Category Archives: Politics

No-Confidence vote a mistake – Dr. Harding

…Opposition parties not ready for elections

By Leon Suseran

The Opposition parties, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) say they are going ahead full steam with a No- Confidence motion against the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government in the National Assembly. The combined opposition has stated that they have no confidence in the manner in which the government has been operating over the past years. If this motion is passed, elections could be just around the corner.

Dr. Faith Harding

But former Government Minister under the People’s National Congress (PNC), educator, women’s rights activist and Psychotherapist, Dr. Faith Harding does not believe a No-Confidence vote would solve anything. Additionally, the former Minister of State and Minister within the Public Service under President Desmond Hoyte, does not believe the opposition is ready for elections. Speaking exclusively to this newspaper recently, Dr. Harding believes that Guyana’s political situation has reached an “unfortunate” state after so many years of Independence.
Confidence or no- confidence?
“This No-Confidence Motion will just disrupt our minds! Yes, if the population of Guyana—I think the PPP got the plurality of votes in a sense, more than the APNU and AFC got, but together they got more in terms of an opposition, but the majority of the people voted for the PPP. So is it the majority that is having the no- confidence, by one seat, in the government’s operation? One needs to examine that.”
“We still don’t know to collaborate and cooperate and work on behalf of our people and the development of the nation,” she stated.
She expressed the view that there seems to be reluctance on both sides of the House to give and to compromise, “to put Guyana first— people seem to have in the forefront of their minds, vindictiveness…I find that very unfortunate. We are in a situation where there is a lack of total trust; there is no trust between the Government and Opposition and I think they need to develop a sense of trust for each other and give it a break—give Guyana a break!”
Dr. Harding is still hoping that rather than something, “disruptive” like the No- Confidence motion that will require President Donald Ramotar to call an election, “that some negotiations can take place— some camaraderie could be built between the opposition and the government.”
Not ready for an election
If such a motion can be avoided, “that would be the best thing for Guyana.” “If not, it means you have to call an election and I don’t think the opposition is ready!”
She said the incumbent will always have a higher level to operate on in terms if financing and public interest.
“I am not yet seeing the kind of work being done by the opposition to tell me they are ready to win an election; that they are ready to collaborate with each other; and that if they do collaborate, the nation will choose them over the current government.”
“There won’t be enough money for the opposition. People don’t support them financially, especially the APNU!”
When asked where the opposition parties, particularly, APNU have fallen down, the veteran mental health practitioner opined that the opposition does not really listen to their people on the ground.
“They don’t know how to use the government agencies to get at helping the people in the villages— helping their supporters. Their supporters would tell you how abandoned they feel. You don’t have to be in government to help your people, or to raise the level of performance in the economy!”
Advice for the Opposition
She stated that the opposition has fallen down in appreciating Guyana, and in bringing the wrong things that the government does to a position of, ‘this is how I would do it and this is what needs to be done’.” “No, they will criticise— not in a sense that people can understand— you look at all the Bills and this No-Confidence Motion— where was the cooperation and understanding?” she questioned.
“Look at the Speciality Hospital; Amaila Falls Project; where is it going? What is going to happen? Look at how many workers have been so downtrodden by the system! It is as though corruption starts from the very bottom to the top!”
She questioned as to why the opposition does not become involved in social programmes to ease the chaos that is currently taking place in the Guyanese society, among families, among children and youths. “Can you take education and social programmes into the community to help to raise the levels? How can you make women turn their resources into money, to develop an economically sound life?”
Dr. Harding noted that the opposition has fallen down in that way.
But she also blamed the government for not fostering an attitude of partnership.
“This is not a time for conflict…we cannot afford it in Guyana. We’ve been operating like we’ve been in a war zone for the past 20 or 30 years.”

Revert to Cabinet system of gov’t – Ramkarran

Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran says that Guyana should revert to a cabinet system of government with a prime minister as head and has endorsed a view that any party obtaining more than 10% of the vote would be entitled to join the government if it so wishes.

“Our constitutional system has been damaged by the attachment of the presidential carbuncle to our Westminster system for no good reason other than grandiosity. It has sucked the lifeblood from a vibrant, cabinet system of government and imposed a commanding authority bloated with supreme executive power over compliant ‘advisers’ holding ministerial posts. I therefore propose a cabinet system of government with a prime minister as head of government, subject to term limits, and a cabinet with the right to vote, not as advisers as at present. The president would be a ceremonial head of state elected by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. Essentially, this means returning to our Independence Constitu-tion, which worked well until it was subverted,” he wrote in his Sunday Stabroek column.

Ramkarran, who was an influential member of the PPP before quitting after nearly 50 years of membership, argued that until today’s politically disputatious situation, created by Guyana’s history and overshadowed by ethnicity, is contained by a workable constitutional system, Guyana will show little political and economic progress and instability will continue.

He said that the first step is to persuade all political parties to accept that Guyana needs a government that includes at least the two main political parties. “The PPP once championed this position but reneged on it after gaining political office in 1992. While the PPP is dangling before the public a confusing concatenation of alliance formats, including the national democratic front, the broad left front, shared governance by first building trust, which it claims from the other side of its mouth already exists through the implementation of constitutional reforms, the ‘winner does not take all,’ but which already exists through the civic alliance, promoting a different one each day of the week, the rest of Guyana ought to move forward with the discourse on constitutional reform. The PPP will undoubtedly catch up in due course, either willingly or of necessity,” he said.

The former PPP stalwart advocated a return to the Independence Constitution and said that had it been applied with the 2011 electoral results, the ceremonial president would have been obliged to invite the leader of the party, which the president believes is capable of obtaining the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly, to form the government. “Therefore, whichever party the president invited to form the government would have to satisfy him or her that it has the support of at least one other political party in the National Assembly. This would have forced the formation of a coalition government or at least forced negotiations by the party with one or more of the others for a commitment to support,” he said.

“If the PPP now has concerns that 1964 might be repeated when it obtained the plurality but was not invited to form the government, the appropriate article in the constitution can be amended to impose a duty on the president to first invite the party obtaining the plurality at the elections to form the government. Only if that party declares to the president that it is unable to form a government which would receive the support of the majority of members of the National Assembly would the president be able to then invite the party obtaining the second largest number of votes to form the government. The president would have power to require a vote of confidence in the government as the first order of business of the National Assembly,” Ramkarran asserted.

