Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo doesn’t have the authority to instruct the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to advise President David Granger as to its readiness to conduct any election. Neither does he hold the office of President to set the date when an election should be held.
Though he is without authority in the stated areas, he continues to meddle, ignoring the areas where he has authority to effect decision-making.
This nation is in crisis. We have an interim Government, an interim Opposition and a substantive GECOM, yet the interims are behaving as though it is business as usual, while we are on the threshold of a massive process of exploiting the nation’s resources. First oil will pour next year. This would see the greatest economic shift since slavery ended. In spite of this, our political operatives are seemingly disinterested in forging a cohesive nation to grapple with the reality and ensure Guyanese are the primary beneficiary.
As the squabbling continues, Exxon, Tullow et al are having a field day, uninhibited by any national concern, scrutiny or objection. We continue to be bombarded about the call for election, as though day-to-day governance and other matters of national import are unimportant. It is not that election ought not to be held, but we must reject the singular projection that election must give way to constructive dialogue.
Those questioning my interest and focus on the present political climate, as a trade unionist the historical struggles of the workers against exploitation, and to put an end to misuse and abuse of labour not only anchor my conviction, but propel me. Having come this far as a nation, we must zealously guard and build on our gains, and seek to avoid a repeat of the sordid past.
Our history has shown that despite racial and political clashes, when it came to the defence of the nation in the face of foreign forces, we set aside our differences. We did it for independence – the embrace by Minority Leader Cheddi Jagan and Premier Forbes Burnham at the dawn of nationhood is captured in perpetuity.
When the Burnham government moved to nationalise bauxite and sugar – the two major pillars of our economy – nation was placed above partisanship. Both Burnham and Jagan sat down, worked out strategies and programmes to give effect to the nation’s aspirations, then moved to the Parliament and legislated.
In this era, national interest is being subsumed by partisan interest. There is clear absence on the part of the Opposition to discharge its constitutional responsibilities. The role of the opposition is not only to oppose or seek to dispose, but to also propose. This year there was only one major engagement between the Opposition and Government. It dealt with the selection and appointment of Justice Claudette Singh SC as Chairperson of GECOM.
While President Granger to a large extent has remained silent on the aforesaid issues, allowing surrogates to address these, Mr. Jagdeo, in giving voice, continues to disrespect the constitutional independence of GECOM, and is refusing to make proposals to improve governance, including the management of oil and gas. Such conduct is a departure from Dr. Jagan’s politics. The inference is therefore being drawn that for the party it is all about an election and everything else be damned.
The Guyana Trades Union Congress is on public record calling for engagement among the Government, Opposition and civil society in addressing a Local Content Policy to ensure the safeguard of Guyanese labour and business. Recently, sections of the private sector joined the call to realise legislation. Disgruntlement surrounding the oil and gas contracts and the benefits Guyanese will derive from these will not be silenced. Attending to the grievances cannot wait for an election.
While no contract is written in stone, the fact that the political operatives are not engaging on these and other issues pertaining to the sector, to arrive at a national position sends an ominous signal. They are not engaging each other or civil society, which is communicating that we the people are secondary in the scheme of things.
We owe it to ourselves not to have oil used as an electioneering gimmick and after election, whomever is elected, the issue of addressing the contracts is abandoned. We have had experiences where promises to put Guyana first were never honoured.
Citizens have every right to be concerned if or when the PPP is elected it will be business as usual. Going by Mr. Jagdeo’s track record as President, the recent examples of RUSAL/BCGI, Bai Shan Lin, etc. tell a story. The common thread in these cases is that foreigners were allowed to exploit our resources with no regard for the environment; they were given tax exemptions and low royalties, and demonstrated blatant disrespect for our laws and the fundamental rights of workers/citizenry.
With this record, the promises that the PPP will revisit the contracts should the party secure the Executive would be seen as an attempt to hoodwink the populace.
It is not unreasonable therefore to request of the politicians that they meet, agree and put their agreement into legislation, before the election. The holding of an election requires the National Assembly complying with Article 106(7) of the Constitution.
The Opposition will have to return to parliament to carry out their constitutional responsibilities consistent with the Caribbean Court of Justice’s ruling. At the same time they are addressing elections, they can address issues of governance, priority among which is the burgeoning oil and gas sector.
The refusal of the Leader of the Opposition to return to parliament is an abrogation of constitutional responsibility, highlighting a shortcoming in his leadership as the nation’s second highest political office holder. His promises on behalf of the PPP when he has the constitutional authority to work and ensure these are realised must see us holding him to account. The PPP’s Members of Parliament (MPs) together with the Coalition’s MPs, must return to the National Assembly and legislate the promises now.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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