The many faces of prorogation…good and bad
By Dr. Prem Misir
The prorogation or temporary suspension of parliamentary activity in Guyana is real and is a historical first. It is a done deal. But the view on whether or not prorogation is a good thing depends on who you are talking with. And, indeed, the feelings about the suspension of parliament are strong, in that there are sections of the electorate who support it and other sections of the electorate who oppose.
In this case, one could argue that the electorate is divided on the matter. And so the logical option is to call a general election. Hypothetically, you have this election, results are out, and again you have a divided electorate where some sections vote for the winning party and other sections vote for the losing parties. Are the after-effects, that is, emotions and arguments for and against, of the prorogation and an election not fairly similar?
Yet the winning party in an election proceeds to form a government. In the end, given that the election is free and fair, sections of the electorate opposed to the winning party eventually adjust to living with the outcome. In addition, we should note that in a democracy, both the principles of prorogation and an election are grounded in constitutional provisions and constitutional conventions. If people on the whole live with the election results, notwithstanding their dissatisfaction with the results, why are the Opposition politicians spinning the prorogation as some kind of evil, or that the President has committed an unconstitutional act? The proclamation for proroguing parliament is constitutional.
But this recent prorogation has invoked the wrath of the combined Opposition Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). There is this argument now that the President by proclaiming a prorogation has committed an undemocratic act, even though the act is constitutional.
In fact, what the AFC and APNU are saying is that parliament represents the will of the people who have now become politically voiceless, and as such the act of prorogation itself is undemocratic. The Speaker of the National Assembly also shares this view. In pursuing this line of thinking, some opposed to the prorogation contend that the framers of the constitution inserted prorogation as a constitutional provision, but they did not intend for any president to use it; for its effect will make the elected representatives voiceless.
That is a strange argument, for if a provision is clearly articulated in a constitution, a good probability exists that it will be utilized if the circumstances warrant it. Without reliable and valid evidence, how would those who promote this view know about the intentions of these founding fathers? They have not presented any evidence of the framers’ intentions?
Well, those resisting prorogation have primarily focused on outcomes or effects; these include, among others, the following: the minority People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government will spend outlandishly, or will engage in some kind of spending spree; the will of the people will not be advanced; the emergence of a dictatorship. But little attention is focused on the causes of prorogation. What brought about the prorogation in the first place?
On the face of it, it appears that prorogation occurred because of the no-confidence motion against the PPP/C Government; the combined Opposition would have won the no-confidence vote against the ruling party PPP/C, by virtue of the Opposition’s numeric majority of one in the National Assembly.
In three Canadian cases, two federal and one provincial, the governments that prorogued parliament were all minority governments (Horgan, 2014, p.465); suggesting that minority governments may be more inclined toward invoking prorogation, in order to sustain its legislative agenda and capital programs and projects.
However, in Westminster-style parliamentary systems, prorogation is used as a legitimate parliamentary device when a government legislative program ends, or when it wants to institute a new legislative program (Horgan, 2014, p.457). The ruling party has a legislative agenda for the remaining two years or so of the 10th Parliament, and these include, among others, the following: Supplementary Appropriation (No.1 for 2014) Bill 2014; Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism(Amendment) Bill 2013; Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2013; Procurement (Amendment) Bill 2013; Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2013; Telecommunications Bill 2012; Public Utilities Commission (Amendment) Bill 2012; Recording Of Court Proceedings Bill 2014. Any ruling party and the PPP/C is no exception, will want to execute its legislative agenda as part of its nation building mandate.
And with several bills not current and languishing in parliament, and combined with a practically dysfunctional committee system, there is definitively parliamentary gridlock inimical to development and democratic growth. This prorogation period which could be six months or less, presents parliamentarians with an ample opportunity to find ways to break the parliamentary gridlock. Gridlock exists because people have conflicting ideological perspectives and power interests and have no proclivity to compromise. Conflict resolution requires, for starters, meaningful interaction through parliamentarians’ consciousness of their public role, their responsibility and accountability to the people.
