President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday held their first meeting on the December 21 passage of the no-confidence motion and there appeared to be agreement that pending any court decisions, the government continues to function and preparations would be made for early general elections.
Up to press time this morning a promised joint statement on the decisions reached was still to be issued raising questions about whether an agreement had been locked in.
Both men after the meeting indicated that an agreement had been reached pertaining to engaging the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on when elections could be held. While Granger in a video minutes after the meeting had ended, was very vague on this issue and the outcome of the talks, Jagdeo at a press conference held later, provided more details, while stressing that he wanted to “outline the party’s perspective of the meeting.” (See other stories within.)
The meeting was held at the behest of Jagdeo following the controversial passage of the no-confidence motion. The motion was declared passed by Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Barton Scotland following a `yes’ vote from now former government MP Charrandass Persaud. Government had initially accepted the passage but later reneged claiming that the Persaud’s vote was invalid given that he is a Canadian citizen and that the motion needed 34 votes and not 33 to succeed. Court action has since been filed in relation to both arguments and the matters will be heard by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George next Tuesday.
The duo met at 11am at the Ministry of the Presidency. The meeting lasted for more than an hour and they both described it as successful.
Granger’s team included Prime Minister Moses Nagmootoo, Chief Whip Amna Ally, Minister of State Joseph Harmon, Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge and Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, Attorney General Basil Williams and Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan while Jagdeo was accompanied by Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, Anil Nandlall, Frank Anthony, Juan Edghill, Irfaan Ali and Pauline Sukhai.
Granger in the live video which is available on the Ministry of the Presidency’s Facebook page said that the two sides reached agreement on some issues.
In the short video the president informed that two main issues were discussed. The first is the functioning of the National Assembly and the functioning of government.
“Neither of these institutions, the legislative branch and the executive branch could be allowed to fail. Public services have to be delivered. Public order has to be maintained and therefore the two sides reached broad agreement on how these two institutions…will continue to function,” he said.
The president said that the second important issue discussed was General and Regional elections. He said he defended government’s recourse to the courts in order to determine the validity of the no confidence vote as “quite legitimate” adding that there is no intention on the part of the government to derail the constitutional or legislative process.
In this regard, he said that the two sides have agreed that they will continue to work together to engage GECOM “to ensure that elections are held within the administrative capabilities of the Guyana Elections Commission.”
“I would say in conclusion that we have had a successful engagement. Both the Leader of the Opposition and the President are concerned about the situation. We would like to assure the public in Guyana that we are working to a solution which they will be satisfied with. The public interest is of paramount concern”, he said.
Members of Jagdeo’s team declined to speak to the media who were standing outside the compound.
The Department of Public Information (DPI) later quoted Nagamootoo as saying that the meeting was a “display of marvellous maturity and calm equanimity by the leaders dealing with a situation that holds such grave implications for Guyana”.
Nagamootoo and Harmon appeared on the National Communications Network programme “Context” subsequent to the conclusion of the meeting.
According to DPI, Nagamootoo said the bilateral meeting “is an affirmation by the national leaders that irrespective of what happens in the country politically they are both committed, with their parties, to the protection of the sovereignty of our country.”
He remarked too that ” today was a triumph of commitment, of patriotism and national values,” noting that both sides ventilated their concerns.
DPI, said that the bilateral meeting saw both sides affirming their commitment to the constitution and assuring that nothing should be done which interferes with the stability of Guyana and, and the peace and order of the country.
Harmon, according to the release echoed similar sentiments as the Prime Minister. He said that the meeting was a “landmark development.”
In addition, Harmon stated that both sides agreed to work together and informed of the pending meeting between the Chief Whips and GECOM.
Additionally, the release said Williams and Nandlall will meet to examine the issues before the court with the aim of facilitating a speedy resolution.
“Guyana has a maturing democracy, we should try to develop it and let it grow,” Harmon was quoted as saying. He made it a point to note that regardless of what is taking place politically, public services are still ongoing since citizens have a right to such.
