The Alliance For Change (AFC) appeared to have used the ongoing controversy over Minister of State, Joseph Harmon to address an imbalance in power between the Cabinet and the Presidency, political scientists said Thursday.
Political Scientist, Dr. David Hinds observed that the AFC had negotiated the numerical allocation of seats in the Cummingsburg Accord but failed to discuss the assignment of power. After the AFC secured key ministries such as Public Security, Agriculture, Public Infrastructure and Public Security, he said the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR)- the largest partner in A Partnership for National Unity and the entire coalition- concentrated power in the Presidency. “I think if the Cabinet is allowed to exercise as much power as it should, the AFC would be allowed to exercise a lot of power and so I think what we have is the Ministry of the Presidency as a counter-weight against the AFC’s influence in the traditional cabinet so what is happening is the cabinet now becomes a kind of balancer against the AFC’s control of the Cabinet,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.
“When you have a one-party government the two parts of the executive works more harmoniously. But in the case of a coalition this is not necessarily the case. I would say that in the present government, the cabinet is the junior partner insofar as actual wielding of power is concerned,” he said.
The United States-based Political Scientist believes that the David Granger-led administration will be hesitant to give into the AFC’s call for the Minister of State to be stripped of several of his responsibilities. “When you shift those away from him, do you give them to the Prime Minister or so? I think they are going to be hesitant to do that. I think they would want to keep those things under the control of the Presidency… Even if they take some of those from Harmon is to make sure that the powers reside in the Presidency and we may well see as a compromise they opt for another Minister of State,” he said.
The Cummingsburg Accord, he said, did not address the division of governance authority but now the AFC is hiding its call for more authority in its call for Harmon’s responsibilities to be split.. “Having the Cabinet seats does not necessarily amount to influence and power and I think the real nerve-centre of the governance is the Ministry of the Presidency rather than the Cabinet. I think that is part of what the AFC is responding to because they realize that a lot of the powers resides in the power of the presidency and they may not want to be as frank as what I am saying here so they are talking about splitting up the powers of Joe Harmon,” he said.
Hinds argued that in the absence of a mechanism such as political committee or council outside Cabinet to prevent and resolve sensitive political issues before they become public, the coalition would encounter problems. “If you had a council, that’s where you meet and you decide whether Harmon’s powers are too much and what should be done,” he said, adding that the now rescinded appointment of Brian “BK” Tiwari as Harmon’s ministerial adviser was “bound to be controversial and should have been placed before a wider body.”
Former University of Guyana Political Science lecturer, Freddie Kissoon said the AFC’s support has been declining ever since after the May 11, 2015 general elections because Guyanese have recognised that Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has no real power although he is constitutionally the President’s principal assistant. Kissoon, like Hinds, believes that the AFC has taken advantage of the Harmon controversy to hammer home its position. “What the Harmon imbroglio has done- it has given them an opportunity to say ‘ when you look at what Harmon was doing, it relates back to his enormity power; it relates that he was co-terminus with the President… I think the AFC saw this as a golden opportunity to complain that ‘we didn’t get the kind of power we thought we should seeing that we put the PNC back in power’ and they couldn’t bring it up at random, they couldn’t bring it up as an after-thought because the reaction of the Guyanese people would be ‘why you are doing this now’ so I think the Harmon fiasco was the impetus,” he told Demerara Waves.
While Kissoon agrees that the AFC failed to negotiate power rather than the number of parliamentarians, he does not believe that that party will get anything more because AFC and APNU would not want to appear to be engaged in in-fighting.
Hinds suggested that at any rate such a committee should not have approved Tiwari’s appointment because of serious questions that have been raised in forensic reports about his business dealings with the previous People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration. “I think the rescinding of Tiwari’s thing has least to do with whether Harmon over-reached and it has more to do with the political consequences of such a thing. The APNU+AFC supporters do not want those people to go close to power…You can’t on the one hand have those audit reports coming out and then on the other hand go and appoint somebody who is part of that crowd. I think that is politically suicidal ,” he said.
Harmon has been also accused of ordering the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to halt the seizure of two luxury vehicles belonging the Chinese company, Baishan Lin , days after he had returned from China where he was seen in a photograph aboard a private jet with top officials of that company.
The vehicles were subsequently seized and the President said he had instructed that there must be no intrusion in the work of other ministers.