In an effort to allay fears it is losing its identity within the APNU+AFC coalition government, Alliance for Change (AFC) representatives were on Saturday urged by its executive to make themselves relevant and to be vocal on issues of national importance, particularly at the local government level.
“I think it could be an issue if we are not careful because no coalition will last forever and whenever that time comes for a separation back into the original entities, you want to at least have a party structure in place that can accommodate that,” AFC Executive Dominic Gaskin told Stabroek News yesterday.
Further, he added “That will allow the parties to continue to evolve and to grow as separate entities.”
Gaskin was speaking on the heels of the party’s statutory National Executive Committee meeting, where for the first time on Saturday, members of the party in central government and those representatives at the local government level met for discussions.
He explained that the AFC decided to bring municipal and central government members together, so as to have a wider view of what is happening around the country and plan measures as to how the party will be better able to serve its supporters.
“The discussions we had were very good, because for us this is the first time we are in central government and therefore it was an opportunity to compare the experiences, at the local and central government levels, and of course it is the first time we are doing each of those as part of a coalition government. There was a lot that needed to be aired and cleared and that was done and it was a very meaningful meeting and I think we need more of those,” Gaskin asserted.
Another executive told this newspaper yesterday that members voiced their concerns that they felt the party was not doing enough to hold its own identity and seems to be subsumed in the coalition stance on all issues.
“Persons in the membership did say that the party needs to do more as a party to separate from the government, that they need to take a stance on specific issues. While the party maintains that they have brought a lot of influence to bear on various issues, they are not separate,” one executive said.
Saturday’s meeting came 17 months after the historic February 14 Cummingsburg Accord between APNU and the AFC led to the defeat of the PPP/C at the May 11th, 2015 general elections. As part of the deal, the AFC secured 12 seats in parliament – up from 7, a pledge of 40% of Cabinet positions and the prime ministerial position.
“Questions were raised about individual leadership. Some persons spoke up about issues in the regions and the AFC not doing enough to separate itself as the AFC. But I must tell you that most of those issues were personal, between this person from AFC clashing with that person from APNU, so not necessarily about governance…you had some saying that we seem to have gotten too comfortable, just throw back accepting everything because like we afraid to talk up because we get the lil power and so on,” another member said.
However, while admitting that there were complaints at the forum on varying issues, Gaskin, also the Minister of Business in the APNU+AFC Government, said that one of the objectives of the party was to find a balance even as democracy, good governance and freedom of expression are maintained.
“We have always encouraged frank and open discussion. We believe it is the best practice. We have never sought to stymie discussions…We want the coalition government to work so there is this dichotomy. On one hand we need the coalition to work and on the other hand we also need to maintain our identity as a political party and so how we find that balance?” he questioned.
“We can’t deliberately try to separate ourselves on issues just for the sake of establishing our identities. I think things have a way of happening naturally and the public isn’t unaware of the issues all the time and there are going to be issues where there are clearly sort of differing positions on certain matters and we have to allow that to take place. I don’t think we will agree on every matter. I’m talking about the party”, he added.
As such, the leadership has encouraged representatives at the local governance level to let their objections on matters be heard.
“Certainly at the Cabinet level there is an obligation, there is a collective responsibility for decision-making at that level and therefore …there can be no, I guess, division on that level and that is just the reality of a Cabinet. But certainly, where at the local government level, when that occurs, they do things by vote and if there is no recall legislation in effect at that level did its members feel that they cannot support a position taken by either the opposition or even another party member?
Then so be it because ultimately they are elected by their constituencies and they have to act in the best interest of their constituencies and that is something we as a party will always support,” the AFC executive said.
Executives explained that AFC Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan argued that the party has made a big impact in securing its identity and pointed to Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan’s questioning of the Georgetown parking meter contract.
Another major example cited was the AFC’s executives in central government raising the issues of Minister of State Joseph Harmon’s appointment of BK Inc CEO Brian Tiwarie as an advisor to him and overall the myriad powers he has in the decision-making of government.
“Tiwari as an advisor to the government on business, that was something the AFC was not in favour of and at the end of the day the members of cabinet listened to the AFC ministers and the president ultimately rescinded that,” one member said.
“Look at Sherod, he did not sit quietly by and say ‘Oh I am only Deputy Mayor and my party don’t have the majority councillors’. He spoke out he started the ball rolling in getting the debate on the parking meter issue on the front burner of public talks. All those things our leader pointed to and showed how we have made gains”, the source said.
Another said that Ramjattan, Vice President and Minister of Public Security, also noted that many persons questioned the “youngness of the party to political leadership” and if they would have been ready to take on key ministerial leadership posts.
“One of the things we spoke about is that people questioned if AFC was ready for national leadership given that several have been elevated to ministers.
How they have been performing augurs well for the party because they have been performing well…. So where there were question marks that has been put to rest…there has been gains in membership too,” another added.
At the end of the 9 am to 5:45 pm conference, leaders and members felt that they had knowledge of what was concerning the membership and have now begun looking at recommendations and compiling objectives to overall better the party and coalition.
“It was very fruitful and very interactive, very, how should I put it, bloodletting. People came with a lot of issues and were able to speak without fear and they did so very respectfully. People spoke on issues that were relevant to them and their constituencies and it was timely in that context. Leadership gave good advice and also stressed not to be sore losers,” a member posited.
“Strong measures were put in place, to improve internal communication because members did complain of lack of communication, lack of in some cases consultation and so on.
Resolutions were taken to improve that and systems were put in place to improve internal party mechanisms to ensure people in the various regions are in touch with what is happening in government,” another executive informed.