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Caricom says Guyana’s parliamentary suspension is OK, diplomats must keep out of host countries’ business

Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett (right) headed the Guyana delegation to the 35th Meeting of Community Council, 16 January, 2015. With her is Ambassador Elizabeth Harper, Director-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to CARICOM (Caricom photo)

The 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) on Friday sided with the Guyana government in supporting the suspension of Parliament, amid a heated controversy between Guyana and the United Kingdom (UK) over the hiatus of the law-making body.

“Ministers were satisfied that the prorogation of Parliament was in keeping with the provisions of the Guyana Constitution and did not constitute a breach of the Commonwealth Charter,” Caricom’s Community Council of Ministers said in a statement. Guyana had previously advised Caricom of the reason for the prorogation.

President Donald Ramotar prorogued (suspended) the Parliament on November 10, 2014 mere hours before the opposition-controlled National Assembly had been preparing to debate and approve a no-confidence motion that would have led to the holding of elections within 90 days.

Outgoing UK High Commissioner to Guyana, Andrew Ayre had indicated that Guyana was increasingly being regarded as a country of concern in London and risked being referred to the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group.  The UK has said that the suspension of the Parliament since November 10 without any justification and the delay in holding Local Government Elections since 1994 violated Guyana’s constitution and the Commonwealth Charter.

Titled an update on developments in relation to the prorogation of the Parliament of Guyana, the statement noted that the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett said that President Ramotar would announce a date for general and regional elections soon. “In her update, the Foreign Minister advised of the imminent announcement of elections by the President of Guyana.”

The Community Council of Ministers, the second highest organ of Caricom, held its 35th meeting on Friday, January 16 at the Guyana-based Caricom headquarters.

In apparent reference to recent public criticisms of the Guyana government by American and British envoys on the need for local government elections, the lifting of the suspension of Parliament or the holding of early general elections, the Caricom Council of Ministers urged foreign diplomats the respect the sovereignty and right of self-determination of States.

“Ministers also underscored the need for the respect of diplomatic proprieties and for adherence to the principles of non-interference in the domestic affairs of Member States,” added the Council in its statement.

Ayre and then United States Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt have publicly criticized  the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) –led administration of President Ramotar for its record of governance, specifically in the area of democracy. The UK envoy has also hinted that his country might be inclined to witthold bilateral aid, except for elections, because of the absence of parliamentary oversight on how British taxpayers’ monies are spent.

The Ramotar administration has sought to justify the prorogation of Parliament on grounds that it had offered the opposition a window of opportunity to resolve political issues with government, and averted a constitutional crisis because the Guyana Elections Commission would not have been ready for elections between November ,2014 and January, 2015.

The opposition has refused to speak with the government unless the prorogation is lifted.

With the National Assembly having last met in July, 2014 and then subsequently went into the two-month recess, the opposition has accused government of using the National Treasury to campaign  for the upcoming elections.  Opposition Leader, David Granger has since moved to the High Court to block government from spending monies from the Consolidated Fund without parliamentary approval or on programmes and projects that had been disapproved by the National Assembly during the 2014 consideration of estimates of expenditure.