There appears to be a consistent, coordinated campaign by Opposition operatives, attempting to vigorously attack the General Secretary of the PPP/C and Vice President, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo. Specifically, in a recent series of articles, the likes of Glenn Lall, Peeping Tom, and Lincoln Lewis et al, have all raised the question as to why the Vice President did not participate in the extraordinary sitting of the National Assembly on the border controversy with neighbouring Venezuela.
In a newspaper editorial of November 13, 2023, the author intimated that the Vice President’s only concern has to do with the voting rights of migrants from Venezuela. This notion, nevertheless, is a gross misrepresentation and mischaracterisation of the fact. The fact is that it is not “migrants” who may be eligible to vote in Guyana, but re-migrants? That is, Guyanese who migrated from Guyana to Venezuela in the past, and the progenies of Guyanese who have remigrated from Venezuela.
This is enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana, and it applies to Guyanese who are residing in any part of the world who may wish to re-migrate to Guyana. Further, the Vice President’s position on this matter is not an isolated position, though its basis is premised within the Constitution; rather it is his response to a question posed by the media. Now, the media is on a campaign trail aimed at egregiously distorting his response to this particular issue in a variety of ways that is consistent with a certain narrative.
Returning to the question of the role of Vice President Jagdeo and his non-participation in debates in the National Assembly, the critics failed to acknowledge that it is not only on the extraordinary sitting that he did not contribute to the debate in the House. In fact, it is all of the sittings of the 12th Parliament of Guyana that Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has opted to stay away from making any presentations and/or debates. For the reader’s benefit, let me clarify that the Vice President’s non-participation, inter alia, debates in the National Assembly does not mean that he is not present. He is often times present.
It is worth noting that the same group of people who are making a big deal of the Vice President’s portfolio in Government? Are the same people who are firmly of the view that he should retire completely from politics since he is a former President who served two full terms.
Be that as it may, the question indeed is why he has elected not to debate in the National Assembly, and to this, I have an alternative perspective. To this end, it is a fact that after Dr Bharrat Jagdeo served two terms as President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, the PPP/C became a minority Government for the first time in 2011, and then it lost the elections in 2015. Owing to these failures of the party, my understanding is that Dr Jagdeo was asked by the party to return to the leadership of the party. He then successfully led the PPP/C back into Government in 2020.
During Dr Jagdeo’s term as President, the late Dr Roger Luncheon played a pivotal role in supporting him during his Presidency, which is almost the same role he is now playing to the President Ali-led Government, with an exceptional crucial focus on national politics.
With respect to his role and portfolio in the Government as Vice President, Article 102 (1) of the Guyana Constitution establishes that “the President may appoint Vice Presidents for the purpose of assisting him in the discharge of his functions”. Of note, the Constitution did not limit the number of Vice Presidents the President can appoint, neither does it mandate whether the Vice President(s), other than the Prime Minister, shall or shall not make presentations in the National Assembly. Article 101 (2) of the Guyana Constitution establishes that the “Prime Minister shall be the principal assistant of the President in the discharge of his executive functions and leader of Government business in the National Assembly”.
Further to note, at least three Executive Presidents, according to my research, utilised this provision in the Constitution whereby they can appoint Vice Presidents to assist them in the discharge of their executive functions, namely: the late HE LFS Burnham, former President HE David Granger, and the current President, HE Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali. Moreover, all three of them applied this provision in terms of the composition of their Vice Presidents’ portfolios differently, and none of them, based on my interpretation amounted to an abdication of the respective Vice Presidents’ responsibilities and/or violation of the Constitution in any way.
For example, in the case of LFS Burnham, he had appointed the late and former President, HE Hugh Desmond Hoyte as a Vice President in 1980 with responsibility for economic planning, finance and regional development, before appointing him as Prime Minister, replacing Hamilton Green in August 1984. Notably, during the period 1980-1984, while serving as Vice President, there was no other substantive Minister of Finance as is the case currently. Mr Carl Greenridge was appointed Minister of Finance in 1983, which followed Mr Hoyte’s appointment as Prime Minister in 1984. In the case of former President Granger, he had appointed several Vice Presidents who held both titles of Minister and Vice President such as Carl Greenidge and Khemraj Ramjattan.
In the case of President Ali, he appointed Dr Bharrat Jagdeo as the second Vice President with oversight responsibility for the economy, finance, oil & and gas, and the environment. The difference between Vice President Jagdeo’s portfolio and responsibilities versus Vice President Hoyte’s who held a similar portfolio under the late LFS Burnham for the period 1980-1983 [under the same Constitution], is that there are two substantive Ministers with responsibility for finance; oil and gas, and the environment respectively under the President Ali’s Government. Hence, this largely explains why there is absolutely no need for Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo to participate in the debates in the National Assembly of the 12th Parliament. Instead, the substantive Ministers have taken the lead. This, in my view, is perfectly in order considering all of the above.
In closing, there is clearly no need for Vice President Jagdeo to participate in the debates of the 12th Parliament. He has oversight responsibility for his portfolio, of which there are two substantive Ministers. More importantly, having examined the historical usage of this provision in the Constitution by former Presidents, the Vice President has in no way abdicated his responsibilities. His primary responsibility is to support the President in ensuring that the Government delivers on its commitments to the people and to continue winning future elections.