Indeed, prorogation like so many things has many faces of what is good and what is bad; and given the constant parliamentary gridlock, an evil phenomenon, and the urgency for its resolution, why not seek out the goodness in prorogation as a possible means toward permanently ending the parliamentary congestion? And even if prorogation is as bad as the antagonists contend, beneath its pathology, there is goodness.
HORGAN, G. W. 2014. Partisan-motivated prorogation and the Westminster model: a comparative perspective. Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 52, 455-472.
To prorogue or not to prorogue parliament
By Dr. Prem Misir
Let us cut the nonsense out of what is happening in politics in Guyana at this hour and say what the politicians want. And politicians in Guyana include not only those from the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), but also very much so those from the Combined Opposition benches of the Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). Indeed, there are politicians who live for politics and those who live off politics.
Access to political power and to sustain that power is what politics is all about and it is political power that politicians want. Therefore, ordinary people should not complicate their understanding of the political morass facing Guyana at this juncture of its history; for they should not believe that some no-confidence motion is what will change the configuration of politics because that will not produce the real change. How so? The story has already been told that politicians want political power which is their primary motivation for politicking; it is what politicians do with their power that matters.
Ordinary people should know that the real test for politicians comes when they have to deliver on their promises to the poor and vulnerable. This line of thinking should be incontestable, as a government, while it has to open itself to all citizens, is set up principally to facilitate quality standards of living for the disadvantaged and the politically voiceless. But the disadvantaged and politically voiceless could lose out when politicians who live off politics predominate over those who live for politics. Ordinary people will know more about this come Monday, November 10, 2014.
And so the nation is affixed to Monday, November 10, 2014 which is the date for the first parliamentary sitting after the recess. Reasons for this ‘Monday affixation’ have become the talk of the town. On this momentous day 11/10/2014, the minority Opposition Alliance for Change (AFC) expects to introduce its no-confidence motion to its parliamentary colleagues. Two other possibilities may add glamor to an otherwise dreary political season. There is the possibility that the President of Guyana could dissolve parliament; and the other likelihood is that the President of Guyana could prorogue parliament.
The Guyana Constitution entertains the three prospects. The first possibility is that once the no-confidence motion against the Government is introduced, then a debate on the PPP/C Government’s record becomes fair game, and if the Combined opposition wins the motion, then the country is headed for General and Regional Elections in about three months’ time. Dissolving parliament, thereby circumventing a debate on the Government’s record, is an option available to the President who will then be constitutionally required to announce the dates for nomination day and General and Regional Elections to be held within three months. A further possibility is the President’s prerogative to prorogue parliament in which case parliament will not have any sitting until six months elapse.
Nevertheless, given that the Guyana parliamentary system still has residual roots with the Westminster system, the principle of responsible government becomes relevant, where a government has to have the support of the majority in parliament. However, when the Conservative Party Stephen Harper Government was faced with a no-confidence vote which it was sure to lose, Prime Minister Harper asked the Governor General Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean to prorogue parliament, and she granted the prorogation on December 4, 2008; and given that Canadians perceive elections to be won or lost by specific political parties, one of the arguments used in support of prorogation was: since the Conservatives claimed victory at the election in 2008, then any move to alter that electoral result would be unconstitutional and undemocratic (Desserud, 2009, p.41). This argument implies that parties not parliament win or lose elections; for this reason, elections not parliament determine the composition of parliament.
AS 11/10/2014 approaches, the Guyana opposition politicians are beginning to up the ante as the nation awaits the parliamentary sitting on that day. In this context, APNU’s leader, in preempting the possibility of the President proclaiming a prorogation where the no-confidence motion will become a pending historical artifact with no debate at least at this time, has now alluded to a conversation on the making of an angry population and intensified protests.
In this context, APNU leader recently pointed to the smothering of elected voices should a prorogation become the order of the day. But the APNU leader should know, too, that while the elected representatives have a constitutional right to have their conversations in parliament, the President also constitutionally has the prerogative to proclaim a prorogation.
