Minister of State Joseph Harmon says suggestions that the governing APNU+AFC coalition is falling apart is ridiculous, while insisting that the alliance is solid and is working together as a single unit.
During a press briefing on Wednesday, Harmon said Cabinet was advised that there were certain statements being made with respect to the coalition, including suggestions that it is falling apart.
“Cabinet considers this to be a most ridiculous statement to be made by anyone in the public domain, having regard that the Cabinet was working as a cohesive unit,” he, however, said.
He added that the chairing of the Cabinet by both President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo was not an issue.
“The chairing of Cabinet was not an issue within the coalition because the Cabinet is chaired by the president and upon the president’s direction parts of the Cabinet meeting are chaired by the prime minister,” he pointed out.
Harmon informed that half of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting was chaired by Nagamootoo. He noted too that whatever decisions are made by either chair is the decision of Cabinet.
He also said Cabinet considered the manner in which the coalition can be strengthened in its work and has already decided on measures, including a forum on coalition building scheduled for later this month.
Former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran, writing on his Conversation Tree blog over the weekend, criticised the coalition for deviations from the Cummingsburg Accord, which had outlined the basis for the partnership between APNU and AFC, including the division of responsibilities once elected into office.
According to the Accord, the president shall, among other things, delegate the responsibilities of domestic national affairs and the chairing of Cabinet. Other responsibilities delegated to the Prime Minister should have included recommending ministerial appointments and providing the organisational structures of ministries for the approval of the president; appointments of the heads of agencies and non-constitutional commissions with the required and agreed democratic mechanisms of consultation; and domestic security (Home Affairs).
Ramkarran said that in excusing the failure to observe the terms of the Accord, both Granger and Nagamootoo have indicated that there is no dispute arising from the failure to implement the Accord and have also pointed to potential violation of the constitution if the terms of the Accord are fully implemented.
“There is and would be no violation of the constitution if the terms of the Accord are implemented. Various articles of the constitution allow the President to appoint others to execute his responsibilities. (See ‘The Cummingsburg Accord does not collide with the constitution’ by M Maxwell in SN, June 24). The President can delegate the purely nominal function of chairing the Cabinet while he is present. The Prime Minister can take charge of domestic affairs in an advisory capacity to the President. The flimsy excuse of constitutional violation is an attempt at a power play by APNU. Supported by a surprisingly subservient AFC, it is not a good sign,” he, however, observed.
Ramkarran also pointed out that the provisions of the Accord was the basis for which the electorate supported the coalition. “The electorate understood that the AFC would have a distinct, decisive and visible management role in the affairs of governance through the Prime Minister. If the parties now wish to unilaterally tamper with this and consign the AFC, even with its unwise consent, to a vague and amorphous, consultative position, the parties should not be surprised if bitter fruits are harvested five years down the road from the same electorate, their third partner, that they have deceived. If that happens, this is where it would have all begun,” he warned.
Nagamootoo, during an interview with Stabroek News last month, had downplayed his non-chairmanship of Cabinet meetings.
He had said that the constitution states that the president is the person to perform this task.
When it was pointed out that it was stipulated in the Accord that the Prime Minister would chair the Cabinet meetings, Nagamootoo replied that he was not a negotiator and that he did not negotiate any of the terms in the Accord.