By Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP, Attorney-at-Law
Consultation is a fundamental factor in any democratic equation. At a national level, and by extension, engagement of the citizens in decision-making is a constitutionally imposed obligation of the State and by extension every Government in charge of the State. Article 38 (A) of the constitution provides:
“To ensure that Guyana is a democratic State with a healthy economy, the State shall-Facilitate the engagement of citizens in activities designed to achieve their sustainable livelihoods…”
With even greater clarity, article 13 A of the Constitution provides: “The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by citizens, and their organizations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being.”
The principles adumbrated in article 13 A and the promise of the creation of a consultative democracy were major platforms upon which the APNU/AFC campaigned in the 2015 elections. They were also common themes running through their manifesto, manifesting itself expressly on almost every page. However, after 19 months in Government, the reality tells a different tale: the posture adopted by the Government and the utterances emanating from Ministers eschew consultation and exude arrogance.
The Attorney General holds regular public consultations on Bills. I attended the first one. I recommended several changes to the particular Bill. I articulated good reasons in support thereof. Almost every stakeholder present voiced their support for my recommendations. The Attorney General was unable to advance any argument against them. However, he rejected my recommendations on the ground that the Bill is a product of Cabinet and he has no authority to make any changes thereto. In other words, the public consultation was simply a publicity gimmick and nothing else. I issued a public statement immediately thereafter in which I labeled the consultation “an act of cosmetology.”Several such consultations were subsequently held. Important organizations like the Guyana Bar Association, the Guyana Human Rights Association and the Private Sector Commission have all publicly complained that recommendations which they have made at these consultations were all uniformly ignored.
The approach to which I have made reference above, typifies the Government’s general approach to consultation in every sector of governmental activities. Thus, the private sector has complained that its recommendations to the 2017 Budget were largely ignored. Christopher Ram, a member of an advisory team which allegedly had an input in the 2017 Budget, has distanced himself from those budgetary measures. Mr. Kemraj Ramjattan has rejected all pleas from the private sector to review the closing hours of bars. The Government has rejected all suggestions coming from the Leader of the Opposition and the PPP on the ailing rice and sugar industries and the multi-million dollars tax cases which are pending. The Government has repeatedly rejected our calls in the National Assembly to send important Bills to a Special Select Committee. Every single amendment which we have proposed to Bills in the National Assembly, has thus far, been rejected. In violation of the governing statutes, the Minister of Agriculture has failed to consult with the Rice Producers Association and in violation of the law, has installed on the Guyana Rice Marketing Board and the Drainage and Irrigation Authority board, persons as directors, who ought to be recommedees of the RPA, as representatives of the RPA. In other words, the Minister of Agriculture determined who the RPA representatives are, not the RPA.
In the same vein, the Government has rejected out of hand, the requests of 2 of the most crucial representative organizations in the country, the Private Sector Commission and the Labor Movement, to meet in relation to the proposed tax measures in the 2017 Budget. In like fashion, the Minister of Finance has said to creditors who are owed $250,000,000 in relation to works done and materials supplied in respect of the Durban Park Project, that they will not be paid and they could do as they wish. It is the same aura of arrogance which inspired a Minister to say to this nation that the Government will not apologize for giving itself a 50% increase in salary after being in office for only 3 weeks.
However, I believe the one that takes the cake is the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority (Amendment Bill) which will be tabled in the House in 2017. I piloted the principal Act through the National Assembly in 2013. Its intention was to remove the Deeds Registry from central government and to create an autonomous statutory agency to be managed by a broad-based board of directors, inclusive of nominees from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Housing, the Guyana Bar Association, the Berbice Bar Association and the Private Sector Commission. The board is to be appointed by the Minister of Legal Affairs who shall choose its Chairman. One of the fundamental reasons for the creation of this new entity was to minimize political interference. The Board of this organization expired since 2015. To date, the current Minster of Legal Affairs has refused to appoint a new board. The Bill which he will bring in 2017 to the National Assembly (a copy of which I have seen) seeks to amend the principal Act to say that when there is no board, the Minister exercises the powers of the board. So, in short, this Minister is deliberately refusing to discharge his statutory duty to appoint the board and then intends to pass a law authorizing himself to act as the board in the absence of the board. This must be the height of lunacy. It also demonstrates without doubt that the ideals expressed in articles 13 and 38 A of the Constitution are quickly fading away and are being replaced by arrogance and authoritarianism.