The former Speaker said that he agreed with Stabroek News columnist and former PPP government minister Dr Henry Jeffrey’s view that a coalition government can be ensured by a provision in the constitution that any party obtaining more than ten per cent of the vote would be entitled to join the government if it so wishes. “Of course, this would make the job of the president of inviting the formation of a government to be a mere formality,” he noted.

 

Coalition-type

governments

In his ‘Future Notes’ column, Dr. Jeffrey had advocated for the establishment of a political constitution that provides for the possibility of coalition-type governments and thus contains strong institutional checks and balances to guard against the kind of executive abuse that such regimes could engender. The constitution must also seek to facilitate the development of conditions that will promote multi-ethnic politics and the resulting competitive liberal democratic state.

In terms of reforms, he had said that to deal with the issue of exclusion/ inclusion, at least for a transition period, the constitution will need to provide that once a party achieves some threshold, which he suggested could be 10% of the votes, at national elections, it has a right to a pro rata share of the government.

Ramkarran said that devising a system for the scrutiny of government without an opposition would be a challenge. “I do not believe that less dominance by the executive of the legislature by keeping ministers away from membership of the legislature and even electoral reform to introduce realistically sized constituencies would guarantee more independence of members of the body. Ethnically driven political solidarity and the possible interruption of benefits flowing from membership would defeat such an effort. One possibility that comes to mind is an upper chamber consisting of persons with no party political affiliation nominated from civil society by the president in his own deliberate judgment. To be effective it would have power to meaningfully influence legislation that comes before it,” he said.

Jeffrey had said that Guyana should look no further than the presidential system of the United States, where the president must negotiate with members of his own party. “The president should be elected by at least 50% of the votes cast. In our developing ethnic situation, this will force those wishing to be president to craft their policies to gain support across ethnic lines and also to negotiate across parties,” he had said.

“Also, to further entrench the separation between the executive and the legislature, as in the US, the executive (ministers) should not be members of parliament. The president will have the right to hire and fire his cabinet but must always keep the party proportionalities,” he wrote. “Contrary to what is sometimes thought, the fact that some ministers are nominated by the opposition would not necessarily cause persistent cabinet dissension. Rather, since the president has the right of dismissal, the opposition will also need to guard against their nominees becoming ardent acolytes of the president,” Jeffrey had said.

“Furthermore, the president should not be able to prorogue the National Assembly. Both s/he and the Assembly should be in office for fixed periods and the Assembly should manage its own personnel and financial affairs and have the right to adjust and negotiate with the government the formation of national budget,” the former minister said.

“In this context, we should eschew the notion of parliamentarians viewing themselves as part of the government and opposition and return to the situation where parties in parliament are, as in the US, designated majority and minority parties. They should be encouraged to view themselves as representing constituent and national interests,” Jeffrey declared.

Police silent on Ashni Singh spending complaint -Ramjattan expects response this week

There has been no word from the police on the complaint filed by Khemraj Ramjattan regarding the alleged illegal spending by Finance Minister Ashni Singh and the AFC leader said that he expects a public response from the Guyana Police Force this week.

When contacted, Crime Chief Leslie James was unable to provide information on the issue. He told Stabroek News that to give an update he would have to make contact with his superiors. He said too that he has not spoken to Ramjattan about the matter.

In an invited comment, Ramjattan said that he expects the police to publically respond to his complaint this week, failing which he will take the appropriate action. He disclosed that he has since learnt from police sources that it has been realized that the Minister has done a “big wrong.” The AFC leader said that given the nature of the matter – that it was a “big wrong” and that the minister holds a senior position – the sources have related that the matter has to be analyzed thoroughly as it is “no ordinary matter.” He stressed that he has been told that the matter will take some time to be analyzed.

Ramjattan added that he was reliably informed that the issue has left the minister “very scared” and he is now laying the blame at the feet of Attorney General Anil Nandlall.

The move to file the complaint came after it was found that government had spent more than $4.5 billion of the $37.4 billion cut from this year’s $220 billion national budget. Singh, on June 19, tabled Financial Paper 1 of 2014 seeking the approval of the House for the extra-budgetary spending. However, this quickly attracted the ire of the main opposition APNU as well as the AFC who have labelled it illegal.

In a nine-page Complaint and brief to the police, Ramjattan wrote that he was making a formal complaint and report that Singh and other officials in his Ministry have committed a violation of the provisions of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003. The minister, he said, has spent monies without having obtained legislative authorization and he and other officials in the relevant ministries have expended $4.533 billion up to June 16th, 2014. This, according to Ramjattan, constitutes a misusing, a misapplication, or an improper disposal of public monies.

Quoting Section 85 which says: “An official who knowingly permits any other person to contravene any provision of this Act is guilty of an indictable offence and liable on conviction to a fine of $2,000,000 and imprisonment for 3 years,” the AFC leader said that criminal liability can therefore befall the minister and those under him if it is determined that they went against the above-mentioned legislation.

Ramjattan, in the document, also told the police that Singh breached Article 217 which outlines all the conditions under which funds are to be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund. He also quoted other sections of the Constitution in an attempt to validate his position.

Granger back as PNCR Leader

Granger back as PNCR Leader

-shot fired in voting hall during chaotic scenes

David Granger was returned unopposed as PNCR Leader after his main challenger Aubrey Norton withdrew in an accreditation row amid chaotic scenes in the voting hall at Congress Place during which a gunshot was fired.

The lustre would have been knocked off of Granger’s return as leader after days of tension with the party wing in its key stronghold in Linden, Region 10. That tension erupted yesterday over the accreditation of delegates and led to Region 10 members headed by Norton and regional chairman Sharma Solomon decamping party headquarters.

Despite the debacle, Granger, later declared at a press conference that the 18th Biennial Congress was successful despite “administrative difficulties,” and the party in a statement cited attempted sabotage for the events that occurred yesterday.

