ADDRESS TO THE NATION ON THE STATUS OF IMPLEMENTATION OF THE COMMUNIQUE SIGNED BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION ON 6TH MAY 2003 AND THE FOLLOW UP AGREEMENT OF 18th JUNE 2003.
BY MR. ROBERT H. O. CORBIN, M.P., LEADER OF THE PEOPLE'S NATIONAL CONGRESS REFORM AND
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
On 6th May 2003 last, many Guyanese breathed a sigh of relief and there was a new mood of optimism and expectancy when President Jagdeo and I finally signed the Communiqué that brought an end to the long political impasse.
During that period the economic crisis continued and was characterised by the spiralling cost of living; unemployment; the closure of major businesses; rising levels of poverty; the flight of capital and Guyanese entrepreneurs and the decline of the social and economic conditions in many depressed and marginalised communities. Young people continued to lose hope in the future of our country. The rich, and those who had the opportunity, opted to leave Guyana and seek their fortunes in other lands while the poor and the patriotic resigned themselves to a future in despair.
My Party and I contended then, as we do now, that the Economic crisis was not a result of the political impasse, but a direct result of ill thought out, lopsided, incoherent and discriminatory policies. In short, bad governance.
The frightening security situation witnessed a significant increase in violent crimes, murder, kidnapping, daring robberies, gangland style executions, and finally the shooting and killing of our policemen. This situation was preceded by other troubling developments such as the years of unabated extra judicial killings of hundreds of young people who were exterminated by the Black Clothes and other out-of-control elements in the Guyana Police Force and a highly suspicious and unexplained jailbreak by dangerous criminals.
My Party pointed out that the security situation was the result of a combination of factors not least of which were the politicising of the crime situation by the Government for narrow political gains; the decline in the morale and efficiency of the Guyana Police Force; the deteriorating economic situation; the escalating drug trade and the apparent collusion of the State with crime and criminal enterprises.
Many, including the Government, found it convenient to find a scapegoat, rather than deal with the root causes. First, it was the PNCR. terrorists; then it was PNCR inspired crime; then the jail break group and finally it was the escalating Caribbean crime situation. Every other reason was found except the Government’s incompetence to provide security for its citizens. Today, in the absence of the political impasse, citizens may be in a better position to evaluate the security situation and draw their own conclusions on the daily phantom killings and the unexplained involvement of some members of the Police Force.
The fact is that on the 6th May last, we all pinned our hopes on the expectation that the signing of the Communiqué between President Jagdeo and me would usher in a new era of “Constructive Engagement” between the major political parties that would be beneficial for the long-term social, economic and political development of our country.
I wish to assure you Fellow Guyanese that I too, as a signatory to that document, held that hope. Indeed, the Communiqué, which was well publicised in the media, stated in its introductory paragraph:
“ The discussions were held in an atmosphere of seriousness, born of their recognition of the need for their determined commitment to find solutions that are in the interest of all the people of Guyana. They accepted the challenge for the immediate resolution of these issues, which go to the heart of Guyana’s socio-economic and political development and made a firm commitment to the timetable for the expeditious implementation of agreed solutions”
It is because of that mood of optimism and high expectancy which prevailed at the signing of the Communiqué that I consider it my duty to report to the nation on my assessment of the status of implementation of the agreements contained in the May 6th Communiqué.
As a consequence, the Follow Up Agreement of 18th June 2003 established a mechanism for supervising and monitoring the implementation of the matters agreed in the Communiqué. This mechanism was expected to facilitate the periodic briefing of the representatives of major stakeholders, including members of the Donor Community.
Regrettably, the modalities for the functioning and membership of this monitoring group have not yet been settled and, while there is a plausible explanation for this, one wonders what reasonable explanation could be provided for the yet to be explained absence of the representatives of the President at the second meeting held on 8th August 2003. To date, no explanation has been provided to me and I am not aware that any has been given to the Stakeholder group that was present. I am therefore left to arrive at my own conclusions on the meaning of such a development and the blatant discourtesy it represents.