To prorogue or not to prorogue parliament, or to dissolve or not to dissolve parliament, constitutes the question requiring the most appropriate answer and decision: whether the Government’s public capital projects should continue to experience the Combined Opposition’s onslaught: Cheddi Jagan Airport Modernization Project, Ogle Aerodrome assistance, Civil Aviation equipment and Hinterland/Coastal Airstrips, among others; and, indeed, the flagrant Combined Opposition against the Amaila Hydropower Project culminating in its termination. And consolidation of foreign investments also persistently experiences the Combined Opposition’s hostility.
The PPP/C government has had a few poor headlines in its development work, but the growing positive trends for a better Guyana are there for all to see. And so for these public capital projects and the ongoing consolidation of foreign investments to currently remain a viable developmental force, the PPP/C Government may have to study the possibility of remaining in office at this time.
DESSERUD, D. A. 2009. The Governor General, the Prime Minister and the Request to Prorogue. Canadian Political Science Review, 3, 40-54.
The PPP/C’s working-class story is yet to be told
By Dr. Prem Misir
Political gossip in Guyana, now at an all-time high, tells us that Guyana is heading for General and Regional elections, as there is no hope that the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) can stop this inevitable outcome vis-à-vis the Alliance for Change (AFC) no-confidence proposal; and further, that a new ruling party will enter political office. Indeed, this is mere gossip, and perhaps, there is nothing reliable about it. But of course, the people who are orchestrating the gossip have to work hard to make their gossip happen.
Working hard to make this happen, indeed, is a strategy to overwhelm both the print and electronic media to ensure that ordinary people lose sight of any good that has come from this government, and, perhaps, the strategy is enjoying a fair success. But the PPP/C has a lot going for it, and it is doing precious little to let the world know of the PPP/C-imprinted transformation of this country. So why is the PPP/C group not making deafening noises about the quality changes it has brought to ordinary people’s lives?
Nonetheless, demonstrating the PPP/C’s holistic and positive impact on Guyana requires some attention to the country’s baseline data at the time when the PPP/C reentered political office. However, there are some who would say that you should not go that far back because the ruling party has had 22 years to make things right.
It is a fair argument, but it does not cover all the parameters of economic and social devastation that the PPP/C involuntarily received as a legacy in 1992. The argument merely addresses the economic and social status of the country in 1992, but fails to address the parameter that has to do with consequences of this devastation, consequences that penetrated the fiber of Guyana for several years beyond 1992.
In fact, Guyana did not achieve financial viability until circa year 2000. Without financial viability, development would have proceeded at a slow pace. And so it is an erroneous position to take when people say we should not harp back to the past and to go as far back as 1992, because the People’s National Congress’ (PNC) legacy to the PPP/C did not have a timeline that stopped at 1992; that PNC legacy had consequences beyond 1992 and well into beyond year 2000.
Let me provide some sense of the situation circa 1992: “…economic and social decline caused by misdirected government policies and an over-extended role of the state. Real GDP grew at only 0.4 percent per annum on average… Demand management policies were expansionary, the economy
lost competitiveness, external balances came under pressure, and the government relied
increasingly on price controls and quantitative restrictions on trade… The
government’s capacity to deliver essential services has virtually collapsed. Infrastructure
remains severely dilapidated. The supply of potable water is limited to a small proportion of
the population, drainage and irrigation systems have deteriorated to the point that they are no
longer useful, and health and education services have become so inadequate that social indicators
for the country have fallen to among the lowest in the Caribbean…” (World Bank, 1994, p.v).
Undeniably and with limited resources, the PPP/C brought radical corrective action to the People’s National Congress (PNC) legacy of social and economic decline. The PPP/C must continue to outline and publicize these early benefits it brought to ordinary people, where necessary. I do not intend to embellish the trail here with numerous statistics on these benefits. But the PPP/C will have to act now to inspire voters to sing the song of achievements that will have to go beyond the early benefits brought to the people. The PPP/C already has alleviated the concerns people had in 1992 and some years beyond and the people have acknowledged this improvement.