With the party’s image likely to be severely bruised by yesterday’s events, Granger also faces having to make probably the most important decision of his political life since 2011 – whether to support a motion of no-confidence against the government.

Aubrey Norton

After announcing his decision not to participate in the elections yesterday, Norton gave an inkling that the events which have occurred over the last week have, for the first time since his joining the party in the 1970’s, forced him to consider whether there is a future for him in it. He said that he must contemplate the way forward, but clarified that whatever decision he makes it will not involve joining the PPP/C.

“I cannot participate in a process that is obviously flawed. For days we have been trying to solve the problem of having Region 10 delegates accredited,” a clearly frustrated Norton told reporters after he, Solomon and MP Vanessa Kissoon led a large portion of the party’s Linden faction from Congress Place.

The trio, followed by scores of supporters, exited the compound just minutes before Congress Place issued a statement to the effect that Granger was returned as leader unchallenged. Also returning are Basil Williams as party Chair, Volda Lawrence and George Norton as Vice chairs, and Ronald Bulkan as Treasurer.

With the exception of Bulkan none of the aforementioned were challenged. Stabroek News understands that Bulkan, who was challenged by Region Four Chairman Clement Corlette received almost three hundred votes, while Corlette received forty five.

Norton aggrieved

David Granger

“I took a decision that I could not participate in the process,” Norton told reporters, while adding that many Lindeners “did not opt to cast any vote because the process was flawed…” Norton says the “poverty of management of the process resulted in a situation where there was no delegates list going into Congress. This is the first time, he continued, this has ever happened.

He said that accreditation closed off since July 14th and that the necessary documentation should have been disseminated a week before Congress was scheduled to be held. Instead, he charged, the list was still being finalised up to Saturday night.

Norton and Solomon said that Region 10 ought to have had over one hundred delegates accredited, but that PNCR General Secretary Oscar Clarke, who was in charge of the accreditation process said this was not so.

On Friday, Clarke told reporters that Solomon had submitted a list which contained flaws. He said Solomon was informed of the flaws and asked to re-submit a list with the necessary corrections. Another list was submitted late Friday afternoon and Clarke said he was still running through it, and had already identified several illegitimate names.

Solomon and Norton say they were given assurances as recent as Saturday night that the matter would be resolved. However, the two said that when they arrived at Congress Place yesterday some of their supporters could not get into the compound because they did not have delegate cards. “We have been discussing it every day. Up to last night we were promised it was solved but this morning most of the Linden people were outside,” he shared.

Solomon told the press that even he had difficulty entering the compound because he, despite being an executive member of the party as well as a member of the accreditation committee, was not given a delegate card. He says that he was able to gain access into the compound only after he was identified by an accredited member who was already inside. “I was told by the General Secretary that somehow my card mysteriously disappeared…the internal process is one where there is not confidence,” Solomon concluded.

Accreditation committee met once

Solomon believes much of the problem is a result of fact that the accreditation committee, which had oversight of the accreditation process met on Saturday for the first time. He pointed out that whereas the accreditation committee for the last Congress met thrice a week the committee for the current Congress held its first and only meeting after the event was already underway.

During the post-congress press briefing yesterday, Lawrence told reporters that the committee had trouble meeting because of the busy schedule of its members. Instead of meeting therefore, she says that most of the committee’s work was done via telephone and email.

Congress Place is saying that serious efforts were made to address the concerns raised by Solomon and Norton. Its statement read: “…Solomon was issued with a copy of the final lists of approved delegates and Mr. Aubrey Norton one of the other leadership candidates was also issued with the official list of delegates so as to allow them to observe and scrutinise the list.”

“Earlier in the day two busloads of persons from Linden arrived at the congress venue; all claiming to be delegates. During the registration process they were advised that there were no delegate cards for them. Being very dissatisfied they proceeded to block the entrance to the auditorium where accredited delegates were assembling to votes.”

The release says that an “explosive sound was heard” during the “confusion” which ensued. It is reported that the “explosive sound” was that of a gun which was fired to restore order, although Granger and other members of the executive committee, during the same press conference last evening, said they could not confirm that it was a gun that went off.

 

Kissoon finally accredited

Meanwhile, after much strife Kisssoon was finally issued with her delegate card which she says was given to her by PNCR member Winston Felix. She admitted though, that she does not know that the issuance of her membership card means the issue between her and Clarke has been resolved. Kissoon had been suspended by the PNCR over an altercation with Clarke. She had argued that this suspension was unconstitutional.

 

A party divided?

When it was put to him that the ongoing spat between Congress Place and its Linden group signals a serious division, Granger did not deny that division exists. He said though, that the magnitude of such division was not something that is worrying.

While he noted that several persons followed Norton, Solomon and Kissoon out of Congress Place he believes “the number of persons that remained gives a more accurate picture of the reality…up to the last minute most of the delegates remained here. I don’t know how many people left, might have been 30 or 40 but even people from Region 10 remained here, so I mean it was unfortunate but we did have a successful congress.”

There have also been claims that Norton’s supporters were abused by Granger’s supporters. PNCR member Carl Greenidge says this has become a norm over the last three or so Congresses. Granger though, said he has not been officially briefed on any cases of abuse. He said that any such cases would be investigated and promised that anyone found guilty of such would be dealt with accordingly.