This development cannot be treated in isolation since the H.P.S., Dr. Luncheon, uses his weekly Cabinet Press Briefings to pontificate and give glowing reports on the progress being made in the implementation of the Communiqué and Follow Up Agreement. In addition, the General Secretary of the PPP, Mr. Donald Ramotar, used a distorted report of a speech by the PNCR. Leader to a PNCR. Members’ meeting to launch a public attack on the PNCR Leader. Of greater concern, however, is that the President appears to have joined in the campaign of distortion by using his hallowed presidential office while reporting on his visit to Brazil to make baseless accusations about the PNCR resorting to threats and breaching the spirit of the Communiqué.
I do not intend to descend to that level. Too much is at stake for our country. Our young people are expecting leadership that would give them hope of a bright and prosperous future. They expect that their political leaders will chart a new course that can bring about the genuine long-term development that the Communiqué and Follow Up Agreement promised. I intend to live up to their expectations. My duty is to present the facts. You, the Guyanese people, must be the judge.
The PPP propaganda machine, including the misused state media, has sought to create the misconception that the Communiqué represented major concessions by the PPP Government to the PNCR and that the Government was somewhat magnanimous. This is far from the truth since the matters agreed in the Communique and Follow Up Agreement are essentially those which had led to the PNCR’s refusal to take part in the Sittings of the National Assembly until the PPP administration honoured agreements and implemented what was already agreed. A good example is the establishment of the Parliamentary Management Committee of the National Assembly which was agreed as an urgent matter in the St Lucia Statement of 2nd July 1998.
I take this opportunity to provide you with my progress report on the implementation of the matters agreed in the Communique and Follow Up Agreement.
Undoubtedly, there has been progress in some areas but there have been many delays, which cannot be classified as mere slippage. Regrettably, the time and energy spent to obtain the results achieved so far suggest that deliberate efforts are being made to retard implementation. It appears that as President Jagdeo and the Government convinced themselves that things have changed irreversibly, the wheels of progress are grinding slowly to a halt. As one observer remarked to me recently, “sand is being gradually applied to the gears of the Communiqué”. I expect that you the citizens will be the best judges of the facts.
Parliamentary and Constitutional Reforms.
The Parliamentary and Constitutional Reforms in the Communique represent an agreement by the parties to implement the provisions of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. These provisions were not only PNCR demands, but were the results of the Constitution Reform Process in which the PPP/C, representatives of Civil Society and the other Parliamentary Parties took part. It should therefore be obvious that when the PNCR insisted on the timely implementation of the Constitutional provisions, it was not only championing its own cause, but that of all those who participated in the work of the Constitutional Reform Commission.
All of the Parliamentary Committees have been appointed and have started working. However, the capacity of the Parliament Office to support the work of the newly established Committees is affected since additional staff has not yet been hired and there is need for undertaking training and orientation of the staff to ensure that they can cope with the challenges of the new committee system.
This situation is understandable, but it is curious, to say the least, that having regard to this need for training, the Government has adamantly refused to accept an offer to expose the Clerk of the National Assembly and two Sector Committee Chairpersons to observe the working of similar systems in the United States of America. The PNCR was requested to and had already submitted, the name of its nominee to participate in such training. Yet, we are told that the President has directed that no PPP representative be named. Consequently, the programme was cancelled. It should also be noted that this training would have been provided free of cost to the Guyana Government. This offer was made by NDI after obtaining approval from the US Congress and one US State Assembly.
Should we conclude that there is no desire to have the new sector Committees functioning effectively? This development only serves to expose the control still wielded by the Executive over the Parliament and undermines all of the Constitutional Reforms.
