An enduring challenge for any government is the interplay with its political underpinnings. How does the party that constitutes the government relate to it? Does it, as happened in the days of paramountcy, try to take over the running of the government in a manner akin to the party uber alles? Or does it modulate and moderate its relationship with the government so as to become just another stakeholder, albeit one with potency and vital interests?
The challenge becomes even more problematic in coalition governments like this one which is comprised of at least half a dozen parties but with two main constituents: APNU and the AFC. Where the main partners have disparate policies and platforms there will be acute tensions which can lead to clashes on various fronts of varying intensity. Thus far, aside from a serious difference of opinion over the powers of the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, the two groups appear to have managed the existential gulfs, at least thus far.
What has been of considerable more trouble for the coalition – and deeply entrenched at that – is the behaviour of senior members of the Cabinet and officials from other levels of government. It would appear from the questionable conduct by these senior persons that the PNCR – undoubtedly the largest and most assertive component of APNU – is either empowering these persons to act in this way or the individuals believe that their senior positions in or close ties to the party give them Teflon-like qualities.
Such qualities may have worked in the 1970s and beyond but this is 2017. Times have changed mightily and the reality is that this coalition government is operating in tenuous circumstances and with a mandate from only half of those who voted in 2015. The excesses and unbecoming conduct by its senior officials will not be tolerated by the populace and there will be great push back. This has been recognised by many but President Granger does not appear to be one of them. He has not been able to enforce discipline among senior members of the PNCR, APNU and Cabinet, all of which he is the leader.
The worst of the behaviour thus far has emanated from the Attorney General, Basil Williams. The public waits upon his delivery in open court of an apology to Justice Franklin Holder and the rest of the Bar for his now well-ventilated outbursts in the judge’s court two weeks ago. Mr Williams is the Chairman of the PNCR and the arrogant manner in which he has conducted himself in government connotes that he believes that his party power endows him with armour in public life. Not so. It is not the first time that questions have been raised about his conduct while in office. The attempt by the government to compulsorily acquire land belonging to Mrs Clarissa Riehl and her husband also raised deep concerns about his conduct. It matters not what version of the events in court he presents to President Granger. His real test will come in Justice Franklin’s court.
Attorney General Williams has company. The Minister of State, Mr Harmon, with close ties to both the PNCR and APNU, didn’t distinguish himself by interfering with the Guyana Revenue Authority in relation to the seizure of equipment from Baishanlin. This was followed by his appointment of businessman Brian Tiwarie as a presidential adviser, an appointment that was quickly revoked by the President. Then came Minister Harmon’s famous trip to China which raised a series of questions about what exactly he did there and who he met and which remain unanswered more than a year on. Mr Harmon is the general secretary of APNU.
Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence’s recent exposure as being the architect of the fast-tracking instruction for $605m worth of emergency purchases from ANSA McAl for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation is another apt example of the overreach of persons high in the PNCR. Nothing about this transaction accords with the law and it betrays a disdain for checks and balances and even the role of Cabinet. Minister Lawrence’s conduct is yet to be properly explained and while she had gotten off completely for unacceptable remarks about a candidate for the 2016 city council elections, she will now face scrutiny at the level of Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and the Public Procurement Commission. Minister Lawrence holds several senior positions in the PNCR.
Before Minister Lawrence took up her portfolio, it was held by another senior PNCR bigwig, Dr George Norton. He had the temerity to mock the questions of parliamentarians and at the same time to lie about a drug bond at Charlestown. He later made an abject apology for his conduct and was exposed again in parliament when an impromptu visit to the Charlestown bond by MPs found that it was not in material use contrary to his claim. Despite his transgressions, he was simply shunted by President Granger to one of the several governance sinecures. In passing it should be noted that the Charlestown bond was a sweetheart deal for a businessman with longstanding connections with the PNCR. It remains unclear why this deal has not yet been terminated.
The parking meters fiasco will undoubtedly go down in history as the unthinking and unaccountable handiwork of, among others, two senior PNCR officials, its long-serving General Secretary Oscar Clarke and the recently elected PNCR executive, Patricia Chase-Green. These two adamantly rejected calls for reasonableness in the approach to parking meters, sauntering off on a trip to Mexico paid for by the parking meter company and overseeing a contract that has put the city at great financial risk. To cap it off, this contracting of parking meter services did not comply with the procurement law and was not transparent.
At other levels there has also been appalling behaviour. The Region Five councillor, Carol Joseph, a longstanding PNCR member, harangued and frustrated the council for more than six months over a minor matter to the detriment of ordinary folks.
President Granger cannot be oblivious to this type of behaviour and the clear implication that membership of and standing in the PNCR is leading to arrogance and unaccountability in the discharge of official functions at the central and local levels.