By Leonard Gildarie
In recent years, our governance systems have entered uncharted waters, being severely tested in Parliament and at the level of our courts. We can recall all too well in 2011, following general and regional elections, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic lost its majority in the National Assembly.
At the first sitting, it was time to choose the Speaker of the House. There were heated arguments back and forth. The National Assembly was in an awkward position. In the end, it was the Opposition side that prevailed. Raphael Trotman was chosen. The then government had wanted Ralph Ramkarran to return.
I thought to myself then that things were going to change dramatically on the political landscape, and boy, oh boy, it did.
Leading up to 2015, there was legislation voted down by the Opposition-controlled House. Two of them pertained to the Amaila Falls hydro project. The project, the Opposition said, was touching on US$1B and there were questions about a few aspects.
The non-passage of those two pieces saw the 165-megawatt project being shelved.
There were other instances where the new dispensation would have seen the Opposition slicing off chunks of the National Budget. Yep, it was a new ball game.
We move to 2015.
Thanks to early elections brought about via a prorogation of Parliament by the then President, Donald Ramotar, the Coalition Government entered office.
I recall immediately, ExxonMobil announced a major oil find. At the same time, Venezuela reasserted its claims (yes, you have it right), on a large part of Essequibo, and on the same waters where oil was found. Venezuela also ended its five-year oil-for-rice deal with Guyana.
We are a few months away from first oil and our country is being severely challenged to up its game.
Internally, the Opposition has not been taking up positions on state boards.
With years of campaigning experience honed to the sharpest, the Opposition has been running rings around the Government when it comes to public relations.
Many of the ministers are still unable to comprehend that good PR is not hoping that the newspapers and media publish the truth, as par for the course. Rather, many of them still remain inaccessible.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
I saw a minister on Friday being questioned about her husband receiving a contract to build homes. She is in charge of housing in Guyana. It cannot be that the buck is to be passed to the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA). The minister says it is the authority and its board that deals with housing contracts.
Fair enough. But then CH&PA has to answer. What galled me is that while the minister was being questioned by the media, she was surrounded by a few persons, I presume to be bodyguards, and escorted away.
It reminded me of the few politicians in the Asian countries who turned up to campaign in small villages, only to be accosted for not paying attention to the plight of the poor.
There is an issue on the table. The contractor is not an ordinary person. The matter has to be addressed.
The above has been highlighted to bring into context the changes that have now come upon us and brought us to this juncture.
IN TWO COUNTRIES
The issue of dual citizenship has been dominating the news in recent months.
After the December 21st no-confidence vote which triggered early elections, one of the arguments used by the Government in the courts was that Charrandass Persaud was sitting illegally as he had citizenship also with Canada.
There are two or more sides to this issue.
Under the Constitution, in layman’s terms, once you have been issued a passport of another country and taken an oath to protect that country, then you have sworn allegiance to that country and that prevents you from running for Parliament.
The High Court agreed that you can’t swear allegiance to another State and be a parliamentarian. The Appeal Court did not disagree.
Personally, I have some serious problems with this.
MP Persaud was in the National Assembly on December 21st, arguing for the Government in the no-confidence motion. When it came to his vote, he went with the Opposition. In the uproar that followed, from the reports, Persaud then called the Canadian High Commission from the precincts of the Parliament Building and asked for their protection.
We are not here to argue whether Persaud was right or wrong for his vote. Rather, it is to speak of the dangers.
If the reports are true, the MP was a few yards from the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly where laws are passed, where moments before he was a Guyanese. He then became a Canadian citizen outside of it. That is unacceptable for our people.
I have interviewed the former MP after that December 21st vote, and he believes he has done the right thing against his party, the Alliance For Change, and the Government, whom he had lost confidence in.
The fallout from that one vote is painful to see. I hate to see my country so divided, with businesses complaining bitterly of hesitation in investments and local consumers.
However, it does little to explain away the dangers to governance and security when a lawmaker can have feet, as a citizen, in two countries.
He was escorted out of the country under the protection of the Canadian government hours after that vote.
So here we have it that four senior ministers of the Government – Joseph Harmon, Carl Greenidge, Dominic Gaskin and Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine – have all tendered their resignations to the President for their seats in the National Assembly.
It will have impact on the Coalition.
Gaskin, born in the United Kingdom, will likely not give up his dual citizenship.
While the resignations will not take effect until the necessary notifications to the Speaker of House have been tendered, the Government is saying that it is complying with the laws of Guyana and the court rulings.
On the Opposition side, three MPs – Gail Teixeira, Odinga Lumumba and Adrian Anamayah – are the ones with dual citizenship. The first two have signaled intentions to give up their overseas citizenship, while Anamayah will not.
My personal opinion as stated in the past is that we need to examine this piece of law and how it impacts our development of the country.
The fact is that we have several overseas-based Guyanese working for Government. A few of them are in the Ministry of the Presidency. These are bright people.
What is our stance on this?
We must be able to accommodate Guyanese from the diaspora in helping us, especially in this period where oil production is about to start, and we need all hands on deck.
We simply lack capacity with the brain drain over the years. However, there must be clear guidelines. We cannot have our office holders conflicting with the laws.
There are obvious benefits from holding two passports…health care and pension included. But it allows the obvious escape hatch in case anything goes wrong.
A minister or executive could pick up himself/herself and leave, and there is little we can do.
The above ministers are all experienced political campaigners who know the local political contours of the land. It will be a hard blow to the Coalition.
On the positive side, it appears that there are attempts to respect our laws.
We are clearly not out of the woods as yet, but maturity from both sides of the political fence is evident. These are testing times.
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