Coalition relations

With the GECOM chairmanship now to be adjudicated by the courts and the likelihood of appeals, it is worthwhile addressing what the controversy has disclosed about the governing coalition, particularly the relationship between the executive/presidency/APNU and the AFC.

A statement on November 16 from the AFC, containing an excerpt of an email from Leader Raphael Trotman to party executives was clearly meant to answer ongoing questions about the unilateral selection of the GECOM chairman which has put the party in an unflattering light. This was followed on Friday by an excerpt from another email from Chairman of the AFC and immediate past leader, Khemraj Ramjattan to party executives. This email was released by a member of the disaffected Canadian chapter of the AFC. Both emails have given some insight into the exchanges between the AFC and the presidency.

The AFC release of November 16 maintains its October 20 position that the party played no part in the unilateral selection of retired Justice James Patterson and in its brevity it unfortunately casts itself as a supine appendage of the APNU-led government with no voice of its own or at least nothing beyond that of a pipsqueak.

It said: “Party Leader Raphael Trotman was invited to an urgent meeting at State House by His Excellency President David Granger on the evening of October 19th, 2017. At the meeting President Granger informed Mr. Trotman of his decision with regard to the appointment of Justice James Patterson as GECOM Chairman. The meeting concluded and Mr. Trotman departed”.

Well, there had to be more than that at the meeting. The President can surely invite Mr Trotman to an urgent meeting. That, however, cannot preclude Mr Trotman from politely inquiring from the President in what capacity he was needed, so for example if the meeting addressed questions of the alleged ExxonMobil signing bonus he could attend fully prepared. From the bare bones AFC statement, one presumes that Mr Trotman was well aware of what he was to attend as the second email suggests and even if he didn’t, he found out very quickly when he arrived at State House. The onus was on him to determine the reason for his presence there, to ask reasonable questions on behalf of his constituency and to articulate where he stood on the matter being addressed. After all, Mr Trotman is not only the Minister of Natural Resources, he is the leader of a party that has ardently tried to convince the public since 2005 that it represents a new political culture and one that would stoutly resist contamination by the unsavory conduct of both of the main parties over the last 51 years of independence. At the very least, the AFC is expected to champion transparency and accountable governance.

So the questions remain. Did Mr Trotman as leader of the junior partner in the alliance ask the President and the leader of the senior partner of the coalition what the meeting was about? On discovering what the meeting was about did Mr Trotman raise any concern about the lack of consultation with the AFC on the chairman? Did he cite any uneasiness about the unilateral process for Chairman?

Mr Trotman’s email later that night to his executives was also disturbingly revealing. It said in part “I arrived at State House this evening and was shown a letter by the President, which was addressed to Mr. Jagdeo. In essence, the President’s letter stated that he has rejected the 3rd list and has considered the ruling of the CJ, and it is his opinion, that he is constitutionally empowered to name a person to the Chairmanship. Further, he has named Justice (ret’d) James Patterson to be the GECOM Chairman”.

Mr Trotman describes a fait accompli and the coup de grace is his recounting of the President’s statement that he had considered the ruling of the Chief Justice in the matter and that it was his (the President’s) opinion that he was constitutionally empowered to name a chairman.

On the following day, the AFC came out in full support of the President’s decision and unconvincingly sought to argue that the country had been approaching a constitutional crisis and that the three lists of GECOM candidates tendered by the Opposition Leader were unacceptable.

The second email of October 22 by Mr Ramjattan aiming to calm troubled waters in the party is even more troubling.

He wrote in part “I did express my opinion to the president at a cabinet break sometime after the second list from (Opposition Leader Bharrat) Jagdeo that I was not comfortable with any of those names presented. He asked what I thought of the names. I then went on to advise that if he was also of that opinion, then he is within his right to proceed to name a person who fits the constitutional requirements as he is empowered to under the proviso in the same article, 161”.

This admission put the lie to the general statement by the AFC that it played no part in the selection. It did provide advice.

The Ramjattan email  is also bewildering on two scores. First, Mr Ramjattan and the President were clearly engaged in casual talk about the appointment of a GECOM Chairman. One would have expected that either Mr Ramjattan or Mr Trotman would have sought on behalf of the AFC to be fully and formally involved in the discussion on the GECOM chairman even in recognition of the fact that the President would be the one to finally decide on the way forward. Isn’t that what the AFC supporters and those who voted for the party in 2011 would have expected? Wouldn’t they have wanted their party in the throes of what is meant to be a dynamic and dialogue-oriented coalition to be involved in these decisions? What is clear from this engagement is that the AFC is not interested in such a role and the President is toying with it. For all intents and purposes, the AFC doesn’t now exist as a real partner in government, it has been subsumed in the blandishments of coalition life, not the promised good life for all.

Secondly, how Mr Ramjattan could ignore the worthy candidates, particularly on the first list, and advise the President that he could proceed with the proviso if he was so minded is utterly unfathomable. Mr Ramjattan must surely be aware of the history of the political engagement over the Carter-Price formula and the upheaval its abandonment risked. Yet, he happily went along with this and threw in for good measure that Mr Trotman was also of this opinion. What a disappointing dereliction of duty as a coalition partner in the very sensitive realm of electoral democracy.

In his email, Mr Ramjattan showed awareness of the impact of coalition government politics  on the party.

“Colleagues, yes indeed perceptions are reality in politics. So we have to work hard to change this dangerously destructive perception. It means going more on the ground to explain what we are doing and why. Plus delivering on what was promised.

“One impactful deliverable would be our proposal for constitutional reform. We have to start formulating exactly what we want. Otherwise, we would not walk the talk as mentioned by someone here”, he said.

The constitutional reform spoken of by Mr Ramjattan is a farce, it hasn’t happened in 30 months and the AFC must take full responsibility for this. “One underlying perception dangerous to the AFC that has emerged from the recent naming of Patterson by Granger is that elections would be rigged in (the) future and that AFC really cannot do anything to stop rigged elections,” Mr Ramjattan wrote.

He explained that his stance on rigging was that it was almost impossible given the changes made since the Forbes Burnham era that was plagued with rigging.

“I have already stated that elections are very difficult to rig in the context of institutional arrangements in place and the very many local and international eyes on them. A Granger administration is thus differently placed as against that of a Burnham administration. I am aware of the difficulty this argument will have out there but it is the harsh truth,” Ramjattan wrote.

The AFC’s joining of APNU in the historic coalition that unseated the PPP/C in 2015 was expected to instil a new culture of accountability, transparency, constitutionalism and meaningful political dialogue. The AFC has dramatically diverted from this expectation.

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