The much-anticipated CCJ final word on the Guyanese cases before it has come and gone. For many, it was an anti-climax—no definitive orders or declarations that shifted things beyond the rulings last month.
I had observed in this column and elsewhere that the CCJ seemed reluctant to breach the wall of separation between itself and the other branches of government and consequently would not insert itself in the political sphere. The WPA took a similar position in successive press statements and the Coalition made similar submissions to the court. So, in a sense we have been on the right side of this issue.
I am relieved that the court has taken this position, because in so doing, it has deepened its integrity as an impartial arbiter of the law. It is worth remembering that the vast majority of CARICOM countries are yet to join the CCJ, largely because they are not fully convinced that that court could resist attempts to politicize it. Its conduct in this case, I think, has helped in no small way to enhance the CCJ’s legitimacy. Had it given any coercive orders, I am sure the perception would have been different.
Both sides have hailed the court’s stance as a victory. While there is no victory for either side, the PPP has been dealt a severe blow. In many regards, the court’s refusal to give consequential orders has upset the PPP’s apple cart—at least temporarily. The PPP, in my view, had pinned all its hopes on the court ordering that elections be held within three months.
The three-months timeline suits the PPP, not because it has any superior respect for the letter of the constitution or the rule of law—that party is as guilty of flouting the constitution and the rule of law as any in the Anglophone Caribbean. The three-months timeline simply accommodates the PPP’s intention to go to the election with the tainted Voters’ List. I am contending that all the PPP’s narratives and manoeuvrings are geared towards this end.
Of course, the PPP’s leader has latched on to the court’s declaration that given its ruling, the administration becomes a caretaker government. The constitution has not defined the scope of a caretaker government and the CCJ was vague in that regard. Mr. Jagdeo defines a caretaker government in minimalist terms. He is arguing that the government should do very little and confine itself to preparing for elections. I beg to differ. Any government, whether caretaker or otherwise, is tasked with two major functions —protect the country’s sovereignty and look after the welfare of its citizens. Those functions require a fully constituted and empowered government.
The concept of a caretaker government is an elastic one—it can be stretched to suit an interpretation. In other words, depending on the circumstances, such a government can function normally. In that regard, a caretaker government is no different from a lame-duck government. This so-called caretaker government has to continue to look after the welfare of the people—health, education, social security, public security, infrastructure, the economy, regulations etc. It follows that it can prepare a budget in pursuit of the above-mentioned function.
The only major difference between a caretaker government and a normal one is that preparing for and holding elections must be at the top of its agenda, and its life in office is determined by the prescribed constitutional timeline or a two-third vote of the National Assembly. Its popular mandate ended with the CCJ ruling, and it now serves at the pleasure of the constitutional requirements or of the legislature. But this does not diminish its ability to carry out its normal functions.
So, where do we go from here? As some of us have long contended, once the court made its ruling, the ball was back squarely in the political leaders’ court. The CCJ reiterated that position on Friday. The PPP has thus far been inflexible. It, for example, vows that it would not be party to an extension of the life of the government beyond the stipulated three months. The Coalition on the other hand has held strongly to the position that only GECOM can determine the timeline for elections.
But, it seems to me both sides have to give something if we are to dig ourselves out of this proverbial hole. It is not the first time we have been here. On previous occasions it took external intervention to help us overcome the impasse. My sense is that we may be headed in that direction. After all the grandstanding, it is difficult to see either side accepting anything that looks like defeat. Since the ultimate issue is the Voters’ List, I don’t think that we are going to get very far, unless that matter is taken care of.
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