Jagdeo’s light bill alone exceeds most MPs’ pension and salary – Greenidge

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)’s Shadow Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge, is contending that the political

Former President Bharrat Jagdeo

opposition does not have an issue per se with the pension of Former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, although it is not set according to any principle used in the public service, but it is the uncapped benefits that are worrying and for which limits must be set.
The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that Jagdeo’s monthly electricity bill alone at over $375,000 by far exceeds most parliamentarians’ monthly pension and salary.
Greenidge reminded that the former President received a pension totaling $37.2M up to the end of last month. This is in addition to the recently disclosed figures upwards of $45M ($45,417,950) which the taxpayers have had to spend on his electricity bills, transportation and security between December 2011 and last February.
Using the monthly average for his security, transportation, electricity and pension Jagdeo to date, since leaving office, has cost taxpayers in excess of $90M. This figure does not take into account all of the other expenditure incurred by the former president under his ‘Pension and other benefits Package.”
In an exclusive interview with this publication, the Former Finance Minister said that the public needs to separate the pension from the benefits before they can fully understand the problem.
He explained that Governments set pensions and reimburse expenses on the basis of widely accepted principles.
“Although it is ethically wrong for the President to legislate for himself his own pension  on the basis of new principles just before leaving office, that is not the heart of the quarrel…It is his uncapped additional benefits that are the problem. When Jagdeo raised the emoluments of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice, he tied to it the emoluments of the President. He then tied the pension of the President to the emoluments of the current President not his (Jagdeo’s) own last salary. If you move President Donald Ramotar’s salary, the retired President’s goes up as well.”
“The President’s pension is to be seven-eighths of that of the salary of the current president. So if the President once received $2M in 2009 and it moved to $7M in 2012, the former President gets that fraction of not what he worked for before in 2009, but the bulk of the salary of the current President.”
The politician referred to the Constitution which says that the President should get a pension. But Jagdeo passed a piece of legislation, the Former Presidents (Benefits and Facilities) Act, in 2009, which says that he should in addition to his pension, get other benefits.
Greenidge said that this was never the intention of the Constitution, and is what his coalition is opposed to in principle.
“We are not trying to change the pension, and the public needs to understand that this is a most disgraceful situation,” he added.
The APNU Parliamentarian said that the public needs to recognize that these additional benefits, provided for in law, have been poorly worded and as a result do not provide limits.

Carl Greenidge

“If Jagdeo retired without children and tomorrow decides to adopt 50 children and he wants to take all of them to the USA to seek medical attention, the taxpayer has to pay. If he wants an Olympic-size swimming pool that costs a further US$1M for electricity we have to pay for it. The benefits need to be capped. Neither former US Presidents nor the former T&T President enjoy anything like this, for example. The magnitude of these benefits bear no relation to any paid to NIS pensioners or to public servants,” the politician argued.
He said that it is something that Jagdeo specifically designed for himself and “his PPP cronies that will succeed him and voted for it.”
“No Member of Parliament will receive if he/she lives to (2050) age 90, 7/8 of the salary of the Parliamentary salary in 2050.  In other words, the pension he has paid himself is already generous, even without the other benefits which were added in 2009.  The benefits alone are extravagant and leave it likely that the former President is receiving more in income and benefits than any current President. This is ridiculous and that is why there has been a continuing public outcry,” Greenidge concluded.
Apart from what has been disclosed, Jagdeo is also entitled to, under the controversial law he enacted: expenses incurred in the provision and use of water; telephone services at the place of residence in Guyana; services of personal and household staff, including an attendant and a gardener; services of clerical and technical staff (numbers not specified), if requested; free medical attendance and medical treatment or reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by him for the medical attendance or treatment of himself and the dependant members of his family.
As it relates to the tax exemption status, Greenidge said that if the former President were to get involved in activities such as gold mining for example, they would not be taxed. The APNU parliamentarian said that this is completely “unprecedented and unacceptable.”
Greenidge had attempted to cap the benefits by bringing amendments to the National Assembly. This was approved by the Opposition in 2012, but President
Donald Ramotar has refused to assent to it.

PPP’s concerns aired to ensure no voter is disenfranchised

—says GECOM statement is ‘disturbing’

THE ruling party in a statement yesterday acknowledged the position of the Guyana Elections Commission, which was made public on Monday, addressing its “perceived readiness” for the hosting of local government elections.And made clear that the Commission’s “rubbishing” of the concerns expressed by its Commissioners is cause for “grave” concern.
“Our Commissioners and the PPP have a right to express concerns over the integrity of the registration process and respect for the democratic rights of the Guyanese people,” the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) said.

The PPP will not be intimidated and or silence its voice with regard to the sanctity of the electoral process— from registration to the final announcement —-we have fought too hard and long to restore the right to vote at free and fair elections to stop now.

The party stressed that its bone of contention, as reflected in its expressed concerns, are centered on ensuring that no Guyanese in disenfranchised in the voting process.

PUBLIC CALL
According to the party, the current trajectory is not a road the PPP, nor any Guyanese voter, would like to go down again.
To this end the PPP calls on GECOM to:
* Provide the Guyanese people now with a detailed summary outlining the important aspects of their Readiness for Local Government Elections. Armed with this detailed information, deficiencies can be identified and the concerted efforts of all stakeholders can be properly focused;
* Provide information on the status of the demarcation of constituency boundaries and inclusion of registrants in each of these constituencies for each NDC and Municipality immediately; and
* Provide their explicit Time bound Plan for holding Local Government Elections.
“The GECOM must declare to the public and the political parties whether its intention to enter a Claims and Objection Period is aimed at preparing a list for Local Government or General and Regional elections,” the party said.

AGITATED PRONOUNCEMENT
The ruling party made it clear that the “agitated public pronouncement” made by the Chairman of the GECOM in response to the PPP and the Commissioners concerns expressed time and again over the demarcation of boundaries and the compilation of constituency lists is disturbing.
It said, “The GECOM knows that it has not completed constituency lists in 21 of the 65 NDCs; and consequently it would not be able to produce an accurate and complete PVL for the next Local Government Elections if the date were announced by the subject Minister today.
“To state that GECOM has six months to do this is absurd, as within that period, a Preliminary Voters List (PVL) has to be published and time lines given for claims and objections and submissions of candidate lists, etc.
“We wish to call on the GECOM to publicly state whether the Commission has completed placing all registrants thus far in each of the 580 plus Constituencies in the 65 NDCs and 106 Constituencies for the 6 Municipalities. This is the point that the Commissioners stated was not the case to the media on July 12th, 2014.
“Further, the Commission Members, nominated by the PPP on GECOM, are fully aware that the major starting block in preparation for Local Government Elections is the Claims and Objection Process; and to “kick start such a process,” GECOM must have a Preliminary Voters’ List for each Constituency; sad to say the Preliminary List of Electors (PLE) is available for some constituencies and not for others, and there is no indication that the outstanding lists will be available anytime soon. Hence, the concern about the disenfranchisement of voters.”

