In light of the claim that the WPA is being sidelined in government, the following column is being reprinted.
If the APNU is committed to coalition politics; if it accepts that this type of politics is best suited to Guyana’s ethnically divided politics, then it must by extension accept that the notion of an Executive Presidency is not consistent with Coalition politics.
Under Guyana’s Constitution, all executive authority resides in the President. Members of Cabinet are merely advisors to the President. He can overrule them. He can ignore their opinions. He can override their decisions. In others words, what we have is an all-supreme President, who can dictate what happens in the government.
This cannot be consistent with Coalition politics, which must be involved in negotiated decision-making. If the President has full executive authority, then the President does not need to negotiate with anybody. He can dictate what happens. He may not do this, but the mere fact that he has this power means that it is possible.
The other problem is if the party in power has the majority of seats in Cabinet and also has the Presidency, then unless there is an agreement on specified majorities to ensure approval of measures in Cabinet, then the party which holds the presidency will always hold sway over decision-making in the Cabinet.
A culture has developed within Cabinets around the world. That culture sees other Ministers not keen on opposing measures and projects of their fellow Ministers for fear that when the time comes, their own policies and projects will be disproved.
The Executive Presidency is therefore not consistent with encouraging dissent and negotiations within Cabinet, because the ruling party, which holds the Presidency and, in the case of Guyana, the majority of seats, can override any criticisms from its coalition partners.
Two examples will illustrate the dilemma which faces the AFC within Cabinet. Firstly, it is hard to imagine that the AFC would have given its consent to the approval of the parking meter by-laws. It was the AFC’s constituency which has rallied against the present contract signed between the City Council of Georgetown and a private firm. The AFC would, however, have found itself outvoted on this issue, even if it was opposed to the approval of the by-laws, because the AFC does not have the numbers to defeat the APNU within the Cabinet.
The second example is about the VAT on private education. It is hard to imagine the AFC being in agreement with this measure. But given the domination of the APNU in Cabinet, and the fact that the APNU’s leader is also the President who holds full executive authority, a yes or no vote by the AFC is immaterial to the outcome. The AFC is therefore at risk, if it is not so already, of becoming a rubber stamp within the government.
The power of the presidency means that collective responsibility becomes the rule by the majority party which in Guyana is the APNU. The AFC is in no position to stop the APNU from doing what it pleases.
Constitutional reform should therefore be not about stripping Presidents of immunities. Those who are advancing these positions are really interested in settling political scores with the PPP/C, rather than trying to protect the institution of the presidency.
When former President Bharrat Jagdeo asked the SOCU investigators, who ill-advisedly arrested him, whether they wanted to question him in relation to acts which he did as President, he was not invoking his presidential immunities. He was pointing out to this unit, which is supposed to be fighting organized crimes rather than addressing alleged administrative malfeasance, the absurdity of them questioning him about acts which he would have committed while in office. He cannot be personally prosecuted for acts done in his official capacity as President, but those actions are subject to judicial review in that the State can be held culpable for them. This is the common law position and therefore this nonsense that is being pedalled by the WPA about Jagdeo hiding behind presidential immunities is in itself farcical.
The WPA, if it had its way, would reduce the presidency to a rubber stamp. What the AFC should be more concerned about is ensuring that there is a post-Cummingsburg Agreement, which would allow for decisions within Cabinet to require a 75% agreement from all the members before it is carried.
It will change the whole dynamic of Cabinet. It will neutralize the impact of an Executive Presidency on consensus politics. It will become an experiment in effective coalition government and depending on how it works, can lead to the sort of constitutional change which would be more suited to that reality.
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