The Provision of Research and Documentation Support for the Work of the Committees
The Communique required that there be provision of research and documentation Support for the Work of the Committees. Yet, the Research Coordinator and two professional Researchers to support the work of the Parliamentary Committees have not yet been hired, and, the bank of 6 internet-ready computers which were envisaged in the Communiqué have not yet been purchased and installed. It should be noted that during our discussions the President had instructed in my presence that two internet-ready computers were to be made available immediately and he assured me that they would have been supplied within a week of our discussions. It is now three months and one has to wonder if this can be explained as normal slippage.
Remuneration of MPs and Administrative and Logistical Support for Regional M.Ps
The arrangements for the remuneration of MPs and the Administrative and logistical support for Regional M.P.s have not yet concluded, albeit there has been communication between the parties on this subject. This matter is, however, moving at a snail’s pace
Physical Facilities within the Public Buildings
At the same time, no real progress has been made with respect to the removal of The Public Utilities Commission from Parliament Buildings, even though they were committed to do so by the end of July 2003. Consequently, the necessary modifications to the physical facilities available at Parliament Building have not been undertaken.
The Appointive Committee
The Appointive Committee, identified by the Constitution to facilitate the identification of nominees for the various Commissions, has met and cleared the nominations for the Police Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission. These nominations were approved by the National Assembly of the Parliament on 26th June 2003. There is therefore no justifiable reason why the consultation required for these two Commissions could not have been completed, but I will return to this later.
This appointive Committee is still, however, grappling with the nominations for the Public Service Commission. The reasons for the delay have been given widespread publicity as it necessitated the intervention of the National Assembly to give directions on the organisations to be consulted. An examination of the nominations now before the Committee will confirm the validity of the initial reservations of the PNCR on this matter.
The Appointment of the Constitutional Commissions
The Communiqué stated that immediate steps would have been taken, “to have all of the outstanding Constitutional Commissions appointed, including the Service Commissions”
The nation would recall the well-publicised alleged concern expressed by President Jagdeo over the delay in the appointment of these Commissions. So grave were these alleged concerns that even before the signing of the Communiqué, the President wrote me on March 24, 2003 indicating that he wished to proceed unilaterally because of the absence of a Leader of the Opposition.
I have already explained that the nominations for the Police Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commissions were approved by the National Assembly of the Parliament since 26th June 2003 The only major impediment to their establishment was for the President to engage in meaningful consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.
I have always been willing ready and available for such consultations even when the strict constitutional requirements were not met. On the 17th July 2003 I received a nebulous letter from the Head of the Presidential Secretariat dated July 16, stating that the President was formally inviting me, “to consult on the appointment of those members of the respective Commissions which calls for meaningful consultation between himself and the Leader of the Opposition”
On July 21, I replied directly to the President stating, inter alia, that,
“I believe that the constitutional prescription regarding meaningful consultation has not been observed. However, to ensure that our consultation is meaningful, I will insist that those procedures are strictly followed”
Never-the-less, in the spirit of the Communiqué, I still attended that meeting at the Office of the President on Tuesday 22nd July at 2:00 PM.
What transpired at that meeting would shock most Guyanese. The simple fact is that, despite an invitation to me to participate in consultations on appointments to the Constitutional Service Commissions, the Office of the President was not fully aware of the Constitutional requirements. By the time this was clarified it became obvious that there was some concern by the President over the present constitutional requirements for the appointment of the Police Service Commission. The President asked for more time to verify the constitutional position.
I reiterated my concern for the urgent appointment of the Police and Judicial Service Commissions and the appointment of Mr. Winston Felix as Commissioner of Police as agreed by my predecessor since April 2002.
At the conclusion of that meeting we agreed that the President would obtain the necessary clarifications and continue proper consultations with me by latest Monday 27th July 2003, before he left for his Official visit to Brazil. He never did. I made no public statement and, subsequently, I understood unofficially that he had requested certain discussions in relation to a further amendment of the Constitution as it relates to the Police Service Commission. In the spirit of the Communiqué, I considered it inappropriate to deal with this matter publicly while he was out of Guyana on official business and decided to await his return to hear these concerns directly from him. In view of these facts you may appreciate my outrage at the statements of the President on his return from Brazil about the spirit of the Communiqué and his remarks about threatening language.
