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GUYANA: Caricom considering opposition’s request for intervention in political impasse

In this Government Information Agency (GINA) photo, President Donald Ramotar being escorted into Kurukubaru in the North Pakaraimas by a resident and the village’s Toshao while flags of the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) are hoisted.

Secretary General of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom), Ambassador Irwin La Rocque Friday defended the regional grouping’s silence on the political impasse in Guyana and he said a request by Guyana’s opposition for the regional grouping to get involved is being considered.

Although the Organisation of American States (OAS) and key Western Nations have have called for the now more than three-week old suspension of Guyana’s parliament to be lifted, Caricom has not said anything about the situation here.

“The OAS chose to say something and we chose not to say anything, very simple. You see one must always rush to make a statement. There are ways of doing things,” he told Caribbean News Desk.

The Caricom Secretary General recalled that the region did not say anything about the violent unrest in Linden in 2012 over a proposed hike in electricity unrest that resulted in the fatal shooting of three protesters and injuries to several others.  “We didn’t make a statement about Linden but the (Caricom) Community was very much involved in arranging and working with the government on the Commission (of Inquiry),” he said.

La Rocque stressed that there was no need to “rush to make public statements to appear to be doing something about something.”

While Granger’s People’s National Congress (PNC)-led administration under Forbes Burnham was in office,  Dr. Cheddi Jagan’s then opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had lamented Caricom’s refusal to address concerns about election rigging and several human rights violations against the media and political opponents.

La Rocque said letters by Opposition Leader, David Granger and Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC) Khemraj Ramjattan have been dispatched to Caricom Chairman, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Brown. “I have contacted the Chairman of Caricom and the matter is in process,” he said, while adding that he could not say whether the Guyana situation would be on the agenda of regional leaders when they meet in February in The Bahamas.

Granger, who is also the Chairman of the main opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), wants Caricom leaders to hold an emergency summit to “consider a collective approach to the governance crisis in Guyana.”

The Opposition Leader told Caribbean News Desk on Friday that his decision to write Caricom was not aimed at securing mediation but putting “pressure” on the Donald Ramotar-led administration to lift the suspension of Parliament. Granger said Ramotar’s prorogation of Parliament on November 10 violates Caricom’s Charter of Civil Society. “As Caricom is concerned, there were specific provisions of the Charter of Civil Society and we feel that the prorogation is contrary to the Charter of Civil Society and we are calling on the Heads of Government to discuss the matter and persuade or convince the Guyana President to reconvene Parliament because the continued state of prorogation is contrary to the democratic ideals of the Caribbean Community,” he said.

The Charter of Civil Society states, among other things, that “The States shall take all appropriate measures to promote and maintain an effectively functioning representational system, including the holding of regular public sessions of representatives of the people.”

Since the President prorogued the Parliament to avoid the debate and passage of an AFC-sponsored no-confidence motion by the opposition controlled National Assembly, the Guyanese leader has been repeatedly calling on the Opposition to talk with the aim of slackening political bottlenecks over several key issues and agreeing to a post-suspension parliamentary agenda.

The opposition, in turn, has bluntly refused to go to the negotiation table until the suspension is lifted and has accused government of buying more time to campaign for elections by using state resources.

From the inception, the President has warned that if there are no talks or should they fail he would dissolve Parliament and hold elections ahead of the constitutionally due 2016 deadline.

Key unresolved political issues include the President’s refusal to assent a Local Government Bill that would remove ministerial role in hiring and firing officers and instead delegate that function to the yet to be established Local Government Commission. The government has said that that Bill removes executive authority.  The government also wants the combined opposition’s support to pass Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-compliant amendments to the 2009 Anti  Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism Act but the AFC and APNU are demanding amendments that they say are much tighter to  avoid governmental influence.  In exchange for the passage of the AML-CFT amendments, the opposition is demanding the establishment of the constitutionally required Public Procurement Commission (PPC).  Also down on the opposition’s lists of demands is the holding of Local Government Elections that have not been held since 1994.

President Ramotar has promised to hold those polls during the second quarter of 2015 providing the Guyana Elections Commission is ready to do so.