Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday refuted the claim that an agreement was reached with APNU+AFC administration for the legislature and the executive to function normally in the wake of the December 21st approval of the no-confidence motion against government.
Jagdeo also told a news conference that the opposition has also not abandoned the call for government to resign nor has it contemplated shifting the March 21st deadline for the holding of general and regional elections.
“Our position is this government should still resign. We believe they are in a caretaker capacity and that they have to prepare for elections,” he said, while emphasising that no agreement was reached as to how the legislative and executive branches of the government are to function.
A joint press statement issued by the government after he met with President David Granger on January 9th, he said, did not reflect how the two branches of government should function.
On reports that the opposition was contemplating elections beyond the March 21 constitutional deadline for elections because of either government’s move to the High Court to determine the validity of the no-confidence motion or the state of readiness of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Jagdeo said, “That is not true.” He added that it was all “spin” by government and a sympathetic media to delay the holding of the elections and to hold on to power for as long as possible.
GECOM is an independent body, he said, “and they should have already started preparations for elections.” The commission, he added, has refused to meet with the chief whips of both the government and the opposition in keeping with the January 9th agreement between the government and the opposition.
The opposition believes, Jagdeo said, “that what is taking place is that the government is heavily influencing GECOM not to start the preparation for elections in 90 days.”
Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield, he said, has indicated to the chief whips that he cannot meet them because he has to get the approval of retired Justice James Patterson, GECOM’s Chairman, who in turn has to convene a statutory meeting to get that approval. “We have to decide at some point in time if we want to pursue this charade, or just withdraw from it totally,” he added.
At their January 9th meeting, Jagdeo said the president spoke of house-to-house registration before elections are held and he disagreed as that would take between six to nine months. Even though GECOM requested $3 billion for house-to-house registration, he said, the PPP was not in favour of it because it has made its own suggestions as to how the voters’ list could be sanitised.
Given the constitutional deadline for elections, house-to-house registration “is absolutely out of the window,” Jagdeo said before adding that once the deadline expires, the government goes into territory that would be “unsettling for our democracy or anyone who has to do business with Guyana.” He added that once the deadline passes, “I suspect there will be more international involvement.”
He noted that he has notified the international community to the possibility that government would delay the elections, with GECOM’s readiness being among the justifications to be used.
Among those notified by way of letter are the Secretary Generals of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as well as the Commonwealth Secretariat. He said he has received a telephone call from the Secretary General of the Commonwealth and acknowledgements from several international organisations. The opposition has also written to all CARICOM heads informing them about the situation and its position that it will not recognise any legislation, contracts or any deals undertaken during the 90 days between the passage of the motion and the holding of the polls.
Asked if the opposition would consider shifting the date for the holding of the polls beyond the deadline, Jagdeo said, “We are sticking with the deadline at this time.”
He added, “If government goes into unconstitutional territory, maybe, at that time, we will talk about extension and the circumstances.”
Jagdeo told a news conference after his meeting with the president that the PPP was willing to support the extension of the constitutionally required 90 days to hold elections, following the passage of the no confidence motion, closer to April 30th and stressed that what happens next is heavily dependent on the outcome of the meeting with GECOM.
He said that between March 19th and April 30th, when the current list is still valid, the PPP is prepared to return to the National Assembly to extend the elections date by a few weeks but not beyond April 30.
“I indicated this at the beginning, a two weeks difference or three weeks difference if that is what we have to all go together to the parliament to extend the timeline by that. In the great scheme of things that will not harm anyone in Guyana and it will not harm us in the PPP,” he said then.
Meanwhile, Jagdeo yesterday clarified that what he meant when he said that the country should not be without a government was that the government should resign immediately and take on a caretaker role. When the President raised the issue about the constitution not providing for a caretaker government, Jagdeo said, he told Granger that he did not read Article 106 (6) of the constitution but only paid heed to Article 106 (7). He also reminded the President that in 2014, he had said that “upon the passage of a no confidence motion, the cabinet must resign and a caretaker government will be in place.”
Granger insisted, Jagdeo said, that his government was legal and must govern without any limitations to its authority.
“Clearly the President believes that the event of December 21 did not take place, even though the Speaker said it was carried, that is the legislature, and the courts are not giving a conservatory order, which would have stopped the timeline from ticking. He has not realised that 106 (6) and 106 (7) have kicked in already with the approval of the no-confidence motion.”
The President also said, according to Jagdeo, that pending the conclusion of the legal proceedings, the Parliament remains functional.
“That is what we left the meeting with. Both sides said they would work towards expeditiously concluding of the court case. I said, ‘I don’t like it. You are using the court for delaying and frustrating our Constitution.’ But we cannot prevail upon them to withdraw the cases they have filed.”
He did voice his satisfaction that the Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire has said she will hear the court challenges on the motion expeditiously and will rule before the end of January.
Whichever way it goes, he said, he expects the issue will find its way to the Caribbean Court of Justice and government will lose all the way there.