MORE GROUND WORK
To this end, the party stated its call for more ground work to address the placement of persons on their respective constituency lists.
The party said, “The PPP demands that more ground work and physical placement of persons onto their respective constituency lists be done now, with the involvement of all major political stakeholders in order to expedite and to ensure that when a PVL is made public, it will include all registered voters in their correct constituency.”
The PPP noted its satisfaction with GECOM’s acknowledgement of receiving “adequate budgetary allocations” every year.
It said, “The PPP is certain that allocations have been provided for Public Relations (PR) and voters’ education. However, the PPP and we are certain we are not the only ones who have noticed how insignificant has been the PR and voters education so far on what would be a completely new hybrid local government electoral system.”
GECOM, in accordance with the constitutional provisions and statutes, has the responsibility to administer elections and educate the public on the new Local Government Electoral System – a fact underscored by the party.
The PPP said, “Even the political parties and their membership will need to be educated on the new system and how to put up candidates on either proportional representational list and or first past the post or constituency lists. This is a completely different system than those for general and regional election.
“The Chairman is fully aware that there are critical vacancies existing at the GECOM that should be filled immediately by qualified and experienced persons through a transparent recruitment process.”
The party stated too that the assurance of the GECOM that its Information Technology (IT) department is functioning well and new entries were recently entered into its national database is surprising.
“The PPP wishes to let all Guyanese know that this department is without a head, hence, we question the integrity of this process.”

NOT DEVIATING
The party said also that it has not deviated from its historical position on the right of every Guyanese aged 18 years and over to vote.
The PPP said, “The party’s track record is indisputable in the fight for free and fair elections from the 1960s to the present; we do not wish to see a re-occurrence of incomplete or flawed lists which would lead to the disenfranchisement of voters.
“The PPP wishes to remind the Chairman of GECOM and the public that it was the PPP who fought for the extension of the claims and objections period in 2011, where 7000 voters were able to make claims and be added to the voters’ lists.
“The Opposition was not supportive of this move. However, if the extension had not been called for and implemented, 7000 voters, mostly in the interior, who were awaiting their birth certificates, would have been disenfranchised.”
The party noted too that it was the PPP that approached GECOM during the sixth cycle of continuous registration to send mobile units into severely affected areas on convenient days and at convenient times to residents to assist with transfers.
“This was partially supported by GECOM. However, as the June 21st deadline was approaching, much was and still is left to be done,” the PPP said.
According to the ruling party, the positions advocated by the party to ensure no Guyanese in disenfranchised is clearly recorded.
The PPP said, “We wish to remind the public that this is the first in six cycles of registration since the 2011 elections that allowed persons to make transfers (change of address).
“The registration of persons is critical to any election, but more so, in preparations for local government elections, as the persons do not only need to be on the voters list, but they need to be in the correct Municipality and or NDC list, and further they must be in the correct constituency list in order to be eligible to vote and to be able to stand as candidates in the elections.
“We clearly reiterate our position that over 8,000 persons are yet to be transferred. This will lead to disenfranchisement of these persons under the new electoral system which will be introduced and used when next Local Government Elections are held.
“The conventional approach adopted by GECOM during the 6th Cycle of Continuous Registration, as pointed out by the Chairman, may have been adequate 10 years ago; but with the several new housing schemes and changing economic and social life style of our people under the PPP/C administration, we beg to differ.”

CURIOUS SILENCE
The PPP pointed out that the issue of readiness is further complicated as there are 30,000 persons who have registered and are on the National Registration Register, but have not been placed in a constituency in the relevant Municipality or NDC where they reside.
The party said, “The PPP, as a result, wrote the Chairman of the GECOM requesting an extension to the sixth cycle of registration period to allow for those who have not transferred as yet to do so. However, GECOM denied the request.
“The PPP finds it curious that there was utter silence from the Opposition political parties and other stakeholders when the request was made, publicised and denied. Our curiosity is further heightened when the only response from the Opposition came from the APNU Chief Whip when the Commissioners dared to expose some of their concerns.
“The PPP is forced to wonder why the Opposition is not concerned by the public statement of the Commissioners as it may affect some of their supporters. If not, then the PPP’s concerns appear to be well founded.”
The party expressed regret over the fact that the Chair of GECOM appears to not be interested in addressing the concerns raised and ensuring that there are no impediments to free and fair elections.
It said, “His own retort to the Commissioners and the PPP excluded any reference to registrants not being placed on constituency lists. This may not be necessary in general and regional elections, but for local government elections it is absolutely crucial, otherwise political parties’ candidates and constituency candidates will find that they are not eligible to be made candidates under the Local Government Elections (Amendment Act 2009) and thousands of voters may also be disenfranchised.”
The PPP was emphatic in stressing that it will not be intimidated with regard to the sanctity of the electoral process— from registration to the final announcement —-as it has fought too hard and long to restore the right to vote at free and fair elections to stop now.

More analysis needed of Region Six population figure – Rohee

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) says that more research and analysis is needed to determine whether the decline in the Region Six population could have ramifications for future political support of the party.

Clement Rohee, the party’s General Secretary says the PPP is yet to pronounce conclusively on the matter. He said that the alleged population decline in a region that is known as a PPP stronghold may not be accurate. He said that many critics of the party will try to insinuate that the party is losing support. For two consecutive general elections, the PPP/C’s total vote tally declined.

He said that at this time the PPP would also not be speculating on what the migration statistics mean for the party when asked by the Stabroek News if this trend was alarming given the public debate about snap elections and local government elections.

Former longstanding PPP member, Ralph Ramkarran, says that the 2012 census results, which highlights a drop in the Region Six population by 15,000, points to why the PPP/C lost its absolute majority in 2011 and there can be further erosion. In his column in the last Sunday Stabroek, Ramkarran stated that Regions 3, 5, and 6 are all party strongholds and collectively have seen a reduction in population by 20,000.

During the party’s weekly press briefing at Freedom House yesterday, Rohee spoke about the groundwork and data being collected by the party to study the migration patterns.

When asked by Stabroek News what the preliminary results of the survey had produced, Rohee stated that he didn’t wish to speculate.

