GuySuCo bailouts unsustainable

The debt-ridden, loss-making, misdirected, mismanaged and ailing Guyana Sugar Corporation is the beneficiary of another bailout. This time we are told that Cabinet has approved a first tranche of $3.8 billion, or the equivalent of just under US$19 million. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo at the observance of Enmore Martyrs Day, an occasion that has become a signature political event in Guyana. There was no indication whether the $3.8 billion is tied to any project, activity or otherwise, such as the payment of any debt obligations.

The PPP/C which gained the overwhelming support of sugar workers in the May elections had campaigned on a pledge to pump $20 billion into the ailing industry. And some days before the announcement of the bailout but after the elections, the now fired CEO of the Corporation had said that the Corporation needed $16B to avert an industry-wide shutdown.

Whatever the eventual bailout number will be, it is likely to be huge. Yet, the Granger Government could not risk a shutdown of the industry. Whether as the sole shareholder in GuySuCo, or as the Government, there had to be some decisive intervention. That however, does not make the circumstances any more comforting.

The announcement was made not by the Minister of Agriculture or the Finance Minister but by the Prime Minister whose portfolio centres around information. The use of the term first tranche obviously suggests further tranches and is not particularly reassuring. How many tranches can we expect and what would be the value? And significantly, where would the money come from?
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Expenditure on new ministries would be unconstitutional

The Guyana Times of Sunday May 24 (New Ministries created by Granger illegal – PPP/C) reports former President Bharrat Jagdeo and former Attorney General Anil Nandlall as stating that “the formation of new Ministries is illegal since monies cannot be released to those entities, which are not represented in the Appropriation Act.”

This is a bit ironic. President Donald Ramotar did exactly that when he created the new Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and appointed Mr. Robert Persaud as the Minister. This was long before the convening of the Tenth Parliament and the passage of the Appropriation Act 2012, assented to on April 30, 2012.

The fact that the PPP/C created a new ministry before any Appropriation Act was passed does not itself make President Granger’s action legal, or illegal. In fact, the creation of a new ministry in 2012 by the PPP/C was as legal as the creation of new ministries by the APNU+AFC in 2015. Article 100 provides for offices of the Prime Minister, Vice-Presidents and Ministers of the Government as may be established by Parliament or, subject to the provisions of any Act of Parliament, by the President.

Article 120 of the Constitution gives the President the power to constitute offices for Guyana [and] make and terminate appointments to such offices…” There is no requirement for an appropriation Act before the creation of any ministerial or other constitutional office and It would have been useful for Mr. Jagdeo or Mr. Nandlall to have pointed out the illegality of President Granger’s combined acts.

The Cabinet has a number of lawyers, two of whom are affected by the creation of these new ministries. I have no doubt that all these lawyers would have considered the constitutional ramifications of the action by President Granger and offered their views to the Attorney General, who is the principal legal adviser to the Government.

Notwithstanding the legality of the appointments, it does appear to me that the Constitution forbids the expenditure of any money on those ministries without parliamentary approval. Article 120 goes on to state that “where the constitution of, and making of appointments to, such offices involve expenditure chargeable on the Consolidated Fund, such expenditure shall be subject to the approval of the National Assembly.”

In my view “approval” in this article can only be reasonably interpreted to mean prior approval, and not approval by way of any subsequent, supplementary Appropriation Act. On my interpretation, any expenditure on these new ministries, including any payments to and for the ministers and the supporting ministers, would be unconstitutional.

Another GECOM let down

Once again, the role of GECOM in the determination and publication of the results of national and regional elections as well as its general functions have been highlighted. GECOM as it exists today is the product of the efforts to address widespread concerns that elections prior to 1992 were not free and fair. A limited reform process resulted in the 1992 elections being conducted under a seven-person Commission made up of three members named by the Government, three by the Opposition, and the Chairman selected by the President from a list of six names submitted by the Leader of the Opposition is often referred to as the [President] Carter formula.

While politically the formula was considered acceptable since both “sides” of the divide felt represented in the process, it was intended to be a temporary arrangement to be reviewed for subsequent elections. Inertia set in and the formula has remained unchanged for all five elections since 1992. It should not continue.
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Mr Nawbatt’s campaigning an abuse of state resources

There were credible reports that on Elections Day 2011 Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett was out campaigning for the PPP/C in the hinterland Amerindian communities. If that was not a violation of the Representation of the People Act it came very close.

It seems that Ms. Rodrigues-Birkett is at it again this year and has brought in the Guyana High Commissioner to Canada Mr. Harry Nawbatt to campaign with her in those communities, exploiting his work as a Contract Employee with SIMAP some years ago. (See Stabroek News May 9, 2015 `Envoy to Canada campaigning for PPP/C in Rupununi’). This is particularly troubling not least because Mr. Nawbatt is an election official for the voting by those Guyanese eligible to vote by virtue of their employment in Canada.

Fortunately there are scores of observers for the elections tomorrow and I am sure that they are taking note of the misuse of state resources by the PPP/C in this campaign. I hope too that GECOM, which has the constitutional and statutory duty to hold elections that are free and fair, is also taking note.

I am confident that the Coalition will win these elections despite the grievous abuses of state resources by the PPP/C, its ministers, high commissioners and other public officials. Among the many tasks the Coalition in Government will face is to mandate GECOM to make recommendations and proposals to prevent such abuses ever taking place again in Guyana. Such reform is long overdue.

Candidates Ramotar and Anthony violated an express provision of the elections legislation

Section 67 of the Representation of the People Act provides that the election agent of each group of candidates may appoint one of the candidates as its duly appointed candidate to attend the poll at a polling place. The election agent must do so in writing and deliver it to the returning officer of the district not later than seven days before the election day. Only one person may be so appointed for any one polling place.

The presence of candidates Mr. Donald Ramotar and Dr. Frank Anthony of the PPP/C at Camp Ayanganna on May 2, 2015, reportedly observing the voting of the army personnel, is a violation of the Act. As if that was not bad enough, Mr. Ramotar’s attendance in his Party colours was naked electioneering at a place of polling, which is also forbidden. And then to top it all here, candidate Ramotar is permitted to handle and examine what looks suspiciously like the voters list for that polling place.

GECOM, unreasonably in my view, last week decided to deny citizens the right to vote if they choose to do a conflicting duty to assist the elections process as party agents. Yet is it willing to tolerate and close its eyes to the picture of candidates Ramotar and Anthony violating an express provision of the elections legislation and engaging in politicking at a place of poll. The presiding officer should have excluded at least one, if not both candidates and advised them that they had no lawful business there.

I hope that this will not be repeated come May 11.