(The following is a lead article published in today’s Guyana Times, and reprinted here for our readers)
On Thursday, January 14, in his first address to the National Assembly in this year, which he had dubbed “Year of Renaissance”, President David Granger announced a “reconfiguration” of his governing Executive structure, which saw the Office of the Prime Minister, headed by PM Moses Nagamootoo, subsumed into the Ministry of the Presidency, led by State Minister Joseph Harmon.
In a wide-ranging speech evidently patterned on the U.S. President’s annual ‘State of the Union’ message, rather than the traditional local single presidential opening of the five-year Parliament, President Granger stated flatly, “The Ministry of the Presidency has been reconfigured to combine the Offices of the President, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ministers of State, Citizenship and Social Cohesion. This combination enhances governance and, especially through the Office of the Prime Minister, manages the Government’s business and legislative agenda in the National Assembly.”
The “Ministry of the Presidency” was an organisational innovation announced at the very start of the new Administration and at first was thought to have replaced the position of ‘Secretary to the Cabinet’ in the preceding Administrations. The last incumbent in that position was Dr Roger Luncheon, who served as the spokesperson for the Cabinet on decisions reached.
In the first seven months of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government, the retired Lieutenant Colonel Harmon was soon seen to be deploying a wide range of powers that made him the de-facto second in command after the Executive President, rather than as was traditional, the Prime Minister. Nagamootoo of the AFC had been appointed as Prime Minister as part of the coalition-sealing Cummingsburg Accord.
Traditionally, the Prime Minister was the leader of Government business in the National Assembly, and was also given a substantive and substantial line Ministry. The long-serving People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) PM Samuel Hinds, for instance, had been in charge of Energy. In the new “reconfiguration”, the President explained, Nagamootoo would now be sharing in leading the Government’s bills in the National Assembly with the other Ministries coming under the umbrella of the Ministry of the Presidency.
The President went on to explicitly describe the powers and the remit of the Ministers of Social Cohesion and Citizenship within the Ministry of the Presidency, but made no mention of any additional duties for Nagamootoo as Prime Minister. Earlier, it had been reported that Nagamootoo had finally been allocated the “governance” portfolio from Raphael Trotman in addition to overseeing the State media, but this was evidently not so.
In the present instance, however, the powers of the Prime Minister had been explicitly negotiated when the APNU/AFC coalition was being brokered. In a very prescient letter back in September 2015, veteran journalist Rickey Singh had written, “The core features of what emerged as a so-called Cummingsburg Accord (named after the venue of the agreement) had provided for the traditional enormous powers of an Executive President as Head of State as well as the constitutional responsibilities allotted to the Prime Minister – normally number two person in the Guyana Cabinet. Currently, the President seems busily engaged in the further constitutional empowerment of his former Army colleague, ex-Guyana Defence Force Colonel Joseph Harmon. This leaves no doubt about the reality of a twosome power status quo – he and ‘comrade’ Joe. ”
Mr Singh’s column had been pulled from the State-owned Chronicle after he expressed these sentiments.
In addition to placing Nagamootoo’s PM office under the auspices of the Ministry of the Presidency, President Granger also explicitly denuded his Prime Minister from any “line responsibility” such as “governance” or “media” oversight. The President explained, “We have recruited a resourceful team of 14 ‘line’ Ministers from our six-party coalition for the purpose of promoting economic growth.”
He went on to painstakingly describe the duties and responsibilities of the 14 “line Ministers”: Ministry of Business, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Public Telecommunications, Ministry of Communities , Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Protection, Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Public Security.
A Ministry of “Governance” or “Information” for Nagamootoo were not mentioned.
Notably, the Cummingsburg Accord stipulates that the Prime Minister should have responsibility for domestic affairs and chairing the Cabinet; recommending ministerial appointments and providing the organisational structures for Ministries for approval of the President, and appointing Heads of Agencies and Constitutional Commissions.