Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

Updates!

Receive email notices when a commentary is uploaded. Join our mailing list.

E-Mail Address:

View Article

United Force
(Aired 20 February 2003)

     I have, on many occasions over the past two years or so, been accused of being an apologist for the PNC. I have no quarrel with the leaders of the PNC. I do however concede that manipulation of the ballot deprived the PPP of being in power for 28 years; I further concede that the 1980 constitution, which was crafted by Mr. Burnham is what has contributed in no small way to the ridiculous situation this nation is now in.

   I continue to maintain that the system of governance in this country confers far too much power on the Executive and not enough on the Parliament and the Judicial System. No member of the Executive is accountable in any significant manner to the Parliament, they can commit any crime, any corrupt practice and the legal system is impotent to charge them for that criminal offence. We say that we have had constitutional reform, what has the constitutional reform process yielded? Let's see.

   At this time there is a constitutional motion in our courts claiming that the President of this Republic has violated the Constitution.

   The matter involves the appointment of one Mr. Bovell-Drakes to be a judge. During the constitutional reform process it was decided to amend the constitution in the way we appoint our judges, and so by order No. 4 of the Constitutional Act 2001, the Executive President was no longer allowed to unilaterally appoint judges without the advice of the Judicial Service Commission. On the 10th October 2001 the Judicial Service Commission advised the President that Bovell Drakes should be appointed Judge, as they were required to do by this modification of the constitution, after more than one year the President has not done so, and the bar association has sued him.   

    We will now have to wait and see how far it goes in the courts. But Constitutional reform can go nowhere when we have to go to the courts to impose its provisions. The process of change must have as its cornerstone, the good faith and cooperation with which these new modifications and amendments to the constitution are made; it is a moral matter as much as it is a legal matter. So the spirit of the constitutional reform provision in this particular matter has been violated.  

     It would be incredibly stupid and irresponsible to think that the anyone except the PPP will ever have enough votes to get the Presidency, that will always be won by them if our racial pattern of voting continues, and there is no evidence that it will not, of this we must have no illusions, we therefore have to constitute our parliament in a manner which balances the power in the country between the major ethnic groups, with an impartial and fair, stabilizing force which cannot be bought or controlled by either side, it can make all the difference. Then there will be no necessity for shared governance at the executive level. I am not in favour of such shared governance ladies and gentlemen. I have another plan which I will submit tonight for your consideration. Like everything else it begins with money.

    The remuneration of our members of parliament is appallingly poor, we can't demand total commitment from our MP's especially opposition MP's, if their brothers on the other side end up with everything and they end up with nothing, the winner taking all being the historical end result of our elections.

  Having 21 ministers when we only need 11 according to the British study which was done in 1991 is evidence of this, we must demand the establishment of a leaner bureaucratic system which is less of a financial burden on the nation, and share the money we now spend on these 10 extra ministers with the opposition members of the parliament, paying them enough so that they can devote full time attention to their public responsibilities and functions, it will raise the level of representation in the Parliament and force parliamentarians to reconsider if that position is just a way to get prestige and a part time small piece, or a mandate to guide the nation along a truly progressive path.     

   Having highly paid parliamentarians will also inevitably attract a higher level of qualified persons as MP's of both the ruling party and the opposition, or force them to function at a higher level, more research, more commitment, more involvement etc. Some members of Parliament as presently constituted, because of this poor remuneration, are forced to work in state enterprises as doctors in public hospitals, teachers at the university even civil servants which compromises their position as opposition MP's, additionally if they win an election and have to assume the running of the country they will, by their full participation in parliamentary affairs, have a better understanding of the inner workings of the country's functioning more comprehensively.

   This is so self evident that it needs hardly any elucidation, but I will do it anyway, if the opposition members are so poorly paid that it to all intents and purposes preclude highly qualified persons becoming career politicians, it has the effect of lowering the level of representation in the Parliament and is therefore a waste of time. I have no doubt whatsoever that the Burnham constitution sought to do just this. Members of Parliament therefore becoming career politicians will force them to do more work for their party, the state and their people.

