Parliament was prorogued in late September, meaning that we now have no parliament and the passage of new laws including those for incurring of new debts must await the next parliament. However, to ensure that the wheels of government do not grind to a halt, the constitution provides for the executive, including the president and the cabinet, to remain in office until a new government is installed. The government meanwhile assumes a holding mode, sometimes loosely described as a lame duck government.
Our constitution does not specify, or indeed restrict, the powers of the government during this holding period. That does not mean the government can do as it pleases. Indeed what it should do is to follow convention and good practice and limit its actions, decisions and expenditure to what the National Assembly approved before prorogation. Accordingly, the decisions they should make and action taken should be restricted to routine, operational matters.
It would not be appropriate for example for the government to enter into a new international treaty or to make a decision on matters that would require parliamentary approval, whether in the form of authorisation or the provision of finance. I understand that the constitutions of some countries limit the actions such holding governments can take, thus making it unconstitutional for them to do the kinds of things that have become routine under the increasingly lawless PPP/C.
The thinly disguised Cabinet Outreach, outboard engines and fertilizer of 2006 are modest compared with the multibillion agreements we have been hearing about since the announcement of elections. A few days ago we learnt from Jamaica that Jagdeo has signed a secret deal with the Chinese for an investment of $27 billion on the Timehri Airport, and from the local press that he is borrowing $4 billion from India for a specialty hospital, and is committing several billion dollars for an overpriced Marriott Hotel.
We have become so accustomed to this lawlessness that we simply dismiss Mr Jagdeo’s actions as further cases of his routine violations of the constitution, some of which concern the protection afforded by the constitution. These include the appointment of an Ombudsman, the Public Procurement Commission and the integrity of the Consolidated Fund and the Contingencies Fund.
There are two important consequences to these actions: whether it is proper for the Jagdeo administration to tie the hands of the successor government; and the impact of such actions on the elections. The first touches on the constitutional issue of whether a successor government (PPP/C, APNU or AFC) should consider itself bound by these reckless decisions. Unfortunately Mr Donald Ramotar appears to be a party to most of the recent excesses and would seem to be allowing himself little or no room to revisit any of them. It would seem from their pronouncements that the other major parties are committed to revisiting and quite probably rescinding a number of the recent deals, with the Amaila Project heading the list. That could put Guyana on a collision course with investors and tarnish the country’s reputation as an investment destination.
On the issue of the fairness of the elections, I think it would be hard for anyone to conclude that house lots to communities, subventions for Veterans Homes, salary increases to public servants and the disciplined services, the signing of new contracts with major tax concessions and or state borrowings, the payment of discretionary sums from the ruling party office and the opening of miscellaneous facilities by the President and his ministers are not intended to and will not influence the vote. That means the elections – whatever the result – will not be free and fair and one hopes that the Elections Observer Missions are taking note.
Over the last fourteen years I have tried to convince GECOM and the political parties to have some form of campaign finance rules. Mrs Sheila Holder actually tabled a motion in the National Assembly on this. The PPP/C simply stalled. As a result we have neither campaign rules nor restrictions on the use of state resources for party political purposes.
It is a gift for a president who has no sense of constitutional convention or propriety, has no respect for the rule of law, and indulges himself with the belief that he is all powerful.