The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Council of Ministers’ on Friday, last sided with the Government by supporting the prorogation of Parliament, but the 15-nation body’s pronouncement has come in for severe criticisms from the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC).
The umbrella union body believes the Council’s response to this situation “where this nation’s highest decision-making arm, which represents the collective determination of the people, has been thrown to the wayside by the PPP administration,” smacks at contempt for the citizens and their institutions.
President Donald Ramotar, on November 10, last, prorogued Parliament to prevent the passage of the Alliance For Change (AFC) sponsored No-Confidence Motion brought against his government.
This Motion was one that garnered the support of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and once passed would have forced Ramotar’s administration to call General Elections within 90 days.
Ramotar, in subsequent addresses to the nation said that he prorogued parliament to have dialogue but since that failed, he has chosen not to recall the Parliament but to call elections. He however has not yet set a date.
Last Friday, as Foreign Ministers from the Region convened at the CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara for a working session, the prorogation of Guyana’s Parliament came under discussion.
It was after the 35th meeting for the Council of Ministers, the second highest organ of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM), that a statement was issued.
The Council of Ministers said that it received an update from the Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett regarding developments in relation to the prorogation of the Parliament of Guyana.
“Ministers,” the body said, “were satisfied that the prorogation of Parliament was in keeping with the provisions of the Guyana Constitution and did not constitute a breach of the Commonwealth Charter.”
Outgoing United Kingdom High Commissioner to Guyana, Andrew Ayre, had indicated that Guyana was increasingly being regarded as a country of concern in London and risked being referred to the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group.
The UK envoy has said that the suspension of the Parliament since November 10, last year without any justification and the delay in holding Local Government Elections since 1994 violated Guyana’s constitution and the Commonwealth Charter.
The CARICOM statement, which was titled an update on developments in relation to the prorogation of the Parliament of Guyana, noted that the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett said that the President would soon announce a date for general and regional elections.
In an apparent reference to recent public criticisms of the government by American and British envoys, the CARICOM Council of Ministers urged foreign diplomats the respect the sovereignty and right of self-determination of States.
“Ministers also underscored the need for the respect of diplomatic proprieties and for adherence to the principles of non-interference in the domestic affairs of Member States,” added the Council in its statement.
Ayre and then United States Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt, publicly criticized the Ramotar Administration for its record of governance, specifically in the area of democracy.
The UK envoy has also hinted that his country might be inclined to withhold bilateral aid, except for elections, because of the absence of parliamentary oversight on how British taxpayers’ monies are spent.
Obviously displeased with the position taken by the Council, GTUC has also remarked that for the Ministers to speak about non-interference of and diplomatic proprieties by nations with whom Guyana and CARICOM countries have signed charters, “even as they are intimating to Guyanese that we must accept a situation where our elected representatives are denied the opportunity to function in Parliament on our behalf, is hypocritical, self-serving and reeks of double standards.”
The Union believes that the only reason CARICOM could have issued such “a contemptuous statement is to serve as insurance for regional governments in the event they face similar challenge at home to account for their stewardship, they would invoke the Prorogation clause, a feature of Westminster politics, to replicate the repressive conduct.”
“The challenge to Guyanese and citizens of the Region,” GTUC noted, “is that while our ancestors fought against brutal slavery, indentureship and colonisation, their descendants are prepared to practice the behaviours of former oppressors and expect the people’s consent to the injustices and unfair acts.”
The umbrella union body said that regardless of what programme a Government has, the absence of the parliament makes government dysfunctional.
“The present repression poses dire implications, one of which can see spontaneous migration to CARICOM countries, where some of the very governments who approved the Government Information Agency-styled (GINA) press statement would reject additional undocumented Guyanese.”
GTUC, the largest union in the Public Service, continued “In the apparent focus to satisfy an immediate self-serving interest, it eluded CARICOM to examine the consequences of the repressive act of proroguing parliament.
“It was ignored that CARICOM subscribes to the principles that good governance can only be considered when the citizens’ Rights and Freedoms are respected and safeguarded, and all branches of government and constitutional institutions are in place and are allowed to work.”
The body surmised that these principles are not only adumbrated in the Commonwealth Charter, they are also ensconced in the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society. “CARICOM can best serve the interest of the Region’s people by speaking and acting in conformity with its Charter of Civil Society.”
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