Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo’s interview with Stan Gouveia on 94.1FM, as reported in Kaieteur News (24/3/2019), is deserving of national attention and concomitant actions. It is noted a promise has been given that a PPP/C government will work towards the betterment of the oil and gas sector, and Mr. Jagdeo will play a role in such a government in “helping to bring people together and craft a future for Guyana that includes all, including the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR).”
For years society, more particularly the ordinary man and woman, clamoured for a system of governance that excludes no one. Countless demonstrations, on the streets, in the National Assembly, boardrooms and media, have realised a ground-breaking change to our “political system” where the “principal objective” became one of “inclusionary democracy,” which is enshrined in Article 13 of the Guyana Constitution. This article was assented to in 2001 by then President Jagdeo. Outside of its placement in the Constitution nothing has been done in a structured way, through legislation, to give it meaning.
Today Mr. Jagdeo holds the second premier constitutional political office. The Office of the Leader of the Opposition (Article 110) falls under the Executive (Chapter X). The Executive has day-to-day responsibility for management of the nation’s business. Further, the Leader of the Opposition has parliamentary authority.
Most likely, given the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice against a presidential third term, respect for same will not see Mr. Jagdeo returning as president or as prime minister who has to be eligible to be president. Thus, his role in a future PPP/C government will not have the consequential authority as that of President or Leader of the Opposition. The welcomed acceptance for a new dispensation in governance, which is more in line with Article 13 can be initiated and a system realised for its execution by Mr. Jagdeo in the office he presently holds.
The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) has been a tireless crusader to give meaning to the extant article. We see this article as pivotal to creating a society where equality, justice and good governance form the cornerstone for the workers/citizens’ development. GTUC in its call for implementation respects the ‘Protection of the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual’ (Title 1). This Title includes the right to freedom of association to a trade or political party of choice and protection from being discriminated against for such association (Article 147 and 149 respectively).
It is our belief society’s ethnic tension and division are exacerbated or exploited as the result of groups and individuals feeling or being excluded from the state’s protection and patrimony. The GTUC on 5th March 2019 approached the Opposition Leader and President, via letter, outlining a 19-point proposal to start the conversation in effort to give meaning to inclusionary democracy. Mr. Jagdeo was gracious to acknowledge our letter and has indicated a desire to have discussion on the issues. Thus, it is deemed necessary to join his public conversation on this matter. GTUC notes Mr. Jagdeo’s proposal to bring accountability to the oil and gas sector and ensure it benefits all Guyanese. In our 19-point proposal this issue was raised, with specific attention to having the Local Content Policy come under review by stakeholders and thereafter passed into law, with primacy given to protecting the well-being of local businesses and labour.
Mr. Jagdeo’s claim to institutional knowledge in avoiding the resource curse/Dutch disease, having travelled as president to oil rich societies that are so plagued, is also noted. Guyana can benefit now from such knowledge. In principle, the GTUC will not find it difficult to support the Opposition Leader’s position for a law “that says the Minister of Finance and the Secretary to the Treasury must publish, in the official gazette any receipt of oil money.” Accountability is an important element in good governance.
While as President Mr. Jagdeo did not practise the principle of inclusionary governance, GTUC nonetheless welcomes his recognition of the importance for same. Consequently, it is being proposed that Mr. Jagdeo not await the election of a PPP/C president but use the party and his political status, as parliamentarians and Leader of the Opposition, to have engagement with social partners and government, and introduce to the National Assembly bills and/or motions to advance inclusionary democracy. The parliamentary acts would be consistent with Article 171 and signal a commitment to fulfilling the clamour of the ordinary man and woman, society’s working class.