And so talking and impressing people about these early benefits will not have the penetrative capacity to enlist voters to your camp, as improvements produced by the benefits, are by this time a done deal. Such improvements have alleviated many concerns. And since people’s concerns have been resolved, they may have zero motivation to listen to the same song that obliterated the early apprehensions.
Nevertheless, there may be other concerns aching the people, but these concerns invariably are not unrelated to their previous concerns. These concerns are extensions of their previous concerns, and the PPP/C continues to address many such new concerns amid serious gridlock and blockages from the combined Opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the AFC; consider APNU and AFC’s contributions to the termination of the Amaila Hydropower project, and the slowing down of several other public capital investment projects, major conduits for job creation.
Nonetheless, the PPP/C may have to compose a different song on a different platform and sing it vociferously to gain the attention and secure the motivation of ordinary people. Composition of this different song should not be difficult, as the PPP/C has a lot going for it; and, especially, as the PPP/C’s working-class story is yet to be told.
World Bank. 1994. Guyana
Strategies for Reducing Poverty [Online]. Available: http://www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/1994/05/06/000009265_3961006053648/Rendered/PDF/multi0page.pdf [Accessed November 1, 2014.
Funeral: November 2, 2014
From: WPO Guyana <email@example.com>
> Subject: FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR NAVIN CHANDARPAL
> Dear All…… Please see funeral arrangements for
> Cde. Navin Chandarpal
> ARRANGEMENTS FOR NAVIN CHANDARPAL
> The body of the
> late Navin Chandarpal will depart Memorial Gardens and
> Crematorium (Le Repentir
> Cemetery) at 8:45 hrs for Freedom House (Robb Street,
> Georgetown) where a
> Memorial Service will be held between 09:00 and 09:30
> The body
> then depart Freedom House at 09:30 hrs, briefly stopping at
> Red House and GAWU
> Headquarters, before proceeding to the Guyana International
> Conference Centre
> (Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara).
> All those
> who are desirous of joining the funeral
> procession are advised to do so by assembling in front of
> Freedom House, Red
> House or GAWU Headquarters before 09:30 hrs. Upon arriving
> at the Guyana
> International Conference Centre, the rest of the funeral
> procession is asked to
> disembark there as
> the body proceeds to Navin’s home for a brief private
> and prayer by his family.
> Funeral Service for Navin Chandarpal
> will be held at the Guyana Internal Conference Centre at
> Liliendaal, East Coast
> Demerara, between 11:00 and 13:45 hrs.
> The body
> will then be taken to the Good Hope Cremation
> Site, East Coast Demerara for final rites and cremation,
> commencing at 14:30
> The family
> the late Navin Chandarpal invites you to share in the
> celebration of his
> wonderful life.
Flawed comparisons of Guyana with the Western world
By Dr. Prem Misir
Not a day goes by without seeing constant demeaning and flawed comparisons of the quality of life in Guyana with the self-styled modern, civilized and, generally, superior lifestyle of the metropolitan countries of the Western world, of which the U.S., UK., and Canada, etc., are powerful examples. Many of the comparisons are not solid in verifiable evidence.
The concern here is not to suggest that people should not be critical of Guyana. And, indeed, corrective action must be taken to improve Guyana, where necessary; and there are many areas that require corrective action. But such corrections have to be relevant to the context, time, and space in Guyana.
However, the concern here is that comparisons of Guyana’s public service provisions with those of the Western world are misplaced, in that it is inappropriate to compare things that are unlike. For instance, Guyana and the U.S. are not similar, yet comparisons abound; here are a few: compared to the U.S., Guyana’s streets are filthy; Guyana’s education system sucks; Guyana’s health system is inadequate; Guyana is unsafe because of too many crimes; Guyana has too much corruption; Guyana has widespread racism and discrimination; Guyana has rising poverty amid plenty; Guyana experiences continuous unemployment, especially among the youth, etc.
