Local government games – commentary

Local government games

OCTOBER 6, 2013 · BY EDITORIAL · COMMENTS   
Everyone believes we are in election mode. The vilification is there; the vulgarity is there; and the rallies up and down the country for the 5th October 1992 anniversary are there.  What other purpose would all of this have at this point in the electoral cycle if a poll were not hovering on the near horizon? One presumes that all the crassness which has suddenly seized the governing party is not directed towards a national election – or at least, one hopes not. Apart from the reluctance of the electorate to go to a general election right now, it might be thought that Freedom House would be no more certain of the outcome than anyone else, and would therefore perceive it as a high-risk venture.

What the populace would like to see are local government polls, which were last held in 1994 and were due again in 1997. It is extraordinary that a party which is investing so much energy in holding rallies in the villages to celebrate the ‘return of democracy,’ doesn’t feel even a soupçon of embarrassment that the residents of those same villages have not been able to exercise their local democratic rights for over a decade and a half. 

Be that as it may, assuming that this is about a local government election we then run into the problem of the four local government Bills, sitting, so we are told, somewhere in the recesses of the Attorney-General’s chambers awaiting an assent certificate. As virtually the entire country is aware, the Constitution of Guyana requires that once a Bill has been passed by the National Assembly, the President has 21 days to sign it – or refuse to do so, as the case might be. However, the convention has arisen whereby Bills passed in the House go first to the AG to receive a certificate of assent, before being forwarded to the President. The count-down of 21 days, it seems, begins when a Bill arrives on the head of state’s desk.

The fact that this practice is out of consonance with the constitution is not the concern here; what is the concern is that the Bills in question were passed on 7th August, and that now, two months later they still have not found their dilatory way to Mr Ramotar. In our edition of 21st September we reported Attorney-General Anil Nandlall as saying that he was awaiting instructions from the President on whether to issue assent certificates.

Now this is enough to leave even the most cynical observer of politics in this country gasping for air. Up until that point everyone had believed (and this from information volunteered by Mr Nandlall himself) that the President decided to sign or not to sign after his Attorney-General had certified that a Bill was in order. Now we are being told that the AG will issue an assent certificate if the President instructs him to do so. This is either a species of Catch-22 situation – the President won’t sign unless he gets an assent certificate and the AG won’t give an assent certificate unless the President says so ‒ or it is an exercise in futility. In other words, why would the government need to go through the rigmarole of an assent certificate at all if the President – as seems to be the case since he will give the instruction to the AG ‒ has already made up his mind?

Whatever the subtext of this little pantomime is, at the very least it suggests that the governing party either wants to delay the legislation until it reaches a point which it feels would be advantageous for its political campaign, or it doesn’t want the Bills to become law at all.

If the first is the intention, then while the Bills are held captive in the AG’s chambers we may be treated to a one-sided campaign which at the same time is not an official campaign, whereby the PPP/C does as much damage as it can to the opposition. Then all of a sudden the assent certificate will be given, the President will sign, and a date for the election not far distant will be announced.  This would give the opposition little time to campaign, and would allow the ruling party ‒ possibly ‒ to revert to a less corrosive style on the hustings.

As things stand at the moment, the sordid statements from senior government ministers alleging a nexus between the opposition and the present increase in violent crime can only serve to discredit the speakers, more especially as their allegations by implication carry an undercurrent of racial innuendo.  As noted above, this level of crudeness and downright irresponsibility is invariably symptomatic of the election season, although one might have thought that following the results of the 2011 election, the PPP/C would have re-thought its campaign tactics. That seems not to be the case, however; Mr Jagdeo’s low level approach is now what defines the party’s campaign mode. In the meantime, of course, the opposition cannot campaign for the simple reason that they are not privy to whether an election is coming or not, and if it is, when it is.

The PPP/C might be doing all this, of course, and still not have any intention of signing the Bills into law before an election. It was Minister in the Ministry of Local Government Norman Whittaker who was reported by this newspaper as saying that the Bills were not needed to hold a local government election; the Local Government Elections Act was already in place. This position was also given by Ms Gail Teixeira. Why, the interested voter might want to know, would it be necessary for them to say this if their party was not at least considering going this route?

It might be remembered that the governing party had entertained the thought before the 2011 election of holding local government polls under existing legislation. At that time it was indicated to them that if they did so, the PNCR would boycott the polls, and they dropped the matter because a boycott would damage their democratic credentials. This time around of course, Mr Khemraj Ramjattan had earlier been unwise enough to say that his party was prepared to go to local elections under the present arrangements for local government.  Could it be, therefore, that Freedom House is calculating that with the AFC on board, it can afford to ignore an APNU boycott, should the latter party choose that option?

It should be observed that the AFC might have changed its position now that the four Bills have been passed in the National Assembly, but even if that is not so, the governing party cannot afford even an APNU boycott; the international community which gives its imprimatur to elections here would look with a jaundiced eye on the government’s antics to avoid signing Bills passed in the National Assembly which would have bearing on the structure of local government here. That apart, what possible excuse could Freedom House give to Guyanese for the four Bills not being signed, and an election being held for an unreformed system? How could they live with their own pretences?

It is not even as if the Bills in question are not flawed in certain respects; however, they are a vast improvement on what exists at present and in theory, at least, could always be amended at some later stage. As of now, therefore, the government needs to stop playing these tiresome games, and for his part the President needs to sign the Bills into law. After all, at this late stage no one is deceived as to what is going on. Once the four Bills are signed, Mr Ramotar can name a date for the holding of the local elections for which everyone has been waiting patiently for the past sixteen years.

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Comments

  • de castro compton  On 10/06/2013 at 11:44 am

    Wow wow unbelievable…..16 years since local elections were held….
    If that was to happen in any other democracy the people would have
    all be out in streets demanding it……people power….
    If el presidernte wishes to remain in power he should use his pen not his sword….
    it is mightier…or he may regret his inaction.
    Hope he reads Guyanese-on-line !

    Guyana is changing
    Guyana will change
    Guyana must change

    Or die in her ignorance in slumber….hopefully peacefully….

    Kamptan

  • Deen  On 10/08/2013 at 12:40 am

    The protracted delay in processing and signing these four local government Bills into law casts a dubious shadow on the dark ethics of the PPP/C Government. Also, it is an insult to the democratic principles of the constitution and a travesty of justice. This is a most egregious and devious way to deceive the people of Guyana.
    Shame! Shame!! Shame!!!

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