GOVERNANCE is a hot topic in national development. Article 13 of Guyana’s constitution provides that the political system must provide opportunities for the active participation of citizens in national matters, especially on those matters that affect their well-being. The parliamentary opposition, as recognised by President Ali, is a major player in advancing governance.
Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton was elected to the National Assembly in April. Earlier in May, the first meeting between President Ali and Mr Norton was held at the President’s Shiv Chanderpaul Drive office.
In the past, Dr Ali has maintained, since his inaugural address to the 12th Parliament, the importance of “partnership” as a key action word mended to effective governance. Dr Ali and Mr Norton issued a joint statement, co-signed by their chief legal representatives on the outcome of that meeting. The arrangement was always of good faith.
Importantly, an April 29 letter from Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira, initiated the consultative process between the two leaders, culminating in the May 13 meeting.
“At the meeting held today, the Leader of the Opposition clarified that the information that is being requested are the Curriculum Vitae (CVs) available within two days. It was further agreed that consultations will be guided by the constitution and the in-person consultations will resume on a date to be fixed, but within a week,” the joint statement continued. Appointments to the Integrity, Judicial Service, Police Service and Teaching Service Commissions were top agenda items, with mandated follow-up.
Since that time, two significant national events have occurred. Firstly, Guyana hosted the inaugural Agri-Investment Forum & Expo, which was attended by several CARICOM heads of government and stakeholders in the Caribbean’s agricultural sector. Regional food security was the principal objective of the high-level meeting. Immediately after, Guyana observed its 56th Independence Anniversary. Anna Regina hosted the independence flag-raising ceremony.
President Ali invited Mr Norton, continuing the good-faith process, to a May 30 meeting. Mr Norton, however, did not attend. The Opposition Leader, President Ali noted in a Facebook video statement, provided no written communication neither indicating nor justifying his absence. He was, however, in receipt of the requested information outlined in the May 13 joint statement.
At the beginning of his statement on Monday, Dr Ali keenly noted the time was 14:34hrs on May 30. This timestamping is important because it was only at 15:43hrs, more than one hour after the President’s address, that Mr Norton’s office wrote the media on reasons for his absence from the meeting. On Facebook, the PNC’s official page shared the same letter at 15:45hrs. In that letter addressed to Minister Teixeira, with the Opposition Leader’s letterhead affixed, Mr Norton was incensed that the second invitation to consultation happened not “within a week” but instead on May 30.
It is an embarrassment and an injustice to the public that Mr Norton would dip so low to pull a putrid explanation as this from the hat of disruption politics to justify the further delay of such important constitutional matters. To quote Mr Norton’s May 30 letter on the matter directly: “Your letter… was received late in the evening of the 27th day of May 2022. That apart, I am unavailable to accept the aforesaid invitation having regard to certain commitments and pressing schedule.”
There is a question of accountability here. At the core of this question is whether Mr Norton is committed to these consultations, or whether he will continue to nit-pick at technicalities to frustrate the process that otherwise started on reasonable grounds. This cannot be a responsible approach to the governance envisioned in the Constitution’s Article 13.