It is interesting that, since the return of the President from Brazil on August 1, my first formal communication from him was on Wednesday August 13, 2003 last. Incidentally, this was in response to my letter to him on the Fiscal Enactments Bill that was scheduled to be passed in the National Assembly on that very day. In that telephone conversation the President remarked that we ought to meet.
Since then I have been advised by my Secretary that on Thursday last she was in receipt of communication from the President’s Secretary inviting me to a meeting at his office either on Friday 15th or Monday 18th August 2003. I presumed that this meeting related to consultations as required by the Constitution and I have since written the President on this matter. The media report that he is scheduled to leave on another visit has also not escaped my attention.
For you information I wish to read what the Constitution states as meaningful consultation,
“A. “Meaningful Consultation” means:
The person or entity responsible for seeking consultation shall:
(a) identify the persons or entities to be consulted and specify to them in writing the subject of the consultation and an intended date for the decision on the subject of consultation;
(b) ensure that each person or entity to be consulted is afforded a reasonable opportunity to express a considered opinion on the subject of the consultation; and
(c) cause to be prepared and archived a written record of the consultation and circulate the decision to each of the persons or entities consulted.
(Act No. 17 of 2000, Constitution Amendment) (No.4) Act 2000)”
I have provided all the factual details as I do not wish to be drawn into a controversy on this matter. I will allow you the citizens to draw your own conclusions.
Let me, however, state for the record that I remain ready and available for meaningful consultations with the President, albeit, I am scheduled to leave on a short visit to the USA.
Establishment of the Ethnic Relations Commission
You may be wondering what is the position with the other Commissions.
The members of the Ethnic Relations Commission were appointed before the 6th of May. In fact, President Jagdeo and I noted this in the Communiqué and we agreed that the appointment of the Ethnic Relations Tribunal and the establishment of the Secretariat would be facilitated within two months. This deadline was July 6th, 2003.
The Secretariat and Tribunal are not yet established. So my fellow Guyanese, this much-talked about Commission is yet to meet, much more commence its work.
The Appointment of the Public Procurement Commission
Five (5) Nominees for appointment to the Public Procurement Commission have been submitted by each of the two Parties. Both parties submitted the nominations as agreed, along with the Curriculum Vitae for each Nominee. The selection of the nominees to be submitted for the approval of the National Assembly should be based on an objective and transparent system of evaluation.
The PPP/C has argued that the selection and appointment of the Commissioners for the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) should be based on the Standing Orders of the National Assembly for the appointment of Parliamentary Committees. In this case, they contend that the government should be allowed to select three (3) Commissioners and the Opposition two (2), irrespective of the criteria.
The PNC/R has argued and maintained that the Public Procurement Commission is a Constitutional Commission which requires that the members are professionally qualified as specified in the Constitution, and should satisfy considerations of personal integrity. It is obvious, therefore, that the PPP/C’s proposal cannot apply and our expectations are that good sense and reason will prevail.
Appointment of the Other Constitutional Commissions:
The appointment of the Other Rights Commissions await the intervention of the Appointments Committee. However, the functioning of the Rights Commissions would also require the establishment of a single secretariat to service all the Commissions. The example of the Ethnic Relatios Commission, however, is not a hopeful sign. In addition, the Commissions will be meaningless without the establishment of the Tribunal.
Appointment of the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission
The President and I have not yet met to discuss the appointment of the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, albeit the Communiqué states that this matter should be urgently completed.