Rohee was also asked why the PPP was so insistent that the timing was not right for the hosting of local government elections even though, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has made it clear that it is prepared once the order is given. He responded that “we have our concerns based on our groundwork and our knowledge and our experience with respect to holding of elections in this country.”

The party has been accused of making excuses and stalling the process. Critics state that the regional population figures in the census and the implied migration of tens of thousands over the last decade strongly correlate with the PPP’s failure to win a majority in the 2011 General Election.

Ramkarran stated that “The confirmation of what I and others have predicted and which is now supported by the census figures as to the decreasing Indian population, holds considerable implications for the outcome of any future elections. It demonstrates that the loss of the absolute majority by the PPP was no accident and was not only related to apathy and loss of support.

“It is now clear that it was also due to the reducing Indian population.

This being so, it means that the correcting of political mistakes alone will not be enough to restore it to political health. It needs to expand its political support across ethnic or traditional lines.”

Ramkarran’s statements add to criticisms that the PPP is fearful of going to local government elections given the declining population in its strongholds

Rohee stated that he was aware of this perception within the public but ventured no further. The General Secretary said that more analysis will need to be done based on the groundwork and that the party’s focus was ensuring that all persons eligible to exercise their franchise were able to do so.

He criticized GECOM for having in excess of 10,000 persons in need of transfers. The party had written GECOM in June asking for an extension of the latest cycle of continuous registration in order to facilitate the transfers. However, GECOM’s Public Relations Officer Vishnu Persaud told Stabroek News that “Persons were given the opportunity to apply for transfers throughout the sixth cycle and we have recorded 2,007 transfers.” No extension was granted.

Jagdeo’s expenses not excessive – Rohee

Sums expended to cater to former president Bharrat Jagdeo under the 2009 Former Presidents (Benefits and other Facilities) Act are not excessive, PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee said yesterday.

Responding to a question posed by Stabroek News at the party’s weekly media briefing at Freedom House, Rohee said there will always be objections to the former president’s benefits.

Asked if the amount of money being spent was not against the frugal principles of the party’s founder Cheddi Jagan, he stated: “I would leave that to the so-called political pundits to speculate on, I am not getting into that.”

He added: “This is a matter for the party to study and internalise on.”

He said: “We…the current leaders of the PPP supported the bill in the Parliament in respect to the president’s pensions and benefits, we did that and we consciously did that in the parliament. Every single MP supported that.” Rohee also pointed out that Moses Nagamootoo, a former PPP member and now vice chairman of the Alliance for Change, was inclusive of those who sat on the government’s side and support the Act.

“One has to be certain and take clearly into account that the money was not illegitimately spent, not illegally spent, and not spent outside of what was provided by the Parliament,” he said. He stressed that any spending under the Act was done in accordance with the law and was authorised by the Parliament.

It was revealed last week that the state has paid over $45.5 million in expenses for Jagdeo in the 27 months since he left office.

According to the breakdown, over the period, security for Jagdeo cost $20.3 million, transportation $15.2 million and electricity $9.8 million. While there were no expenses listed under health for the former president, his transportation for the month of February was $7.5 million. This was the month when he was flown to the US on a private jet for medical treatment, and the figure appears to include the cost for the medivac. No explanations were provided with the expenses.

The Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act has been highly controversial as critics say it contains benefits which are extravagant and cannot be afforded by the country. An acrimonious battle on this ended with the opposition forcing through a bill in Parliament to cap the benefits on January 25, 2013. President Donald Ramotar has refused to sign it.

On Sunday the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called Jagdeo’s pension plan a “Cadillac lifestyle”. The TUC stated that “It is unconscionable …that any person entrusted the privilege of the people to manage their affairs to reward themselves with a Cadillac lifestyle in this donkey cart economy. It is an abuse of the taxpayer’s money and their trust.”

Details on Jagdeo’s expenses were circulated in Parliament in response to questions which had been submitted several months ago by APNU MP Desmond Moses.

‘Gecom fully ready’

-Surujbally dismisses concerns raised by PPP/C commissioners

Gecom Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally yesterday dismissed a series of concerns raised on Saturday by the three PPP/C appointed commissioners about the electoral body’s readiness for local government elections (LGE).

In a lengthy response to the concerns raised by Mohamood Shaw, Dr Keshav Mangal and Athmaram Mangar, Surujbally said all that was necessary was for the Minister of Local Government to name a date for the LGE and this would trigger the phased rollout of Gecom’s six-month work plan including voter education.

Steve Surujbally

The PPP/C government has come under intense pressure in recent months to call local government elections as there is no impediment in the way. However, the government and the ruling party have made a series of excuses which have been consistently rubbished by Gecom and other stakeholders. In light of Gecom’s previously enunciated position that it was ready, Saturday’s release of the statement by the PPP/C commissioners on the body came as a surprise but was seen as providing cover for the government to continue claiming that LGE could not be held.

Surujbally said that Gecom is “fully prepared and committed to move formally into an election mode with immediacy, if and when the Commission is mandated to conduct Local Government Elections.”

He said that it was worthy of note that each year, Gecom has been presenting LGE budgets, and Parliament had always approved funds for the conducting of Local Government Elections. The Commission has again budgeted for the conduct of polls this year and Parliament did give its approval, the Chairman said.

The Chairman went through each concern raised by the commissioners and others outside of these.

 

Constituency boundaries

 

In relation to the concern by the PPP/C commissioners that some constituency boundaries cut across established divisions and sub-divisions requiring the allocating of existing registrants on the National Register of Registrants to a unique constituency, Surujbally said that the Gecom Secretariat had already dealt with the issue. He said a presentation was made to the Commission on the way forward and Gecom has already given the go ahead. He called on the trio to specifically identify deficiencies in Gecom’s demarcation, delineation and delimitation undertakings.

On the commissioners’ concern that the resolution of transfers of numerous electors must be addressed with dispatch as some constituencies do not have adequate registrants to effectively field adequate lists of candidates, Surujbally said that Gecom cannot arbitrarily transfer registrants from one constituency to another to facilitate adequacy in relation to the number of signatories required to support candidacy.

