Ever since December 6, 2014 the naming of a date for general elections has become a circus of cynicism by the government. Let us recall some background information: the National Assembly last met on July 10, one month before its two-month recess which began on August 10 and ended on October 10. Even after the recess ended the government was not enthusiastic about the reconvening of the National Assembly once the Alliance for Change tabled a motion of no-confidence against it.
On November 10 2014, the date designated by the President for the National Assembly to reconvene, he instead issued a proclamation proroguing the National Assembly thus suspending parliamentary democracy and oversight over the executive, key components of Guyana’s constitutional framework. The President explained the reason behind the prorogation as the opportunity it afforded the opposition parties in the National Assembly to engage the government in discussions outside of the Assembly, failing which the government would dissolve it and proceed to elections.
The Leader of the Opposition demurred and as early as December 6, the President announced his intention to dissolve the National Assembly with a view to elections. However, out of a misplaced regard for people’s enjoyment of Christmas, the President said that he would wait until early in 2015 to name an elections date.
The Constitution speaks
The Constitution requires elections to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly but as the table below shows the average period between the date of proclamation of elections and the date of the elections for all but one elections since 1992 was 50 days. Incredibly, the proclamations for the dissolution of the Parliament and the holding of the 1997 elections could not be located at the Office of the President, the Parliamentary library, GECOM, the National Library or the National Archives. Further, the date of the 2006 elections appears to have been held outside of the constitutionally set period of 90 days.
Source: Proclamations made by the various Presidents.
The President had and still has numerous options for an elections day and with no proclamation yet gazetted May 11 is as they say not cast in stone. Had the President dissolved the National Assembly and issued the proclamation for elections on December 6 when everything else had failed, using the fifty days average and the constitutional deadline of 90 days, elections could have been held as early as January 25 and no later than March 6.
Christmas got in the way (or so he says)
Meanwhile, the president proceeded to India to receive an award on January 8, for his services not to Guyanese but to Indians in Guyana. It then took him another two weeks before he announced on January 20, not a date for dissolution but May 11, 2015, some 110 days later, as the date for elections. If the National Assembly was dissolved from January 20, elections could have reasonably been held any time between March 10 and April 20, the constitutionally due date.
Pressed by Guyanese at home and abroad and public calls by the diplomatic community the Government announced May 11 as E-day, a day that was subsequently disclosed as coinciding with the day on which thirteen thousand students will be writing the CXC examinations. Embarrassed, the Minister of Education then summoned the CXC people instructing them to move the date of the examinations with the people of Guyana having to pay for the government’s misjudgment.
Suspicions abounded as to the government’s insistence on May 11 as the date for elections. Opinions converged around the theory that the PPP/C intends to use May 1, Labour Day and May 5, the date Indians first arrived from India to mobilise its base for the elections. One rumour which gained some traction – but which appears now to have been completely discounted – was that the Government had arranged for India’s senior diplomat to visit Guyana on or around May 5.
My own take on the date for the general elections is that the government is simply stretching out its existence for as long as it constitutionally could, whatever the consequences for governance in the country. The state media has in fact announced that the president has issued proclamations for the dissolution of the 10th Parliament and for general elections but there can be no certainty of this until the two proclamations are issued, maybe on May 9, but certainly no later than May 10.
May 11 is three months from February 10, the date when prorogation comes to an end. What the government is doing is taking the maximum six-month period of prorogation (August 10 to February 10) and the full three months which the Constitution permits for elections following dissolution. The government hopes that in the meanwhile it will raid practically every government entity and bank account on which it can get its hands.
We have already seen how the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission has been forced to make available $3 billion to Minister Irfaan Ally, in violation of the Geology and Mines Commission Act. We can expect the same to be done with the funds of the Forestry Commission, the Guyana Gold Board, the Land Registry, dormant accounts, the National Frequency Management Unit, the Guyana Co-operative Financial Services (GCFS), and Guyoil, among others.
The government is confident that the Audit Office possesses no ears, eyes or spine to look into the pillaging of public funds. That Office was dumb and deaf in 2011, the year of the last general elections. If anything its incapacity has deteriorated.
Cynicism there certainly has been: mystery probably not.