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Commonwealth, Britain may penalise Guyana for Parliamentary suspension, local govt elections

United Kingdom High Commissioner, Andrew Ayre

The Commonwealth may impose sanctions on Guyana for  its failure to hold long-delayed local government elections and lift the now two-month old suspension of Parliament, and the United Kingdom could cut back bilateral aid, according to the top British envoy here.

“Guyana is moving into a category of concern for the Commonwealth. That is quite clear from discussions that take place in London,” British High Commissioner to Guyana, Andrew Ayre told a news conference at Cara Lodge, Quamina Street.

He also suggested that Guyana could face sanctions including suspension from the international body because of violations of the Commonwealth Charter and Guyana’s Constitution. Asked about the likelihood of sanctions, the United Kingdom (UK) envoy said “there is a clear danger of that and the suspension of Parliament on the 10th of November and the fact that it has not been resumed since then is a clear breach of the Commonwealth Charter and breach of Guyana’s Constitution.”

Local government elections have not been held since 1994, though Guyana’s constitution says those polls should be held every three years.

Apart from suspension from the Commonwealth, Ayre said that “Guyana could be subjected to a critical review because it breaches the Commonwealth Charter.” He said that it was up to Guyana to decide what value it puts on its Commonwealth membership.

President Donald Ramotar prorogued the Parliament on November 10 hours before the majority-controlled National Assembly was due to debate and approve a no-confidence motion against his government. Repeated efforts by his government to hold talks with the opposition have failed because A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) have ruled out any dialogue unless the suspension of Parliament is lifted. Against the background of no political talks, the UK government questioned the motive for the continued prorogation.  “Given that the stated reason for the prorogation was to have constructive talks with the majority opposition, and given that those talks are not going to happen, the United Kingdom is increasingly concerned as to what the basis for the suspension of Parliament is and how long it will last for,” said Ayre.

The British High Commissioner highlighted that the ongoing prorogation of the Parliament was negatively impacting on accountability and would take a toll on current and future investments by British companies mainly in the extractive sector. He said the UK government would be hard pressed to convince British taxpayers that their monies are being well spent. “Without a Parliament, there is no parliamentary oversight of government assistance or anything else. Clearly, the appetite to send money to a country that has no parliamentary oversight is much reduced,” he said.

Ayre hoped that President Ramotar would deliver on his promise late last year that general and regional elections would be held early this year because of the need to pass amendments to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML-CFT) Act and a national budget. “It means that no budget can be passed, so local investment will eventually grind to a halt. And external investor confidence takes a further knock as insecurity around Guyana’s future prospects decreases the appetite of investors to take the risk of investing whilst pushing up the costs of so doing,”  he said.

Brushing aside concerns that the Guyana situation was not just a domestic matter, the UK High Commissioner noted that his country has invested significant sums of money to promote a more developed Guyana through, for example, bilateral local and regional development assistance through the European Union development programmes.  “The UK Government therefore calls on the Government of Guyana to resume Parliament without further delay or lay out a timeline for the resumption of parliamentary democracy which helps to deliver shared commitments to democracy, security and prosperity for all,” he said.