And the newspapers and other media agencies, and individuals are the architects of this disparaging human landscape on Guyana. Specifically, some of those who debase Guyana are mainly in the categories of Guyana newspapers’ letter writers many of whom are domiciled overseas, Guyanese tourists, and, indeed, even some local Guyanese who have never left this country but who already perceive themselves as local Americans.
In fact, many of these folks are Guyanese in addition to their other nationalities, making the situation funny peculiar because many of these people engineering and making judgmental remarks against Guyana are Guyanese by birth. In this respect, it is important to add the diplomats of the aforementioned metropolitan countries who intermittently augment the cauldron of condescending remarks against Guyana.
The genre of these flawed comparisons relates, among others, to the growing cataclysms in Guyana in increased crimes and minimum protection of citizens, inadequate education, a derisory healthcare system, repressive political governance, insanitary city streets, racial discrimination, rising unemployment, and growing poverty.
These folks present the U.S. and other Western countries’ quality of life as superior probably in many if not all respects to the Guyanese way of life; and they boldly and arrogantly suggest that Guyanese should assimilate and apply the high U.S. (and of course those other countries of the Western world) standards to Guyana, in order to improve Guyanese way of living.
In fact, many of these folks, Guyanese by birth, who demean Guyana, think that Guyanese embrace standards and values inferior to those of the U.S.; and because many such folks cuddle the U.S. culture as their native culture, they inherently provide a negative assessment of the Guyana culture. If the truth be told, these folks’ whole psyche and reference point have to do with ethnocentrism.
What is ethnocentrism? Ethnocentrism is the case where a person applies his own culture as a yardstick for judging other people’s culture, producing a negative evaluation of that culture. In essence, if you display ethnocentrism, you think that your culture is superior to other people’s cultures. The people who demean the Guyana culture practice ethnocentrism because they see U.S. culture as their own and that it is a superior culture, and so they look down on the Guyana culture which they see as inferior.
Let me give an example of ethnocentrism from an engagement I had with the press in 2010 (Misir, 2010). There was a view that Western definition of child abuse is what the Guyanese people need to assimilate and practice. But there is a problem of definition even within the Western definition because there is no one definition of child abuse; as an example, each of the 50 States in the U.S. has its own definition of child abuse and different reporting requirements and investigations.
Well, how, in this case, can Guyanese use the U.S. definition of child abuse, where no agreement on the definition exists? In fact, Guyana should not use the American multiple definitions of child abuse, not only because there is no consensus on the definition; but because Guyana has to develop its own evidence-based understanding of child abuse within its own context, time, and space. The colonial masters and former imperialists could not have been effective in executing their ‘exploitation’ responsibilities without practicing ethnocentrism. Today, the imperialist factor may still be at work in many resource-constrained countries.
I wrote some time ago in the press (Misir, 2010) that: “The European imperialists believed their beliefs, values, norms, rules, laws, language, etc., were innately superior to the local cultural format; many locals in the colonies surrendered to, and assimilated the imperialist definitions and concepts. And the way to rise in social mobility was through recognition and acceptance of the imperialist culture; modernity, a target to which many people aspire, is akin to taking on a ‘Western look’. Thus, the local culture is subject to a dual marginalization – Western imperialists’ subordination of the locals’ culture, and the locals themselves subordinating their own culture to the imperialists’ way of life.”
Ethnocentrism is not a good in itself, as it devalues other people’s way of life. But a good number of the Guyana newspapers’ letter writers who are overseas-based, Guyanese tourists, and local Guyanese who see themselves as Americans engage in ethnocentric behavior. It is time to end ethnocentrism in Guyana.
It is time to practice cultural relativism, meaning that there should be an attempt to understand a culture within its own context. Guyana will have to find its own answers to its own problems, and not to seek out short-lived and superfluous corrective action in the bosom of some foreign land.
MISIR, P. 2010. Guyana Chronicle. Available: http://guyanachronicle.com/?s=cultural+assimilation+to+wholesale+western+thinking [Accessed October 25, 2014.