Presidential Advisor on Governance Gail Teixeira today during a press briefing to clarify issues that directly affect the functioning of the National Assembly accused the opposition of violating the Constitution, an ominous development in the Parliament of Guyana and a threat to democracy.
She said it is being done with recklessness and a blatant opportunism that flies in the face of their (opposition’s) own declaration of working towards cooperation and partnership.
The PPPC Chief Whip explained that after gaining Republican status in 1970, Guyana became a republic with an Executive President in 1980 and in 1999/2003 continued that framework. As such, Guyana is a Republican State with an Executive President, in which the party which gets the largest bloc of votes takes the Government.
Teixeira however, stated that Guyana’s Constitution is not a Westminster Parliamentary system, but a hybrid Republican Westminster Parliamentary System. This, she explained is important to understand, before getting confused with other Parliamentary systems in Commonwealth countries which could be on a first past the post system.
Teixeira further explained that Guyana is on a proportional representation electoral system which is not first past the post. She added that the proportionally issue which is worked out, both in the electoral system and by the constitution, by the Guyana Elections Commission Act, makes it clear how that proportionality is devised in a mathematical formula, in relation to the geographic states and the national top up seats.
“We at the last elections were the party with the largest bloc of votes that is incontestable. No matter which way you cut it and turn it upside down…it is true that no party has an absolute majority, but there is a difference between not having an absolute majority, and being the party that has the largest bloc of votes in the parliament resulting from the 2011 elections,” she said.
The Presidential Advisor stated that the charade being played out in Parliament by the dictatorship of one is trying to confuse the public in relation to their farcical calculations and presentations. “The PPP/C has 32 seats in the parliament, as the largest party with the largest bloc of votes, it has constitutionally, legally, lawfully, both the Presidency and the Government,” she said.
Noting that the difference between the votes of the APNU and the PPP/C is somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 votes, she pointed to an American elections with George Bush and the famous issue where there were 33,000 votes between George Bush Jr. and the Democrats’ Presidential Candidate, noting that “the congress continued to operate according to the rules in the Constitution of the United States.”
The difference between the PPP/C and the Alliance For Change (AFC) is over 80,000 votes, “and therefore this attempt to mathematically confuse the Guyanese population must be addressed. No matter which way you cut it, the Government is the Government and we have the largest bloc,” she declared.
The Constitution of Guyana does not recognise in the allocation of seats two sides of the house, Teixeira explained further as, “it recognises parties and parties’ electoral strength. In the parliament there are two sides, government and opposition, who may from time to time agree or disagree. This issue is a critical issue and this is the crux of the issue before the courts. Is the Guyana constitution being violated by the dictatorship of one, both in the house and in the committee of selection?” she asked.
She reminded of attempts by President Donald Ramotar at the Inter Parliamentary Political Dialogue, IPPD, to reach consensus which fell flat on its face, beginning with the issue of the Speaker. “We went on to discussions on the committees’ composition, where we said and gave the formula mathematically to show that 10, which is traditionally the size of the committee we have, on that basis that it would reflect Standing Order 94, which talks as far as possible to the issues of proportionality and would uphold the constitution and the constitutional provisions.”
She continued that, “In the talks, violently opposed by the APNU and the AFC, we offered a compromise with five for the Government, four for APNU one for the AFC. They used their majority in the house to overturn what is considered a compromise by this Government and therefore they have in fact violated the constitution. By giving the PPP four seats, they reduced the committees then. In the Committee of Selection at the first meeting…they reduced all to 9 with the formula of four PPP, four APNU, and one AFC.”
The Presidential Advisor further referred to the Committees in the Standing Orders where specific reference is made to size. “The Parliamentary Management Committee which says five for Government and five for the Opposition, Speaker is the chair; Sectoral Committees - four, for Government, three for Opposition, one and two alternate each, “They gave notice that they are bringing a Motion to amend the Standing Orders to reconfigure them to the size nine and obviously the same 4, 4, 1, formula,” Teixeira emphasised.
Traditionally for gridlock in committees the recourse has always been for the House to resolve it, “and obviously in this House the power won, works both in the Committee and in the House. So the gridlock argument is a farce. It’s a sham, an absolute sham.”
Secondly, she noted, that in the Parliamentary Management Committee and the four Sectoral Committees, the amendments that were brought, both to the Constitution and to the Standing Orders came out of negotiations with the PNC in the post 1997, 1999 and 2001 elections.
Communiqués were signed by Robert Corbin and President Bharat Jagdeo in terms of the configuration of these committees, in the recognition for building harmony and social cohesion.
Even though the PPP/C had a majority in 2001 of approximately 52% and 54.7% in 2006 the issue of parity in the Parliamentary Management Committee was upheld.
“If we were behaving like the AFC and the APNU, we could have in the 9th Parliament said that we’ve got 54.7% of the electorate, let’s bring the Standing Orders, and let us change them. Throw out the parity of 5, 5.”
However, she noted that as a principled government, the PPP/C negotiated these issues in the interest of national unity, social cohesion and inclusive governance in 2001 and 2003.
“Those draft Standing Orders were negotiated word for word with luminaries on both sides, such as Dr. Luncheon, Lance Carberry and Winston Murray. And at the drop of the hat, with the power of one, they want to destroy what have been attempts to build a constructive engagement between the political parties of this country,” she stated.
“ One is aware that before the end of March our Minister (of Finance) will bring a Budget. The Chief Whip on the Opposition side called for a sitting for next week Wednesday, (March) 21, which as an Opposition they are entitled but, to bring the three motions, two of which deal with changing the Standing Orders in relation to the Parliamentary Management Committee, and the four Sectoral committees.
The motion is being brought before the House on Wednesday, whilst a Constitutional Motion is before the High Court and therefore, the Prime Minister’s letter to the Speaker, appealing to him to not put this Parliament in contempt of the High Court.
She also pointed out another example of the dictatorship of one, with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Guyana branch. This was resuscitated under former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran, and “we negotiated in the Parliamentary Management Committee the size…and this was taken to the House in June 2007. The CPA Guyana branch is 14 members - Speaker, Leader of the Opposition, Leader of the House, and then it defines who else makes up the members in Guyana. The total numbers for the Government side is seven, for the opposition, on which all the political parties on both sides must sit is six.
“Lo and behold we get a letter advising us that we are to name five members. We have lodged a complaint,” she said, adding, “we want to assure the public that we will continue to put our case, not in terms of Government, but we believe that our role as custodians of the constitution and the democracy that we fought for so hard in this country, and we will continue to represent, and we will continue to have maybe one or two little victories here and there, but we will continue. We are not being muzzled by this dictatorship of one.”