Furthermore, he said the legal provisions determine the number of signatories required to support candidacy – not Gecom. He assured that the placement of every eligible voter within his/her respective constituency is a statutory undertaking which will be discharged during the 180-day programme, before the conduct of the mandatory Claims and Objections exercise for LGE.

The third concern raised by the trio was that an analysis of the National Register of Registrants and subsequent printing of lists for LGE require top level staff in the Information Technology (IT) Division.

Surujbally’s reply was that Gecom has been working without an IT Manager for quite some time now. He said this has not constrained the Division from carrying out its functions.

“In fact, only recently the current staff of the IT Division have updated the National Register of Registrants with the transactions done during the 6th Cycle of Registration and the relevant ID cards have already been printed,” he asserted.

He said there have also been advertisements inviting applications for IT personnel. International partners have also been approached on acquiring the services of an IT and Communication Specialist to Head Gecom’s IT Division.

Critical legislative issues

The fourth qualm raised by the trio was that there are some critical legislative issues, including gaps in the laws that govern Local Government Elections.

Surujbally said that these lacunae are minor and cannot prevent the elections from being held since they have already been identified and the relevant proposed amendments have already been drafted. He said the task can easily be completed within the six-month timeframe and the Commissioners know this.

The fifth issue raised by the commissioners was that of voter education. The Commissioners said there needed to be a vigorous education programme to inform and educate the populace on the new Local Government Elections system. This argument has also been made by several government and PPP officials.

Surujbally’s rebutted by saying: “This concern is especially facetious. Relative to Gecom’s Public Education Programme for Local Government Elections, it is significant to note that in March 2010, after involving itself in huge amounts of public awareness programmes, Gecom intimated to the Minister of Local Government (Kellawan Lall) that the Registers of Voters were completed and certified, and that there were no material impediments for holding LGE (to which, I might add, there was not even a recognition of receipt of our correspondence), nothing emerged from the Ministry of Local Government relative to a date for LGE. Time, great effort and money were wasted.”

As a result of this, Surujbally said, Gecom took the decision to implement an ongoing programme, with moderate intensity, publicizing information about LGE. The initial focus was on the new LGE Electoral System.

“This was preferable to a ‘stop–start’ methodology, which could have the inherent possibility to exasperate and disenchant potential voter. Later, at the appropriate time, the Public Education Strategy will focus in an intensified manner on the processes and procedures associated with the new System – the moment a date is appointed for the Elections,” Surujbally said.

Gecom’s ongoing Public Education Programme, he said, includes the following:-

“Two panel discussions, which were conducted at the NCN Channel 11 Studio, were broadcast (pro bono) by this Channel for the benefit of viewers in Regions 3, 4 and 5. Recorded copies of both panel discussions were also publicized by the television stations in Regions 2, 6, 7 and 10, and we will continue to call on all these TV Houses to broadcast the content of the Panel Discussions.

“100,000 copies of a Brochure titled ‘Local Government Elections’ featuring several aspects of pertinent information were produced. Copies of this Brochure have been dispatched, with the knowledge of the Minister of Local Government, to all of the 71 Local Authority Areas in Guyana for distribution to citizens of the respective areas. In fact, following the finalisation of the boundaries of Constituencies within the various Local Authority Areas, we have commenced distributing these brochures at the level of the Local Authority Areas. We have also commenced making thousands of copies [available] to the Parliamentary (and other) political parties for distribution among their constituents.”

 

Statutory task

On the concern that every eligible voter will not be correctly placed on his/her constituency list, Surujbally stated that it must be emphasized that Gecom has already applied itself to the preliminary and administrative placement of eligible electors in constituencies but that the placement of every eligible voter within his/her respective Constituency is a statutory task which must be executed during the conduct of the mandatory Claims and Objections exercise.

Despite this, he said, spokespersons for an unnamed political party are insinuating that members of the Commission are “somehow involved in some collusion to exclude eligible persons from any voters’ list to be used for Local Government Elections.”

He added that prior to the Claims and Objections exercise for LGE, Preliminary Voters’ Lists will be produced and posted for public scrutiny at conspicuous locations within all of the 585 constituencies.

“This would be carried out, so that all stakeholders, especially electors, can check for the accuracy of their respective listings as well as that of others. Should any incorrectness pertaining to their particulars be observed, the relevant elector can and should apply to Gecom, during the Claims and Objections exercise, for the necessary correction(s) to be made. On the other hand electors could also object, again during the Claims and Objections exercise, to the inclusion of any elector who they have reason to believe should not be on the list,” Surujbally asserted.

In addition, he said that copies of the entire voters’ list will be shared with the political parties contesting the elections.

Responding to the claim that there was not enough groundwork and consultation to ascertain boundaries countrywide, Surujbally disagreed.

“Gecom did in fact ‘walk’ the ground to determine the boundaries for the 585 constituencies within all of the existing Local Authority Areas, and carried out the associated physical verification within the communities All this was done with the absolute involvement of Party Scrutineers,” he said.

Addressing the claim that thousands of persons are in need of being transferred from the addresses where they were registered to new addresses to which they have moved, Surujbally said Gecom has already provided the opportunity for the affected registrants to apply for transfers during the sixth cycle of registration.

“And, let’s face it, persons actually had three months to apply for transfers,” Surujbally said.

Even so, during the 6th Cycle of Continuous Registration, Surujbally said that Gecom had responded to several requests from the Chief Scrutineer of an unnamed “complaining party” for mobile units to go into communities where there were reportedly numerous persons who needed to apply for transfers. Surujbally said that the response was far less than expected based on the information given by that Party’s Chief Scrutineer.

The only party that had publicly raised this issue was the ruling PPP/C.

Further, he said, Gecom will be undertaking a Claims and Objections exercise next month to produce an Official List of Electors as a sequel to the 6th Cycle of Continuous Registration. Surujbally said that the parliamentary political parties have been informed of this exercise via a letter dated June 9, 2014. This exercise will provide the opportunity for all persons who have changed their addresses since registration to apply for transfers.

Surujbally said Gecom is aware that particularly as a result of new housing schemes, there is the need for the transfer of persons who have taken up residence in such areas since registration.

Surujbally said he hoped that the response to the concerns raised “would put to rest all of the public innuendoes, speculations and misconceptions.”

