Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall yesterday said the Ministry of the Presidency’s intervention with the post office over stamps to commemorate the centennial birth anniversary of former President Cheddi Jagan was unlawful.
The Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Inc (CJRCI) had contracted with the Guyana Post Office Corporation (GPOC) to produce the stamps for Thursday’s anniversary. However the stamps were not produced and on Friday the Ministry of the Presidency reported President David Granger as saying that Cabinet has taken a decision that commemorative stamps, must adhere to national criteria. He added that such symbols must not be used for private, partisan or political messages, but ought to be used for national purposes.
In a statement yesterday, Nandlall argued that the GPOC is a statutory body corporate managed by a Board of Directors and possesses its own persona. He said it is not a department of the Government but an agency of the state.
Noting that it was once a Government department, Nandlall said that its character, structure and personality were transformed into the new status that it now enjoys in order to imbue it with functional autonomy and to permit it to function independently of the Government.
He cited several cases to substantiate his contention including Griffith v. Attorney General,  CCJ 1 (AJ) where the Caribbean Court of Justice concluded: “This court is firmly of the view that the Revenue Authority is a new corporate entity distinct from the government although it is a public corporation. The employees of the Revenue Authority are not holders of any public office nor are they employed in the service of the government of Guyana in a civil capacity”.
Nandlall said that the various cases cited establish that the GPOC is not part of the Government. Therefore, its policies and activities are not to be interfered with by the Government. He said it is also clear that any attempt by the Government, including the President, to interfere with the day-to-day activities and operations of the GPOC and its staff, would be unlawful and an abuse of power.
He said it is against this background, that the matter involving the issuance of the stamps must be examined. He said that the CJRCI entered into a contract with the GPOC for the production and issuance of the stamps. The discussions lasted several months before it was solemnised by the CJRCI paying to the GPOC a 50% deposit upon request of the requisite monetary charges for the production and issuance of the agreed stamps. Although it was unnecessary, Nandlall said that he was informed that the transaction received the imprimatur of the subject Minister, Cathy Hughes, Minister of Public Telecommunications. Yet, on the day in question, Nandlall said that the GPOC failed to deliver the stamps and directed CJRCI to make contact with the Ministry of the Presidency for an explanation.
Noting that the Ministry of the Presidency in its statement on Friday essentially admitted that it had prohibited GPOC from issuing the stamps, Nandlall charged that the Ministry of the Presidency has “acted ultra vires and has unlawfully usurped the functional responsibility of an independent statutory body corporate. It has also exposed the GPOC to civil liabilities for breach of its contract with CJRCI”.
Nandlall also said that the Ministry of the Presidency is free to and may consider itself duty-bound to commemorate the life and work of every former President. However, he contended that it has no authority to monopolise such activities. Therefore, other organisations are free to do likewise. Nandlall added that the phrase “national symbols” was invoked by the Ministry to describe the stamps.
“This is simply an adjectival verbiage employed to sanctify another egregious act of authoritarianism”, he declared.
The ministry’s statement on Friday said that the Government will announce shortly, national symbols to celebrate the life and work of former Presidents Arthur Chung and Dr Jagan within the context of set criteria for honouring eminent Guyanese. Critics have pointed out that both dates have passed without any commemoration and that the ministry’s statement seemed contrived.
The ministry’s statement had added that Granger said that there is no objection to honouring the life and legacy of Dr. Jagan, who he described as “one of the founders of the Guyanese nation”, but added that Cabinet is of the view that there should be equity in the printing of such commemorative stamps, which are national symbols.
Critics have also pointed out that numerous other stamps have been printed over the years without the argument of national symbols being invoked.
The CJRCI has since charged political interference in the matter.