A year after the inking of the Cummingsburg Accord which underpinned the successful pre-election alliance between APNU and the AFC, the partnership appears to be going strong and a major criticism that the Prime Minister was not chairing Cabinet in breach of the agreement has been quelled.
“It is working well,” leader of the AFC Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News last week. The Cummingsburg Accord was sealed on February 14 last year and paved the way for the success of the APNU+AFC coalition at the May 11 general and regional elections that toppled the PPP/C after 23 years in power. “The Cummingsburg Accord is working wonderfully knowing the context and challenges you would have in coalition politics,” Ramjattan declared.
In the weeks following the elections, observers had criticised the coalition government for what appeared to be breaches of the Accord, including the non-adherence to a provision that said that the Prime Minister would chair Cabinet meetings. Subsequently, in an interview with Stabroek News, President David Granger had said that parts of the agreement underpinning the historic alliance between the two parties including the chairing of Cabinet, collide with the Constitution and would therefore have to await reforms.
However, others, including Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran had argued that there would be no violation of the Constitution if the terms of the Cummingsburg Accord are implemented.
Ramjattan, also the Minister of Public Security, said last week that they had worked around this and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo now chairs Cabinet.
“The President is present and he makes his presidential announcements and whatever he has to make and then he hands it over to the Prime Minister. That is how it goes. When we spend six, seven hours in there, six and a half hours with the Prime Minister chairing the proceedings,” he said.
The Accord included provisions for shared executive responsibilities and it states that the President is Head-of-State, Head-of-Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and shall have responsibility for appointments of constitutional agencies and commissions with the required and agreed democratic mechanisms of consultation and appointment, foreign affairs, international relations and noncommercial treaties as well as national security policy, the Defence Board, the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Guyana Defence Force, et al.
It said that the Prime Minister shall have responsibility for domestic affairs and chairing the Cabinet as well as recommending ministerial appointments and providing the organizational structures of ministries for the approval of the President. In addition, the PM shall have responsibility for appointing heads of agencies and non-constitutional commissions, subject to the required and agreed democratic mechanisms of consultation and appointment and domestic security.
Ramjattan bristled at statements suggesting that Minister of State Joseph Harmon seemed to have usurped Nagamootoo’s role as outlined in the Accord and had more responsibility.
“That is completely false,” he declared. He said Harmon is “minister of affairs within the Ministry of the Presidency so he is but the actual President in a sense as an agency created to do all the work, the President wouldn’t be able to do all the work in his office….” He pointed out that under the PPP/C, then head of the presidential secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon performed the same role on behalf of the President.
“The Minister of State is like that position so it is not as if the Prime Minister is not in charge of that kind of portfolio that was granted under the Cummingsburg Accord,” Ramjattan declared.
He said that as parliamentary leader, Nagamootoo is in charge of a number of domestic affairs and in their interpretation of the Accord, he does not see any fundamental variation from it. Nagamootoo chairs Cabinet, is in charge of parliamentary affairs at Cabinet, he is the leader of government business in the National Assembly and holds certain ministerial portfolios, Ramjattan said.
He pointed out that under the Constitution, the President will always be in charge of national security affairs and defence, among other areas. “The President has all exclusive executive authority under the Constitution and what we have done largely was to apportion domestic affairs, parliamentary affairs and a number of things to…the Prime Minister,” Ramjattan while also noting that the President will always remain the overriding authority.
“And right now, that is how we intend—having worked it around—to let it happen,” he said.
“If, however, we make a decision today and the decision is outlandish and the President calls a Cabinet meeting and says that the decision is overturned, it is my view that indeed it ought to be overturned in the interest of the public and in the interest of the government,” he said.
“It is a government that is working beautifully right now, a coalition. Coalitions will always have their challenges,” Ramjattan added while pointing out that corporate entities have lots of arguments and this happens in politics as well including in the PPP/C.
“What I have seen in the Cabinet of Granger is far less quarrels that what I have seen inside of Freedom House,” he declared.
Meantime, under the Accord’s Programme of Action, the two groupings had agreed that within the first 100 days of the formation of a government of national unity, a number of things would be done. These include the announcement of a date for local government elections and the implementation of an amended Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act, which have been done.
The coalition also pledged to develop and implement a sustained national crime prevention plan and last month, government and the Inter-American Development Bank launched a US$15 million plan to fight crime. The Citizen Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP) seeks to reduce the crime and violence levels in Guyana over the next five years.
Of the seven items listed in the Programme of Action, the government has not yet liberalised the Telecommunications and ICT sectors or established the Public Procurement Commission. The coalition had also pledged to establish a Constitutional Reform Committee with a mandate to complete consultations, draft amendments and present same to the National Assembly for approval within nine months. This has not been done and the deadline would be at the end of this month.
The government has set up a Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform (SCCR) but it was only mandated to define the scope of the actual reform process and establish the terms of reference and mechanisms for consultation to establish a Constitution Reform Commission. Convener of the SCCR Nigel Hughes had presented an interim report to Nagamootoo at the end of December but sought an extension for the purposes of completing extensive consultations.
In the Programme of Action, the coalition also pledged to adopt a long-term sustainable economic development plan to realize the vast potential of Guyana. This has not been done.
Ramjattan acknowledged that the coalition still has to accomplish a number of things but said it is a work in progress. “A lot of the larger policy issues that we are working on now have to be dealt with at a ministerial level and at Cabinet levels and we are going to take it from there,” he said, while adding that they have five years to accomplish their goals and this will be achieved.
“So basically it is a Cummingsburg Accord that has been kept in letter and spirit as far as… it could be by virtue of the financial arrangements that we have. We felt that we could have done lots more at the policy level as I mentioned before but finances is gonna be a big bugbear. We are waiting for better times so that we could execute on all these things but as a government each member there in Cabinet respects each other’s views. And you give them a better argument and we adopt that argument, that then becomes the decision. We get the argument that Wales should be closed, that’s the argument, we run with it,” he said.
“There will be dissenting members like every other but because Cabinet is run that way, you have to be basically, even with certain reservations, you proceed with that which Cabinet has consensually arrived at,” he said, adding that there is collective responsibility and if someone feels that the decision is not the best, that person can resign from Cabinet.