Census result a dire message for PPP/C

-Ramkarran

A declining population in Region Six as shown by the census means that if the PPP wants to continue holding political power it has to share it, according to former party stalwart, Ralph Ramkarran.

In his column in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, Ramkarran said that the long-awaited census had confirmed his analysis of November 2012 and the ruling party was now faced with the prospect of further declining support but had a golden opportunity to transform the political scene by seeking an all-party government.

Ramkarran pointed out that the census results show that in Region 6, a key stronghold of the PPP, the population dropped by 15,000 at the end of 2012. When Regions 5 and 3, also strongholds of the PPP, are added to this figure there was a total decline of 20,000 persons.

Khemraj Ramjattan

Noting that there was no release of information on the sizes of the various ethnic groups, Ramkarran said he had predicted in 2012 that the Indian Guyanese population is likely to have gone below 40 per cent.

“The confirmation of what I and others have predicted and which is now supported by the census figures as to the decreasing Indian population, holds considerable implications for the outcome of any future elections. It demonstrates that the loss of the absolute majority by the PPP was no accident and was not only related to apathy and loss of support.

“It is now clear that it was also due to the reducing Indian population. This being so, it means that the correcting of political mistakes alone will not be enough to restore it to political health. It needs to expand its political support across ethnic or traditional lines”, Ramkarran, who parted ways with the PPP in 2012 after nearly 50 years, said.

He added that in the event that some in the ruling party still entertain the delusion from 2011 that cross-ethnic voting would have given it 60 per cent, the history of the PNCR showed what self-delusion can do. He said that late President Desmond Hoyte believed that he had broken the back of ethnic voting in 1992 and that the PNC would win that historic election.

“Political parties have consistently underestimated the power of ethnicity and the grip of ethnic voting patterns on the electorate. The PPP has done more than any other political party to expand its political support beyond its traditional base, but there has been little permanent success except in relation to the Amerindian people”, Ramkarran said.

Ralph Ramkarran

He contended: “With confirmation of the reducing Indian population by the census, if the PPP wants to continue holding political power, it has to be prepared to share it. This is currently anathema, and was already publicly rejected, but there is no other choice”.

He posited that the PPP has a golden opportunity to rejig the political landscape in Guyana by boldly seizing the initiative and inviting the entire opposition into the government. He contended that an all-party government, even for a limited period would restore political sanity.

Even if the PPP considered this to be anathema, Ramkarran said that the Alliance For Change (AFC) has offered a way out.

“The AFC has offered an opportunity to the PPP to open a dialogue on the issue of governance. Its ten-point plan, whether meritorious or not, shows that it is prepared to shelve its plan to consider a no-confidence motion, which is an immediate threat to the survival of the government.

“If the PPP is interested in survival with dignity, it can do worse than consider the ten-point plan along with a new coalition mechanism involving the AFC, if PNCR/AFC electoral collaboration is not on the cards. If not, the current situation will resume and probably get worse. The issue of a no-confidence motion will inevitably arise again. If the PPP later changes its mind, it might be too late”, Ramkarran warned.

Also speaking on the implications of the census results, AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News he believes the substantial decline in Region 6’s population will translate into a decrease in support

Christopher Ram

for the PPP/C.

Ramjattan is of the opinion that the region’s population will continue to fall as the people who live there continue to become disillusioned with conditions under the existing regime, and flee overseas.

Ramjattan said that many persons whose relatives migrated close to a decade ago and “put in” for them are now “getting through,” and are opting to leave the country. He said that as more and more of them leave the country a domino effect is occurring as they too are ‘putting in’ for their relatives, who will then put in for other relatives.

The reasons, Ramjattan argues, vary, although he says they are centred on the people’s dissatisfaction with the corrupt practices of Region 6 officials and the “mal-governance” practised by successive PPP/C governments. “They are literally fleeing,” Ramjattan said, arguing that those who remain are continuing to find that “this administration is no good for them and will change their minds in the next elections.”

He believes his theory was proved in the last elections, when the AFC wrested a Region 6 seat from the PPP/C after many of the leading party’s traditional supporters opted to support the AFC. Also, there were many supporters who opted not to vote at all. The PPP/C’s popularity in Region 6 is dwindling, Ramjattan believes, and he says the region’s population is increasingly looking for options dissimilar to those being offered by the PPP/C.

Dr Henry Jeffrey

Ramjattan also noted that some persons from Region 6 are migrating internally, to other parts of the country, and Henry Jeffrey, a political scientist, agrees that this may have led to the decline.

“The population could have moved to other parts of the country and since we have a proportional electoral system this means little. People tend to vote ethnically in Guyana so we also need to know about the general decline; the decline based on ethnicity and in other regions of the country,” Jeffrey said. Chief Statistician at the Bureau of Statistics, Lennox Benjamin has said that such information will be contained in the final report which will be completed and released next year.

While Christopher Ram, also an Analyst, agrees that the dip in Region 6’s population will strike a blow at the PPP/C’s dominance in the region, he also believes A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) is losing support there as well. Ram says the fact that people from Region 6 are migrating is clear, while noting that many, though registered, are opting not to vote.

The “high-handedness” of regional officials and dissatisfaction with a government they have supported continues to enable these patterns, Ram argues. He suggests that government is holding out on calling Local Government Elections (LGE) because it fears its results more than those a General Election would yield. He added that neither the AFC nor APNU is in a better positions as people have become disillusioned by the many failings of their political parties and are now more likely to vote for independent, non-aligned candidates in a LGE. “APNU has done little compared to their manifesto,” Ram critiqued, and added that their performance so far causes one “to wonder if they are asleep.”

“They need to do more. They need to go back to their manifesto and do what they said they would do and tick off what they have done.” Asked for one of the areas where APNU has failed Ram pointed out that the coalition has not sought constitutional reform avidly enough, despite promises. Nevertheless, as far as the decline in Region’s 6 population, Ram says the next elections does not look good for the PPP/C. He highlighted the fact that the PPP/C got 70 percent of the votes in Region 6, and that the population has declined, and that they got 50 percent of the vote in Region 5, which also saw its population decline.