   Members of Parliament who are also Ministers should have a different system of remuneration as MP's, since they are there to defend their actions as paid members of the Executive.

  This ridiculous situation has resulted from the Proportional Representation electoral system, in which MP's are NOT elected by, or are accountable to, members of a constituent for whose well being they are responsible. They are placed on a list, and after an election their party puts them in Parliament, so they sit there and do what the leaders of their party tell them to do, like the rubber stamps they are under this constitution, and at the end of the day they forget that they are parliamentarians until the next session.

   Our Parliament is currently constituted as follows, the combined opposition 31 seats and the PPP 34 seats, if you take away 2 seats from the PPP, the opposition controls the parliament 33 seats to 32 seats. The Social Partners whilst a laudable exercise cannot exert enough pressure on the two major parties to force dialog, cooperation, collaboration and to level the playing field, the one in power will always be reluctant to yield the power, they both enjoy so much, so YOU the VOTERS have to empower someone else to do it.

   The Americans have consistently done this, they very rarely put the President and his political party in power at the Executive and Congressional level at the same time, it is happening now but this is the first time that it has happened in many, many years, I believe it is because they are preparing for war, in normal times however the Americans find that there is far more balance in their governance when the Presidency is held by one party, and the Congress is controlled by the other. It establishes balance, it establishes the necessity for dialog and cooperation and it establishes stability.

   What spoils this BALANCE in Guyana is when opposition politicians cross the floor, betray their constituents and give more power to the governing party, they do not consult their constituents before doing this and I consider it to be a betrayal of the vilest sort and will never put the parliament in a situation where the opposition can exert some pressure on the Executive, to govern equitably.

   Now I come to the specifics of this commentary, for the opposition to control the parliament the leader of any party contesting an election must declare, in advance of the voting, that he/she is allied to a specific party, since it will be on that basis that their supporters will vote, it is the Burnham constitutional law. If however after an election they want to cross the floor and support the government in power they must consult their constituents before they do.

  After the 2001 election the leader of the UF, without consulting his supporters, crossed the floor in Parliament, it is my opinion therefore that he betrayed his constituents, and he was subsequently made a Minister of the Government, this upsets my vision of the opposition holding together as a single unit to establish a majority in the parliament to balance power in the country and I have decided to do something about it.  Now remember that only two seats will make all the difference, if you give the combined opposition two more seats they will have 33 seats and the governing party will have 32 seats. This can change everything and establish the balance between the Executive and the Legislative branches of government and then the Parliament will decide how it will make the third essential ingredient of good governance, the Rule of Law, reign supreme. 

    Ladies and gentlemen I have told you repeatedly that I have no political ambitions, I now however find it necessary to get involved for the sole purpose of effecting the changes I have been telling you about, I have been talking for nearly two years and it has changed nothing, so I am announcing tonight that I have become a member of the United Force, my card number is 08131, I am also announcing to the supporters of that party or people who would like to support that party, that we should regroup, call a congress, no one can remember when the last one was called, elect new leaders and decide where we go from there. The current supporters of the UF MUST understand that I would want nothing to do with this party, unless they are prepared to change its current leadership.

   It would be foolhardy to believe that the UF can ever win the Presidency in this country but if it gets even 10% of the seats in the Parliament, it can, with the right leaders, force dialog, cooperation and peace. The CIA fact book for Guyana defines our population as 50% Indo Guyanese, 36% afro Guyanese, 7 % Amerindian and 7% mixed races. It also tells us that our population is now less than 700,000 people with 14% of the population identified as NON INDO OR AFRO Guyanese.

   This rejuvenated United Force's stated agenda must be to ensure justice, equity, transparency, accountability, the rule of law and peace within the country. You decide if what I say has merit ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Peter D'Aguiar made the SUN the symbol of the UF. It is very appropriate in today's Guyana. We have been in the dark for too long.