Governing coalition partners, APNU and the AFC are scheduled to meet today to discuss a revision of their ground-breaking Cummingsburg Accord that seeded their win at the 2015 general elections. The first order of business will be an agreement to govern the forthcoming local government elections and one expects that other important issues will arise. It is unfortunate that the two groups had not completed a revised accord in time for the historic 2016 local government elections as many of the tensions and problems that have arisen at the city council and other local government organs could have been obviated.
Just in passing, it is noteworthy that President Granger, the leader of APNU took an inordinately long period to respond to the AFC request for a meeting. He could hardly have argued that APNU needed to consult when even within that coalition, consultation has long been declared to have been farcical. A response to the AFC more than two months later signals clearly that influential personages in APNU, and even some in high positions in the AFC, are disinterested in the full development of the promise of the Cummingsburg Accord.
One awaits with much interest what the AFC will be able to convince APNU that needs to be done on the local government front particularly in the benighted reign of senior APNU councillors at the city council which has seen grotesque decision making as in the case of the parking meters scandal and continued poor financial management of the capital and its resources.
With the third anniversary of the APNU+AFC term in office approaching, this is the opportune moment for both groups to remind themselves of the severe breach in their covenant with the people as regards constitutional reform. In their manifesto for the 2015 general elections, both groups had solemnly pledged to the people that constitution reform would be on the front burner. The coalition has abjectly failed to meet this commitment to the populace. In accountable democracies and with leaders of conscience, governments have fallen or resigned from office for far lesser infractions.
This dilemma is particularly important for the AFC which from its inception had presented itself to the public as a vehicle for unshackling the country from the stultifying duopoly that had run it for the last five decades to unsatisfactory results, rigged elections, ever deepening divisions and monolithic economies. The AFC pledged to be the change and to pursue constitutional reform as a means of achieving this. It is now deeply in the maw of the same culture it once decried and in the remaining two years of this administration it will be sorely tested to justify its conduct in the governing alliance.
The public should be reminded of what APNU and the AFC promised and have failed to deliver. The coalition unveiled its manifesto just over three years ago at the Stabroek Market wherein it stated: “APNU+AFC recognizes that the Constitution, in its current form, does not serve the best interest of Guyana or its people. Within three months of taking up office, APNU+AFC will appoint a Commission to amend the Constitution with the full participation of the people. The new Constitution will put the necessary checks and balances in place to consolidate our ethos of liberal democracy. Freedom of speech, reduction of the power of the President and the Bill of Rights will be enshrined in the document”.
The mandate of the Commission “will be to undertake the urgent task of fashioning comprehensive reforms, for early implementation, designed to guarantee a democratic society free from the abuse of citizens by those in high office fuelled by the exercise of arbitrary powers and behaviour by the Executive which is inconsistent with the spirit and provisions of the Constitution”.
This was one of the lynchpins of the manifesto. Three years later, under the control of Prime Minister Nagamootoo, a senior AFC executive, nothing has been accomplished on constitutional reform. The Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission bill remains unaddressed and blithe talk about countrywide gatherings on charter reform remains just that.
According to the manifesto, the APNU+AFC government would establish and entrench an inclusionary democracy through the appointment of a Government of National Unity which would create opportunities for the participation of citizens and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the state, with particular emphasis on the areas of decision-making that affect their well-being. This pledge has been completely ignored. There has been no genuine effort to engage with the opposition for deep dialogue or even the slightest hint of the development of a government of national unity.
Interestingly, APNU+AFC also pledged to agree to a protocol to break the deadlock over the appointment of a consensually agreed Chancellor and Chief Justice. Three years later, the country remains deeply mired in that crisis with the President now unbelievably saying it is now up to the Opposition Leader to make the next move.
The deceit of the government when ranged against its manifesto is expansive. It has certainly not revamped the political culture and remains desperately incapable of handling major issues such as GuySuCo. Now entrenched in government, APNU appears even more disinclined towards reforms and focused solely on the 2020 general election and control of first oil. The AFC comes across as spent, factionalised and content with what’s available at the table. That is not what it promised the people of this country.
Both groups should also engage in deep introspection on the deleterious deal that was secretly struck in 2016 by the government with Exxon’s subsidiary EEPGL. It is severely disadvantageous to the country and its future generations. There must be rebalancing. It must be renegotiated.