been on any purge or any witch hunt, persons who choose to work with the present administration are still working with the present administration even persons who held high office in the PYO and the PPP they are still at work,” Granger said.
He added however, that persons who would have misbehaved or chose to resign are no longer on the job. The PPP/C has also listed persons who were dismissed from the president’s office after it was revealed that they were hired to conduct smear campaigns against opponents of the then government and were being paid through the National Communication Network (NCN) as falling under the category of political discrimination.
But Granger noted that the PPP had employed “scores of persons who were doing purely party political work and they were being paid from state funds. It was the PPP who misled those persons. It was the PPP who was abusing state funds and this is something we discovered while we were in opposition…”
He said since in opposition APNU and AFC after requesting the payroll of the then Office of the President knew that the payroll was inflated and the office had a lot of advisors and persons who were doing PPP party political work were being paid state salaries.
The President also stated that some persons’ contracts came to an end—such as Amerindian Ministry Advisor Yvonne Pearson and some Regional Executive Officers (REOs)—and they were not renewed. Some also resigned to join the political campaign and did not get their jobs back. As to those who tried to rescind their resignations, the President said, “Maybe too late.”
He noted that the use of contracts was a ploy used by the PPP to avoid hiring persons the normal way into the public service and it was that party which had persons on edge because of what he termed an unfair procedure to get around the rules and regulations.