The aftermath of the vote of no confidence and preparing for elections (Part II)

Last Wednesday, the President and the Opposition Leader met to discuss the way forward, following the 21 December 2018 vote of no confidence in the Government. The outcome of the meeting was a positive one. Having committed themselves to respecting the Constitution and putting the public interest first, and recognizing ‘the high importance of continuous engagements between the Government and Opposition, the importance they hold for the national interest and the elevated public expectation’, the two leaders have agreed to the following:

(a)          Holding of the general and regional elections, subject to the readiness of the
              GECOM;

(b)          Government would remain in office to ensure continuity in the delivery of 
               public services;

(c)           The court’s intervention at the request of the Government would continue in
               order to bring about clarity and resolution on the two issues raised. These
               are: whether the number 33 constitutes a majority of the all the elected
               members in the 65-seat National Assembly; and whether the vote of a
               member of National Assembly who holds a foreign passport is a valid one in
               the context of the vote of no confidence in the Government.

(d)          Parliament would continue to function in the normal way, pending the
              conclusion of the legal proceedings; 

(e)          Two representatives (one from each side) would be liaising with GECOM to
              determine its readiness for holding elections.

Counting down towards elections, and GECOM’s readiness

Today marks the 24th day since the motion was passed in the Assembly. We therefore have a little over two months (66 days) within which to hold the elections. The Constitution provides for an extension of the deadline by two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the Assembly. This to a large extent would depend on GECOM’s readiness to hold elections within the 90-day deadline.

GECOM’s approved budget for 2019 has more than doubled, from $2.257 billion in 2018 to $5.371 billion. According the Minister of Finance, ‘[t]his is to facilitate early preparations and to ensure the smooth conduct of these most important elections’. Considering that GECOM had successfully run off the recent local government elections, it would be in a substantial state of preparedness. However, it will need to re-programme its activities planned for over the next year or so, so that they can be executed, perhaps in an abbreviated way, over the next two months. Whether this is possible, it is for GECOM to decide. It is in this regard that the role of the two representatives referred to at (f) should be viewed. A meeting is planned to take place in the next few days, the outcome of which hopefully will be made public.

Continuation of the court cases

As pointed out last week, while it is within the Government’s right to seek judicial intervention if it is dissatisfied with the Speaker’s ruling on the no confidence vote, we had advised against doing so because of the potential of creating further tensions in the Guyanese society. We still maintain that position. Besides, the court will need enough time to reflect on the two matters before ruling on them. Whatever the outcome, we also have to factor in the possibility of an appeal to the Guyana Court of Appeal, then to the Caribbean Court of Justice. It is therefore likely that the complete judicial review process will not be concluded within the 90-day deadline or any extension thereof, in which case elections will have to be held to comply with the requirements of the Constitution.

As regards a Member of Parliament (MP) holding a foreign passport and by virtue of that, he or she has not met the eligibility criteria for holding such a position, the Constitution is clear that such a person’s participation and voting in the Assembly does not invalidate any decision taken by the Assembly. While we do not condone any violation of the Constitution, there have been suggestions that other MPs from both sides of the House are also the holders of foreign passports. This practice began in 1992 when there was a call to Guyanese living overseas to return home and serve.

With the holding of fresh elections, we now have an opportunity to correct this anomaly by ensuring that each political party’s list of candidates does not include anyone who is the holder of a foreign passport. While we empathize with those sitting MPs who will be affected and acknowledge their contributions to the public interest and the public good, it must be said that in taking their oath of office, they have pledged to uphold the Constitution. Perhaps, this is an area that needs to be looked into in any constitutional review process. 

Functioning of Parliament

We agree that there should be no vacuum in the governance arrangements for the country and we support the continuation of the work of Parliament as well as the Executive Branch of Government until such time as elections are held and the results are declared. However, as indicated in our column of 31 December 2018, we caution that extreme care must be exercised in the utilization of the 2019 budget resources. We had suggested that for current expenditure, one-twelfth of the annual appropriation of each budget agency should be allocated to it for each of the first three months. This is to enable any new government formed as a result of the elections to have enough financial resources for the remaining nine months to execute government programmes and activities. This suggestion appears to have gained some support from the Minister of Finance who has indicated that a circular would be issued to heads of budget agencies. 

