No end in sight to govt, opposition deadlock
Stabroek News
April 1, 2002

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The prospects for an early resolution of the impasse between the government and the main opposition party on the implementation of recent constitutional amendments seem dim as both sides are holding fast to their positions.

The impasse, together with what the PNC REFORM (PNC/R) considers the government's failure to implement decisions taken by President Bharrat Jagdeo and PNC/R leader, Desmond Hoyte, has led to a pause in the dialogue between the two at the request of the PNC/R.

Subsequently, the PNC/R withdrew from participating in the 2002 budget debate and went outside of parliament to get its views across to the public through video presentations and a town hall meeting. It has vowed to continue its extra-parliamentary action if the government continues to "frustrate" the implementation of measures as recommended by the Constitution Reform Commission and enacted by the National Assembly to make parliament more effective.

Two weeks after the suspension of the dialogue, PNC/R Chairman, Robert Corbin told Stabroek News on Saturday that he has not heard nor been informed of any moves, formally or informally by the government to resume discussions on the issues that separate the two sides.

Corbin believes however that while the situation does not yet constitute a constitutional crisis, the country's constitutional development was at crossroads, pointing out the implications for the future if amendments cannot be implemented in accordance with the spirit in which they were enacted. Sheila Holder, who represents the Working People Alliance in the GAP/WPA coalition in parliament, said the inaction is depressing and she fears the consequences of the people losing faith in the system.

She has come to the conclusion that the government is resisting the implementation of the measures for oversight enacted in the constitution. Instead, the government has announced that it is contemplating using its parliamentary majority to constitute the Appointive Committee of Parliament in an effort to activate the Police, Teaching, Public Service and Judicial Service Commissions. These commissions have been inactive since August and as a result promotions, transfers and disciplinary matters cannot be addressed. Nor too, according to Cabinet Secretary, Dr Roger Luncheon, can the processing of benefits of those persons retiring or leaving the various services be done. Describing himself as an optimist, Corbin said that he looks forward to an early resolution, as the issues are too important and paramount to be dragged out. Asked to react to the possibility of the government using its parliamentary majority to constitute the Appointive Committee, Corbin said that such a move would aggravate the situation. In a milieu where he said the problem is the government's unwillingness to consult in a meaningful way, such a move would be tantamount to a display of contempt for the views of the people.

Holder said that she believed that the combined action by the parliamentary opposition would heighten awareness as to where the country was going. She said that there was a growing hopelessness among the large masses of the unemployed which was putting the main opposition PNC/R under tremendous pressure to act.

Holder said that instead of addressing the issues in a substantial way, the government was dealing in superficialities. She derided the statement by Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud that the government was willing to talk. Holder said that given that the 1998 St Lucia Statement provided for the establishment of the Parliamentary Management Committee, she did not see that willingness demonstrated by the government as it had failed to activate the committee nearly four years later.

She also derided the comment by Persaud that the Standing Orders of the National Assembly dictated the composition of the committees, pointing that the Constitution was superior to the Standing Orders, and if the intent of the Constitution is to be achieved then it is the Standing Orders that should be amended.

One of the dialogue decisions, which the PNC/R claims was not implemented, is the Policy Paper on Land Allocation which should have been laid in Parliament by the end of February.

It was not tabled but President Jagdeo said that it would have been laid by March 31. Housing Minister, Shaik Baksh also told Stabroek News that he was confident that the paper would be laid by the March deadline. Up to Thursday, no such paper was tabled.

Another issue complained of by the PNC/R and related to Baksh's ministerial cluster is the electrification of De Kinderen, West Coast Demerara, one of the four communities identified for priority attention almost a year ago.

Baksh explained to Stabroek News that when the work was initiated it was discovered that De Kinderen had not been regularised and that this required laying out the house lots and streets before the electric poles are laid. This is a lengthy process but Baksh said it was being accelerated and should be completed in a matter of weeks.

The PNC/R also complained about the non-implementation of the report of the joint committee on national security and border issues. President Jagdeo said that it was being prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for tabling in the National Assembly after he and Hoyte had reviewed it.

The non-implementation of the report of the joint committee on the radio monopoly and non-partisan boards is another about which the PNC/R complained. However, President Jagdeo has explained that the report was with the Attorney General's Chambers. Stabroek News has checked with Attorney General Doodnauth Singh but at the time he was not in position to say in any detailed way what was being done.

Another issue is the responsibilities of the joint committee on bauxite resuscitation, which Hoyte asserts had been undermined by Prime Minister Sam Hinds who has ministerial responsibility for the industry.

President Jagdeo has announced that he and Hoyte met the committee and had clarified its functions and as a result had named a team to negotiate with Cambior, which wants to have a majority holding in a restructured Linden Mining Enterprise. Two members of the team, Winston Brassington, Head of the Privatisation Unit and Winston Jordan, Budget Advisor, were named by President Jagdeo and Finance Consultant, P Q DeFreitas was nominated by Hoyte.

There has been no movement to appoint the 12 persons in the list of 63 submitted to the Office of the President by the PNC/R and not appointed to boards. The others have been appointed. President Jagdeo has said that Dr Luncheon had informed the PNC/R general secretary, Oscar Clarke of the reasons for the non-appointment. Clarke disputes this and said that he was still awaiting a response from Dr Luncheon on the issue.

The failure to reach agreement on the constitution of the four parliamentary sectoral committees and the parliamentary management committee has stalled the appointment of the Service Commissions.

The two sides have agreed on rotating chairmanship of the committees but are deadlocked on the issues of ministers being appointed to them.

The government said that it was willing to leave the ministers off the committees if the PNC/R would agree to support a further amendment to the Constitution to increase the number of non-elected ministers.

PNC/R Chief Whip, Lance Carberry, does not take the proposal seriously, contending that the amendment, which restricts the number of non-elected ministers to four, was arrived at after two years of negotiations and discussions between the political parties and civil society. He added that he had indicated his willingness to Persaud to take the matter up with his party's central executive committee if the government could demonstrate to him how it would be disadvantaged by omitting the ministers.

The constitution of the parliamentary management committee is another issue which the parties deadlocked on though they agreed that it would be chaired by the governing PPP/Civic.

The government's position is that as a select committee its constitution is governed by the Standing Orders. The Opposition's is that decisions in the select committee are normally arrived at by consensus and that was the manner in which decisions were taken during the time the committee met informally.