ROAR was formed and decided to contest the elections set for 17 Jan 2001 in accordance with the Herdmanston Accord. However, a dispute between the PPP Government and the PNC Opposition over one of the agreed reforms – the number of “geographical” seats – prevented the necessary legislation being passed and the elections had to be delayed to March 19. I remember the PNC suggesting that the PPP Government should resign and a coalition Government should govern during the interregnum. An all-party committee, however, decided that the PPP should remain in office but that its powers should be reduced.
I point this out against the background of the CCJ’s ruling that since the Cabinet and President should resign directly upon the passage of a No-Confidence Motion – effectively July 18 when the CCJ so ruled – and that elections should be held in accordance with the governing Art 106 – 3 months afterwards, or Sept 18 – the PNC-led coalition only has “caretaker status”. It noted, “It is important, however, that the Court makes this point. In mandating that the Government shall remain in office notwithstanding its defeat and the resignation of the President and the Cabinet, Article 106 envisages that the tenure in office of the Cabinet, including the President, after the Government’s defeat, is on a different footing from that which existed prior to the vote of no confidence”. Chancellor Cummings-Edwards, citing Hogg, the Canadian constitutional expert, was right to note that:
“…The Government continues in office as a caretaker Government or an interim Government until the next elections ensue and a President is appointed (or reappointed) depending on the results of that election”.
By convention, the Government is expected to behave during this interim period as a caretaker and so restrain the exercise of its legal authority. It is this caretaker or interim role that explains the three-month deadline, in the first instance that the Article lays down, in principle, for the holding of the fresh elections.
The “convention” the CCJ alluded to is quite prevalent in most other parliamentary democracies – such as Canada, India, Australia, and New Zealand etc. – to cover the activities of the Government between the dissolution of Parliament for new elections – for whatever reasons – and the formation of a new Government and are actually called “Caretaker Conventions”. The agreement between the PPP, PNC and other parliamentary parties forged by the “all-party” committee for the reduced powers of the PPP Government between 17 Jan and 21 march, 2001 is a prototype for such a Caretaker Convention here in Guyana.
In its “Introduction: The Caretaker Convention” The Canadian Government declares: “The conventional restriction limiting the extent to which the Government should exercise its authority applies whether it has lost a vote of confidence in the House, whether the Prime Minister has asked for dissolution on his or her own initiative, or whether Parliament has been dissolved in advance of an election date set by legislation. It also applies to the outgoing Government during any post-election transition to a successor Government. This caretaker period begins when the Government has lost a vote of no-confidence or Parliament has been dissolved. It ends when a new Government is sworn in, or when an election results returning an incumbent Government is clear”.
This does not mean that Government is barred from making decisions or announcements, or otherwise taking action, during the caretaker period. It can and should do so where the matter is routine and necessary for the conduct of Government business, or where it is urgent and in the public interest – for example, responding to a natural disaster. In certain cases where a major decision is unavoidable during a campaign (e.g., due to an international obligation or an emergency), consultation with the opposition parties may be appropriate, particularly where a major decision could be controversial or difficult for a new Government to reverse.
In short, during an election, a Government should restrict itself – in matters of policy, expenditure and appointments – to activity that is:
C) Urgent and in the public interest
D) Reversible by a new Government without undue cost or
E) Agreed to by opposition parties (in those cases where
consultation is appropriate).
As a long term friend of Guyana, perchance the Canadian Embassy can bring this convention to the notice of the PNC-led caretaker Government. They appear to have forgotten its 2001 restrictions on the PPP Government in an analogous situation.