The Appointment of the Commissions for Women and Gender Equity, Indigenous Peoples and the Rights of the Child:
The motion for the Appointment of the Commissions for Women and Gender Equity, Indigenous Peoples and the Rights of the Child was duly passed in the National Assembly since May 2003, shortly after the signing of the Communuque and the Fundamental Rights Bill passed in the National Assembly on the 24th July 2003. Hopefully, the Appointments Committee will complete its work on this matter soon.
Remuneration for Members of Constitutional Commissions:
The President and the Leader of the Opposition agreed on the need for adequate remuneration and facilities for Commissioners appointed to Constitutional Commissions, however this matter has not yet been settled. We had requested our representatives to prepare proposals for our consideration but this has not yet been done.
Implementation of the Decisions of the Bipartisan Committees:
The matters agreed under implementation of the decisions of the Bipartisan Committees represent a commitment by the Parties to implement decisions already agreed in previous Dialogue between President Jagdeo and my predecessor, Mr. H. D. Hoyte. These sensitive issues included Land and House Lot distribution, Local Government Reform, emergency assistance for Depressed Communities, the removal of State Radio Monopoly, the enactment of modern broadcast legislation, equitable access to state media and the appointment of Non Partisan Boards for the State Media, the Bauxite Industry and the need for a comprehensive development plan for Region 10.
The delay and/or tardy non-implementation of these decisions had forced my predecessor to suspend the Dialogue process until the decisions were implemented. An evaluation of the status of these matters may therefore be instructive.
National Policy on Land and House lots Distribution
In this regard, only the document on the National Policy on Land and House lots Distribution was laid in the National Assembly by Minister Baksh on the specified date. The PNCR will soon present its comments on this policy paper.
Local Government Reform
The joint Committee on Local Government Reform recommenced its work one month late and government is yet to present its response on the Electoral System and on the approach for fiscal allocations for each of the levels of Local Government.
Despite the best efforts of the PNCR’s Co-Chairperson, Mr. Vincent Alexander, it appears that Minister Collymore has been ordered to apply maximum administrative delay. It may be that he is on a frolic of his own, but I would assume that the President is in a position to know.
I have recently been advised that the PPP/C representative is now claiming that the time allocated for the work of the Committee has expired. I am not sure whether this is the true meaning of slippage.
Depressed Communities Needs
The Depressed Communities Needs Committee has made its recommendations to the President and the Leader of the Opposition. I wish to emphasize that from the inception I made it clear to the President that I had no desire to alter the original recommendations of the Committee. Neither did I have any objection to the two projects agreed by my predecessor, that is, the Victory Valley Project at Wismar, Linden and the drainage project at Fyrish /Gibralter on the
As a result of some misrepresentation on this matter, I felt constrained to write President Jagdeo on 20th June 2003 formally indicating to him that the $15m allocated for the Victory Valley project should be immediately released. To date this has not been done but I have been informed by the PNCR’s Co Chairperson, Mr. Clement Corlette, that a visit was made to the area last week and work will commence in seven days time. I await the results.
Radio Monopoly and Non Partisan Boards
The President requested a three-week extension for the presentation of the Draft Broadcasting Legislation. I made no political mileage of the delay but requested that the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting be re-constituted promptly. We are still to complete this discussion. The text of the draft Broadcast Legislation has now been circulated but it departs radically from the recommendations of the joint Committee and the PNCR has already made its views public. You can draw your own conclusions on this matter.
EQUITABLE TIME ON STATE MEDIA
The fiasco, which resulted when the PNCR first attempted to test the provisions for equitable time on the State Media, is now well known. The GTV, which had agreed to the right of reply by the PNCR to misinformation peddled by Minister Nadir, on the PNCR’s position with respect to the Public Procurement 2003 Bill, on the programme ‘Lets Talk”, suddenly reversed its decision and directed the PNCR to consult with the Office of the President. I was compelled to write to the President and hold further discussions before Mr. James Mc Allister was finally allowed to reply. However, not before the GTV had replayed Minister Nadir’s programme several times before and then after the PNCR’s broadcast. So much for equitable time in the State Media.
