Home Letters Elections 2020 are about governance for the people, by the people in...
Yes! Yes! Yes! The triple affirmation made by the APNU/AFC MP Charrandas Persaud reverberated in Guyana and wherever Guyanese were around the globe one year ago. David Granger’s Government had fallen on a No-Confidence Motion; what has followed is a chronicle of shameless behaviour that will affect Guyana’s system of parliamentary democracy for generations to come. Granger refused to comply with the clear provision of the Constitution and remains in Office to this day; this obdurate stance has consequences that bear examination.
Granger’s decision to seek clarification of various aspects of the no-confidence vote on spurious grounds such as what number constitutes a majority of the 65 member Parliament were greeted with incredulity by those with a modicum of mathematical ability. Other grounds such as the validity of the vote of a dual-citizen and whether an MP could vote against the list that placed him (Charrandas) in Parliament at least passed the credibility test.
Chief Justice George refused to invalidate the NCM and the matter should have ended there. Granger insisted on an appeal and inexplicably, two of the three members of our Court of Appeal overturned the CJ’s decision that 33 votes constitute a majority and suggested that 34 votes were the required number for a majority vote in a 65 member House. The Court of Appeal decision was handed down 10 hours past the deadline for elections imposed by the Constitution.
On June 18, the Caribbean Court of Justice restored the Chief Justice’s ruling and deemed the NCM validly passed. 179 days had passed since Charrandas broke ranks with APNU/AFC before the judicial system deemed it validly passed. Confidence in the Constitution and our Judiciary have been done grave damage during this past year; Guyanese pride themselves on being a literate society that upholds the rule of law as a basic tenet of governance. Many cannot countenance a usurper Executive and prefer to ignore the reality for the sake of peace. A future where feigned ignorance by the Executive results in six-month delays in interpreting provisions that “require no gloss” is a very real possible consequence.
The NCM put the Guyana Elections Commission in the spotlight. GECOM used to be a temporary institution, dissolved three months after every election it was brought to life to manage. All of that changed and by virtue of the Constitution (Amendment) Act No 2 of 2000 and GECOM became a permanent body. It was GECOM that made the recommendation to the constitutional reform committee that a General and Regional Elections could be held within 90 days of notice. But in 2018/19, GECOM was itself under siege from the unconstitutional appointment of James Patterson as its Chairman by President Granger. Ignoring plain English, Granger ascribed powers onto himself to make a unilateral appointment after refusing to accept 18 names of prominent and respected Guyanese citizens whom he (Granger) deemed unfit for the office.
James Patterson made many changes in the makeup of the staff of the GECOM Secretariat, which resulted in an Ethnic Relations Commission inquiry. Patterson and staff of the GECOM Secretariat did not appear before the ERC even though that body concluded that in the case of the hiring of the Deputy CEO “By all objective criteria, Mr Persaud was, on the available evidence, the most qualified candidate for appointment to the position of DCEO. By long-established practice, the candidate acquiring the highest score secured the appointment”. Using the existing process at the Commission, Chairman Patterson used his casting vote on the seven-member Commission, against Persaud’s appointment. On December 27, 2018, GECOM declared itself ready, willing and able to conduct credible elections on or before March 21, 2019, as stipulated by the Constitution. One day later, Nigel Hughes posited that 33 was not the majority of 65 and GECOM’s state of readiness deteriorated. GECOM then fell into goose-step with Granger as a period the Stabroek newspaper famously labelled as ‘temporising’ began.
In June 2018, arguments in the CCJ indicated that the court would rule the unilateral appointment of Patterson as unlawful, null and void; almost simultaneously there was every indication that the NCM would be ruled validly passed. On the 12th and 18th, both judgments were delivered as expected. The most generous calculation gave a deadline for stipulated elections on September 18; however, an order was signed by James Patterson to begin a House-to-House Registration exercise (H2H) preceded his departure and on July 20, GECOM began this exercise. The Chief Registration Officer, who also serves as Chief Election Officer, explained that he was preparing for elections and conducting the verification exercise simultaneously.