For capital expenditure, new projects should as far as possible be delayed to enable the new government to take a fresh look at them. In addition, no new laws should be passed, except those that are needed to operationalise the 2019 budget, and no new agreements signed. We were somewhat disappointed that the Natural Resource Fund Bill was passed in the Assembly without the benefit of the presence of the Opposition. Not that we condone the Opposition’s boycott of the Assembly sitting on the day in question. We trust that the President will delay the assent of the Bill until after elections. One suspects that, given the importance of the Bill as well as its complexity, under normal circumstances, it would have been referred to a select committee of the Assembly for detailed review.

Publication of Election Manifestos

Last week, we discussed the importance for election manifestos to be presented to citizens to enable them to choose from among the political parties contesting the elections, the party that is best suited, in their opinion, to manage the affairs of the State on their behalf and to take the country forward in terms of economic and social development over the next five years. We therefore urge all political parties desirous of participating in the forthcoming national and regional elections to expedite the preparation and publication of their manifestos.

We need to break from the past where governments were chosen primarily on the basis of ethnic sentiments rather than on the basis of careful examination of issues that affect their daily lives. This practice has resulted in the two main political parties, grounded in their support from such sentiments, dominating and perpetuating themselves in the political landscape over the last 50 years or so, with little to show in terms of economic and social development.  

It is also normal for voters to review the incumbent government’s previous election manifesto to ascertain the extent to which the government has kept its promises. In the following section, we begin a presentation of the key aspects of the APNU+AFC Manifesto for the 2015 elections for the benefit of readers.

APNU+AFC Manifesto for the 2015 Elections

The APNU+AFC coalition won the May 2015 elections, and by virtue of that, it has held the reins of government for the past three and one half years. Its manifesto for those elections is in the public domain and so is its first 100-day action plan. It is important to recognize that it was prepared in anticipation that the Government would have served its full term of five years in office. For this reason, any evaluation of the Government’s performance should take into account the budget measures contained in the 2019 budget.

The presidential candidate, Mr. David Granger, stated that the key objective of the manifesto was lay the foundation for a government of national unity. He identified a number of policy objectives that the APNU+AFC Coalition would embrace if elected to office. These include:

(a)          An education system that produces citizens happy to remain and build the
              country;

(c)           Employment opportunities in science, technology, engineering, among
               others;

(d)          Empowerment policy and renewal of local democracy;

(e)          Energy policy using wind, water and solar sources;

(f)           Enterprise and economic development, providing a level playing field for
               local entrepreneurs and investors and the diaspora to develop our natural
               resources;

(g)          Social policy to develop creative energies that support development of
               athletes and youths;

(h)          Security policy to protect citizens so that they can feel safe;

(i)            Unified approach to end cronyism at high levels that drains state resources,
               blocks development and encourages corruption;

(k)          Real government of national unity, not a bogus civil alliance;

(l)            Place for all in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society;

(m)         Environment free of the ravages of poverty, disease, discrimination, criminal
              violence and ignorance; and

(n)          Information communication technology (ICT) to be extended to all corners of
              the country.

The Prime Ministerial candidate, Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, for his part, spoke glowingly in the following terms:

There is need for a new wave in our democracy, to inject life into our decaying political system by taking Guyana along the road to multi-party, multi-ethnic, national rule. But of equal importance to political union by APNU+AFC are plans and programmes for investment, growth and development of a new Guyana.

Emphasising that the economy had been mismanaged over the years, he listed the following key actions that the APNU+AFC Coalition would take if elected to office:

(a)          Creating ‘jobs, jobs and more jobs’ in the shortest period of time;

(b)          Ensuring broadest participation of people in the governance processes;

(c)           Providing a vision for economic growth to 2030 and beyond;

(d)          Ensuring prudent monetary and fiscal administration, cutting extravagance
              and limiting borrowing;

(e)          Having a ‘clean and lean government’ with strict accountability and zero
              tolerance for corruption;

(f)           Providing mechanisms to bringing relief to towns and villages, hinterland and
              indigenous communities as well as women and youth;

(g)          Ensuring genuine partnership between the State and investors, trade unions
              and workers; and

(h)          Ensuring partnership with international donors to assist in dealing with the
              problems of hunger, homelessness and disease.

To be continued              

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