As a result of my raising this matter with President Jagdeo and the subsequent meeting of our representatives, Dr. Luncheon should have submitted proposals for giving effect to the equitable access to the state media by all Parliamentary parties. This should have been submitted since the 25th July 2003. To date there is no explanation as to why this document has not yet been submitted.
Bauxite Industry and Communities Resuscitation
Not much progress has been achieved on the agreements relating to the Bauxite Industry and Communities Resuscitation issues as stated in the Communiqué.
Section 5. of the Follow Up Agreement provided for the establishment of a Committee to prepare a Comprehensive development Programme for Region #10. There has been no feed back as yet on this issue, albeit eight (8) weeks have elapsed since the President committed to have
“…… a small group to coordinate the activities of the relevant Government and other agencies to place in a single document their various development programmes for Region 10. This document will be presented to the President within six (6) weeks.”
It is possible that some rational explanation could be found for the delays here. What is appalling, however, is that, in spite of the context and spirit of the Communiqué, the Government proceeded to hand over the Management of Linmine to Omai Gold Mines without even the courtesy of briefing the Opposition of the reasons which made such a decision necessary. That the Government and the President are comfortable acting in this way is truly remarkable, particularly in view of his own remarks about the spirit of the Communiqué.
However, it is now evident why the Government acted this way. It is clear to me that the Government handed over such a major enterprise without any formal agreement being signed with Omai. In fact, I learnt recently, through unofficial sources, that the Government, in response to the public outcry, only signed an Agreement with Omai on 24th July 2003.
The Appointment of a Disciplined Forces Commission to Include Inquiry into the Operations of the Guyana Police Force
The initial obstacles in the establishment Disciplined Forces Commission are now well known and I would prefer at this time to look forward to the eventual positive results rather than dwell on the past.
Fellow Guyanese, I have only highlighted some of the matters dealt with in the Communiqué and the Follow Up Agreement to emphasize the reality of the implementation and to amplify what the President describes as, “a few slippages”.
It should also be remembered that there are two important matters still to be discussed on the Agenda of the Communique. First, the de-politicisation of the Public Service, and second, Inclusive Governance. It should also be remembered that Inclusive Governance was placed on the agenda by President Jagdeo. Let me again assure you that I eagerly await these discussions so that the issue of inclusive governance and power sharing could be fully explored. Are we to interpret that the slowing down of the machinery as a mechanism to delay the consideration of these items?
Many Guyanese, including my own supporters, have asked me why I signed the Communique, knowing the track record of the PPP/C of not honouring commitments?
The answer is simple.
First, having regard to the controversy over previous decisions between the PPP/C and the PNC and the history of non-implementation, it would have been foolhardy or naïve to conclude any discussion with the PPP/C Government without a signed record of the decisions made.
Second, I signed the Communiqué to demonstrate the good faith of the PNCR and myself to work for the long-term social, economic and political development of Guyana; to restore hope and confidence in our people, particularly our youth, and to send a clear signal that all was not lost.
Additionally, I wanted to create in our business community and foreign investors, renewed confidence to invest in Guyana. I sincerely felt that the Government and other agencies should be given an opportunity to seriously address the existing problems and bring relief to the many depressed and impoverished communities of our land;
Finally, I had hoped that President Jagdeo would have been given a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate his good faith and deliver on his promises.
Let me assure you, that I have not lost hope. I believe that good sense will prevail and the sand will be removed from the gears of the
Fellow Guyanese, I have given you the benefit of my assessment of the status of implementation of the matters which I agreed with the President and which are recorded in the 6th May 2003 Communique and the 18th June 2003 Follow Up Agreement.
I have fulfilled my obligation of reporting the situation to you the citizens of Guyana. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Thank you for listening. Goodnight.
Robert H. O. Corbin, MP
Leader of the PNCR and the Opposition.
People’s National Congress Reform
2003 August 17.