No caretaker government
Meanwhile at a 2pm press conference, Jagdeo said that Granger during the meeting insisted that the constitution states nothing about a caretaker government, a position that the PPP strongly disagreed with.
Jagdeo informed that he and his team pointed out that the constitution speaks about a resignation. “[Article 106 (7) imposes what we believe is a caretaker type responsibility on the government,” he said adding that the president responded that there is nothing like a caretaker government or caretaker responsibility in the constitution. According to Jagdeo, in response he and his team pointed out that it was Granger and other members of the then opposition who in 2014 introduced that concept when a no confidence motion against the then PPP was filed.
“The opposition agrees that you can’t have a country without a government, one hundred percent,” he said before adding that where public order and services are concerned, those have to continue but “we believe that the Parliament must meet only on matters related to the conduct of elections or any other matter we agree to and routine issues …but no new legislation should be initiated in the National Assembly and that the government should function more in a routine capacity in its conduct of its affairs of the state for the 90 days…but we do not want to have a country without a government”
Jagdeo said that although it speaks about resignation, the constitution still confers in 106 (7) a caretaker responsibility and therefore “you’ll have the government functioning in this regard.”
He informed that the agenda had two items with many sub points. Holding up a copy of the agenda which was handed to him when he arrived at the meeting, he disclosed that the first agenda was titled Constitutional and legal situation and under that that there was the functioning of the National Assembly, functioning of the Government, Public Service, Public order and dissolution of Parliament.
The second, he said had the headline General and Regional elections under which the role of the National Assembly, operational readiness of GECOM, National Registration and public information was listed.
He said that the speeding of the court proceedings were included in the talks as well as the use of “inflammatory language” to polarize the society.
Jagdeo recalled conversations about the poisoning of the atmosphere with wild statements and a consensus that the rhetoric on both sides needed to be toned down. The Opposition Leader said that he reminded his colleagues on the other side that some government people were making such statements without having evidence to prove what was being said. He singled out PNCR’s Aubrey Norton, Ramjattan and Williams. He said that president gave the assurance that allegations without evidence will not be made, a stance which pleased the opposition team.
Told that some of his supporters and MPs were making derogatory statements on social media, Jagdeo said he urged them to stop. He said that the party does not “control everyone in social media…This is a free country, people can say what they want but there are limits that you need to impose on yourself, things that are unlawful…[things] about people’s race. That should be a territory that we should never go into,” he said. He appealed to supporters to desist from making such statements before noting that the party has enough evidence and a good track record to be able to “take on any issue without having to resort to vile language or abusive language. Argue our cases in a positive way. We have that and we’ll gain more respect. Don’t respond…because it harms what we are trying to achieve as a party, which is to bring all of our people together and to work for all of Guyana and they on the other hand capitalize on that to polarize people,” he said.
Later he said that legal action will be taken against Norton, if he does not withdraw the statements he made at a PNCR press conference last month. Among the claims made by Norton was that Jagdeo bribed former APNU+AFC MP Persaud to vote in favour of the motion.
During the meeting yesterday, Jagdeo said that he stressed the need for the passage of the motion to be accepted and for the constitutional provisions to be upheld.
“Once the legislature has spoken so definitively, immediately the constitutional provisions 106 (6) and (7) should be applied. So the fact that you go to court now to seek a remedy does not change that,” he insisted. He said that Granger made it clear that government is not considering withdrawing the court case and intends to continue its pursue of the legal route as a remedy to this situation.
He said during the discussions, he and his team questioned what will happen if the legal remedy take a year. “What happens in the meantime? We would have defeated the purpose of the constitution…and what if at the end of the year the court rules in our favour or at the end of two years the court said yes it was validly upheld. You don’t get the timeline back so we made it clear that this legal situation we don’t support it,” he stressed before adding that they agreed that the court would be asked by both sides to have the matters heard expeditiously.
The two sides meeting yesterday (Ministry of the Presidency photo