As a result of the debate sparked by my last posting on the performance of Mr. David Granger as Leader of the Opposition I decided against publishing the second part of that piece whilst the PNC-R’s Congress was in progress. Readers will recall that the column was in response to statements made by Mr. Granger at the press conference marking the third anniversary of the APNU. In the course of that press conference Mr. Granger stated, rather unconvincingly, that despite the serious lack of facilities and resources the APNU’s achievements in three years had surpassed the achievements of the past twenty years.
Before addressing the issue of resources it might be useful to point out that Mr. Granger leads and opposition in the National Assembly that enjoys a majority, a situation that had never existed before in the Guyana Parliament. It might be useful to point out too that even as a minority Leader Mr. Hoyte was able to extract concessions on the Constitution, a matter of grave importance which appears to have received little or no practical attention from the APNU.
Let us know turn to the question of facilities and resources. The APNU has 26 members in the National Assembly and the AFC seven members. These numbers ought not to be seen as the sum total of the human resources available either to the APNU or the AFC. I am aware of two front-benchers of the APNU who have assembled a pool of willing and competent advisors at their disposal who at least initially met with the MP regularly.
Whether it was a personal initiative or not, the model is clearly one that was worthy of emulation. It was for Mr. Granger to ensure not only that the model was replicated across his front bench but that they should have been given clear tasks to formulate informed decisions and alternative strategies to those being pursued by the government. How much more exciting it would have been if shadow ministers had held public consultations on topics of interest!
Though well within the realm of possibility, it may have been asking too much for opposition backbenchers to do the same. But they too could have learnt from simply reading the letter pages of the newspapers and comments by the bloggers, which together constitute a vast store of resources available at their disposal. Unfortunately, and without intending to be harsh or unkind to those members of Parliament, it does appear that they only see themselves as having to attend the sittings of the National Assembly or parliamentary select committees to which they have been elected.
Ten of the APNU’s MPs sit in the National Assembly representing regional constituencies, including Ms. Rennita Williams for Region 1; Basil Williams, Ms. Volda Lawrence and Ernest Elliot for Region 4 and Ms. Vanessa Kissoon for Region 10. Of them all Ms. Kissoon stands out for her constituency representation and the records show few, if any, questions or concerns being raised by the MP for their respective constituency.
Being an effective MP requires the willingness to read their parliamentary papers and the daily newspapers and to undertake research on particular topics. Before taking up their seat in the National Assembly, each MP is required to take an oath to uphold the Constitution. One has to wonder how many of them have actually read the Constitution, let alone appreciate that it is the country’s fundamental, supreme law and must be complied with both in the letter and the spirit.
Their ineffectiveness however is not limited to reading: how many of them have ever bothered to write a letter to the press, or raise a question in the National Assembly, on any of the several burning issues confronting the citizens. In fact the only letter many of them have ever written is to the Clerk of the National Assembly to get their duty free letter.
The cursed list system
And the reason why we have such ineffectiveness on both sides of the aisle in the National Assembly is because of the list system for this election of parliamentarians which requires neither competence nor accountability from MPs. Under the list system, nomination for general elections requires each party to identify a leader of the list, its presidential candidate and 65 persons. The voter at that stage has no idea of the persons who will be selected from that list for nomination to the National Assembly.
In other words the voter casts his vote not for a person but for the list and a final decision rests not with the elector but with the hierarchy of the party. It is often said, not without a significant grain of truth, that even if a party was to have on its list a dead person or a donkey that that list would still receive the vote of the majority who cast their vote based on ethnic considerations rather than competence, integrity and capacity.
The list system should be abolished forthwith.
To compound the situation, experience and ability may often prove subordinate to loyalty to the party leader. If the Guyana Parliament is to be more effective, the existing system of nomination and selection of MPs from the list of candidates needs to be radically overhauled. The voters and the country do not receive value for money from the existing system which requires neither accountability nor representation.
Competent, qualified and committed persons could make an immense difference in the National Assembly. We saw this vividly when persons of the caliber of Eusi Kwayana, Dr Clive Thomas and Sheila Holder sitting as sole MP of the WPA in the National Assembly enhance the quality of the debate and the polity both inside and outside of that body. Kwayana, a non-lawyer brought more private legal actions against the agencies of the state that all the MPs on the opposition side have brought in the past 10 years. Kwayana did not need to call people out on the streets to be effective MP but rather did his homework and got results.
As leader of the opposition, Mr. Granger must accept responsibility for the failings and ineffectiveness of the MPs under his command. It falls to him to assign his MPs both general and specific tasks and to ensure that they perform. He has the power to call on MPs to resign, or to sack them is they do not perform.
Finally, on the issue of resources we need to look at Mr. Granger as leader of the opposition. Under the Leader of the Opposition (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act, Mr. Granger gets not only all the benefits of a minister of the government but also receives from the public purse the following official and private benefits negotiated by former PNC-R Leader Robert Corbin with former President Jagdeo.
(a) a rent free furnished office accommodation;
(b) medical attention including medical treatment or reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by him for himself and the dependent members of his family;
(c) full-time security service at his official place ‘of residence and at the office of the Leader of the Opposition to be provided by the Guyana Police Force;
(d) the services of a research assistant, an executive assistant/secretary, a clerical/office assistant, a chauffeur, . a personal security officer, a gardener and two domestic servants;
(e) salary, vacation allowance, and parliamentary benefits equivalent to those of a Cabinet Minister.
When this Act was being debated in the National Assembly, the AFC expressed the fear that the resources made available would not be shared with them. It is difficult to say whether this fear has materialized and whether the resources have been used solely for the benefit of the APNU. Even if this were not so, the lament about the scarcity of resources seems more like an excuse than the reason for unacceptably low level of achievement by the APNU as the principal opposition party.
While the resources available to Granger are not extravagant they are certainly much more than former opposition leaders, other than Corbin, have enjoyed. Mr. Granger must be well aware that all political leaders in the early stages of their career suffer from resource constraints. Rather than complain, they galvanize their troops with vision, strategy, leadership and example.
The immediate challenge for Mr. Granger is to begin preparation for the October debate on the no-confidence motion which was tabled by the AFC and which has received unqualified support from the APNU. It will be an opportunity for Mr. Granger to convince the country of his leadership and political abilities. It is unlikely that either the PNC-R or the APNU will replace Mr. Granger as their presidential candidate. If the next elections produce for the PPP/C another plurality, or a majority, the parliamentary opposition would have to significantly raise their standard of performance from what we have experienced since November 2011.
We need both a better government and a better opposition.