Prominent political commentator, Christopher Ram on Wednesday called for a boycott of the 2020 general elections if political parties are not regulated and that they should be starved of cash if there is no campaign financing legislation.
“Let the mantra be no party regulation, no vote. And no campaign financing legislation, no donation,” he said in address to open 6th Triennial Conference of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG). Ram is also a member of Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. and runs one of the most successful accounting firms.
General elections are constitutionally due in 2020.
He pointed out that unlike companies, cooperatives and trade unions, political parties are loose non-entities because they are not regulated by law. He said none of the political parties want to address party regulation and campaign financing which could be conduit for washing dirty money.
“It is time that this lawlessness is brought to an end and we the people must respond to calls for our votes with a demand to fix this problem which spawns money-laundering. We must stop encouraging and in some cases participating in the lawlessness. I can only wonder how these parties explain their source of income and how those businesses including companies manage to make huge donations to political parties while their books of accounts are as clean as a whistle,” he told the Conference opening.
FITUG’s members include the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)-aligned Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU).
The Alliance For Change (AFC) is believed to be the only political party to have been registered as a company. A treasurer’s report is usually presented at the opening of its national delegates conference in the presence of the media.
For several decades, international election observer missions from the Carter Centre, Commonwealth and the Organisation of American States (OAS) have repeatedly recommended that Guyana enacts campaign financing legislation.
The OAS, at one stage, had sponsored the participation of representatives of the PPP and the People’s National Congress Reform in a meeting in Barbados to discuss campaign financing legislation, but nothing tangible ever emerged out of those talks.
Guyana’s Representation of the People Act requires all parties to submit expenses to the Chief Elections Officer, but there is no provision for penalties although they fail to do so.
Meanwhile, Ram also chided trade unionists for apparently manipulating the system to hold on to leadership positions way past even the retirement age. He recommended that conditions be laid down for union leaders to hold office to pave the way for new office-bearers to emerge out of a freely elected system. “The whole structure of the movement needs to change, term and age limits introduced and new blood nurtured. I must confess to a total lack of hope that things will change and as I look to the future, all I see is the further decimation of the movement by its leadership,” said Ram.
He observed that many union leaders enjoy job security on the backs and dues of workers who under Collective Agreements signed by the very leaders are subject to mandatory retirement age. “As we heard in the reports a short while ago, changes come only with death, in a system that can fairly be described as office for life. These leaders have so bent the rules in their favour that challenges at election time are invariably doomed to failure.”
The television talk-show host observed that leaders seldom appear except on Labour Day and union elections, made more famous for the “after sport than for any serious resolutions.” “then they retreat into hibernation for the next 364 days except when periodic union elections are due, weighted heavily in their favour, shutting out any youthful challenges, stunting development and often killing democracy,” he added.
Decades-long union executives include President of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), Patrick Yarde; GAWU President, Komal Chand; Leslie Gonsalves of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union; President of the Guyana Labour Union, Carville Duncan and up to recently the late Kenneth Joseph of the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees.
Ram did not name any union leader in his address.
The Attorney-at-Law noted that the system for the election of office bearers in the unions is so arranged that the membership finds it almost impossible to make personnel changes, to the detriment of workers. He argued that the Government which finds union leaders weak and ineffective, and which has its own democratic challenges, enjoys and benefits from the status quo. He said in that sense, the leadership instead of making the Unions strong, actually does the opposite.