On July 27, one day after being labelled a temporiser for incredulously insisting he had a right to nominate as well as appoint persons for the Chair of GECOM, only weeks after a CCJ decision outlined that this was unlawful. Granger appointed Claudette Singh as Chairman of GECOM upon the submission of her name along with five others by the Leader of the Opposition in accordance with the Constitution. The retired Justice was asked to join the crab dance with mud being slung in wild fashion and faced the unenviable task of unravelling the confusion caused by the insistence on beginning H2H sixty days before elections were constitutionally due.
Lawyers were like flies on honey in the courtrooms, the nation was reeling under the weight of legalese; On August 27, Chairman Singh ordered a halt to the H2H exercise saying “Cognisant of all that has transpired over the past months, GECOM has an obligation to produce a credible Official List of Electors (OLE) in the first instance and ultimately credible elections within the shortest possible time,” The action did not result in GECOM being able to hold elections on or before September 18 and on the 19th, the hammer of the international community fell heavily on Granger and his Administration.
The United States of America Ambassador to Guyana, HE Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch, United Kingdom High Commissioner to Guyana, HE Greg Quinn and the European Union Ambassador to Guyana, HE Ambassador Fernando Ponz Cantó’s joint statement on the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) proposed elections timeframe.
“The United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union thank the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for devising a proposed elections timeframe for conducting General and Regional Elections.
However, we deeply regret that, by surpassing September 18, the Government is currently in breach of the Constitution following its failure to adhere to the decisions of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on 18 June and its subsequent orders.
This situation comes at great cost to the people of Guyana. The prevailing political uncertainty undermines Guyanese institutions, compromises economic opportunities and delays development across all areas including infrastructure, education, health, and social services. It also hinders our ability to support Guyana’s development needs.
We, therefore, call upon the President to set an elections date immediately in full compliance with Guyana’s Constitution.”
Guyana now had a usurper Executive, “illegal” was added to the “caretaker’ designation afforded by the CCJ. Not that Granger or his Ministers seemed to notice. Granger paid lip-service to the caretaker concept and pledged that he would abide by the constraints imposed by the designation such as restricted foreign travel by Ministers; thereafter it was ignored and Ministers have travelled freely for meetings in Washington, Spain, Dubai, and George Norton even turned up at a PanAm Sports awards in Florida last week. Unbothered became the theme for Granger and his cohorts. In the meanwhile, the quarterly reports of the Bank of Guyana and other financial data are telling a tale of their own.
Capital expenditure rose over 29 per cent in the first half of 2019 as suddenly dozens of projects were deemed emergency works, this allowed the bypass of the Procurement Act and the drain on foreign reserves began to attract attention almost as much a the startling rise in the overdraft facility of the consolidated fund. After September 19 began a period that can only be described as ‘squandermania’. The reserves were outstripped by the overdraft leaving Guyana dependent on taxes to stay solvent.
External debt has climbed to over 60 per cent of GDP, the highest in the post-IMF period (2006-present). Accounts of budget agencies such as Forestry, Mining, Lotto Fund have been decimated; billions spent, unaccounted for. David Granger arranged face-to-face meetings with select international oil companies in a surreptitious attempt to sell three-million barrels of oil to bolster the emptied treasury. The vigilance of the Opposition, international and local media has placed a bright light upon these unusual negotiations. A return to governance by parliamentary democracy would be most welcome by a population assaulted by a never-ending stream of financial scandals committed by the APNU/AFC.
2019 let Guyanese know that constitutional rule of law is only as solid as the persons elected to govern by the provisions and principles therein. Bad actors will result in bad actions. GECOM’s Chair, Claudette Singh, is working through a plethora of issues methodically amidst much deliberate confusion and sabotage. Elections will be on March 2, 2020; three hundred and forty-seven days past due. The future of GECOM as a permanent body with a budget of billions annually and its role as keeper of the National Register of Registrants are in the balance.
The elections in 2020 are not about ‘oil money, ethnicity or youth’; it is about governance for the people, by the people in accordance with the rule of laws outlined in our Constitution; or extending the life of an Administration that has turned willful ignorance into an art form. Those are the choices facing the electorate.