The political environment and economic development
I thank the Board of Directors of the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) for the timely invitation to address this important forum on the important topics of the current political situation and the country’s future development prospects.
The GMSA’s letter of invitation indicated its interest in learning of my “…views on the current political situation in Guyana” and I shall use this opportunity to explain those views.
My Government is committed to ensuring an enabling environment for economic development. Political stability through adherence to constitutional rule, respect for the law, the presence of strong institutions and the pursuit of democratic governance are essential conditions for economic expansion.
The political situation
The no-confidence motion of 21st December 2018 was the first occasion that such a motion was debated and passed in the National Assembly of Guyana. The passage of the no-confidence motion, nearly nine months ago, served to answer some constitutional questions and reinforce my Government’s commitment to parliamentary democracy and responsible Government.
The no-confidence motion activated four concurrent processes, all of which have a bearing on the present political situation.
The judicial process
First, the legal challenges were made to contest the constitutionality of the no-confidence vote and, specifically, to determine the constitutionality of the vote of a member of the National Assembly who held dual citizenship and of a member voting against the list on which that member was elected to the Assembly, inter alia. These are serious constitutional issues.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, in declining to reverse his decision of 21st December 2018, pointed to the need for the Court to provide certainty to the constitutional issues which had been raised. The Speaker noted:
Full, final and complete state settlement of these issues by a Court of competent jurisdiction will place beyond doubt any question which may exist and serve to give guidance to the Speaker and to the National Assembly for the future.
The legal processes which we initiated were not calculated to delay the consequences of the no-confidence vote. They sought to explain more clearly and to interpret certain provisions of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) all determined that a person who held dual citizenship was ineligible to be a member of the National Assembly. It was quite legitimate therefore, for the Government to challenge the constitutionality of the vote of a member whose presence in the National Assembly was itself unlawful.
The Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ) ruled and that ruling has brought clarity and certainty to the relevant provisions of our Constitution which addressed the issues that were the subject of the court challenges.
We have complied with the law. The constitutional challenges have enriched our understanding of the Constitution and as a result of that, on the 25th April four of my Ministers resigned. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge; the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon; the Minister of the Public Service, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine and the Minister of Business, Mr. Dominic Gaskin.
The second constitutional process, consequent to the no-confidence motion, concerned the legislative branch. None of the Courts, including the Caribbean Court of Justice, ordered that the National Assembly be dissolved.
The Chief Justice, in the case of Attorney General v. the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Leader of the Opposition, declared:
Parliament is not dissolved as a result of the no-confidence motion. Instead it is the holding of elections which will be responsible for the dissolution of such a Parliament.
The National Assembly has not been prorogued and remains in session.
The third constitutional process involves the executive branch. The ‘Constitution’ contemplates continuity of government. The ‘Constitution’ [at Article 106 (7)] states:
Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), in its Consequential Orders of 12th July 2019, stated:
In mandating that the Government shall remain in office notwithstanding its defeat and the resignation of the President and the Cabinet, Article 106 envisages that the tenure in office of the Cabinet, including the President, after the Government’s defeat, is on a different footing from that which existed prior to the vote of no confidence.
The President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders, referred to Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards’s citing of Peter Hogg the Canadian constitutional expert, as being correct when it was noted that:
“The Government continues in office as a caretaker Government or an interim Government until the next elections ensue and a President is appointed or reappointed depending on the result of that election.”
The expert Peter Hogg had stated in his treatise – the Constitutional Law of Canada [3rd edition] the following:
The period between the dissolution of one House of Commons [National Assembly] and the election of another may be as long as several months but the government must remain in office and exercise its functions: the country cannot be left without a government at all.
My Government has held to this position at all times – the country cannot be left without a government. The country’s borders, natural resources, sovereignty and territorial integrity must be protected and its international obligations fulfilled. Citizens must be provided with public services at the central, regional and local levels to ensure their welfare.
The CCJ determined that, by convention: “the Government is expected to behave during the interim period as a caretaker and be so restrained in the exercise of its lawful authority.”
My Government has accepted that it is now in an ‘interim’ mode. Government is exercising restraint on its executive authority. Overseas travel by Ministers has been restricted to essential. No new policy is being implemented nor are any major agreements being signed.
My Government has complied with the Orders of the Courts at all times. It has acted correctly, in good faith, and in accordance with the guidelines laid down by constitutional conventions.
My Government has not defied the Court. I accepted the resignation of four of my Ministers who were deemed ‘ineligible’ to be members of the National Assembly by virtue of their holding dual citizenship.
The fourth constitutional process, consequent to the no-confidence motion, concerns the Elections Commission.
The CCJ, in its decision of decision of 18th June 2019, in the case of Zulficar Mustapha v. Attorney General of Guyana and Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, concluded that the process used to appoint the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Justice James Patterson, was flawed and in breach of the Constitution.
I met Justice James Patterson subsequent to the CCJ’s decision. I accepted his resignation after a candid and cordial conversation.
I commenced consultations with the Leader of the Opposition aimed at identifying a new Chairperson of the Elections Commission, in accordance with the advice rendered by the CCJ’s judgement of 18th June 2019.
The CCJ had proposed that the most sensible approach to appointing the Chairman of the Elections Commission was for the Leader of the Opposition and the President to communicate with each other, in good faith, and to discuss eligible candidates for the position before the formal submission of a list.
The aim was to enable the two sides to agree on the names of six persons who fit the eligibility requirements and who are “not unacceptable” to the President.
The Government and Opposition sides established a joint working group to short-list the names to six and present the list to the Leader of the Opposition before it is presented to me. The working group met four times between 2019.07.08 and 2019.07.17.
I met the Leader of the Opposition three times – on 2019.07.04, on 2019.07.16 and on 2019.07.26. I invited the Leader of the Opposition to submit a list of six names, ‘not unacceptable’ to me, on 2019.07.26. The list was submitted on the same day and I swiftly made a choice of Justice Claudette Singh as Chairman of the Commission. She took the Oath of Office seventy-two hours days later.
I have continued to engage both the Elections Commission and the Leader of the Opposition with a view to ensuring elections at the earliest date.
∙ I met the full Commission, headed by Justice Singh, on 2019.08.08.
∙ I have continued my engagements with the Leader of the Opposition having met with him on 2019.08.09.
These engagements demonstrate my commitment to ensuring the expeditious appointment of a Chairman of the Elections Commission and the holding of credible elections at the earliest time possible. A governmental (ministerial) delegation met the Commission on Friday 13th September 2019.
The Elections Commission is responsible explicitly and exclusively for the conduct of elections. The functions of the Elections Commission are stated in the Constitution [at Article 162 (1)]:
The Elections Commission shall have such functions connected with or relating to the registration of electors or the conduct of elections as are conferred upon it by or under this Constitution or, subject thereto, any Act of Parliament; and subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the Commission –
(a) shall exercise general direction and supervision over the registration of electors and the administrative conduct of all elections of members of the National Assembly and
(b) shall issue such instructions and take such action as appear to it necessary or expedient to ensure impartiality, fairness an compliance with the provisions of this Constitution or of any Act of Parliament on the part of persons exercising powers or performing duties connected with or relating to the matters aforesaid.
The Elections Commission is independent. The Constitution [at Article 62] mandates the Commission’s independence. It states:
“Elections shall be independently supervised by the Election[s] Commission in accordance with the provisions of article 162.”
The executive branch cannot, and will, not dictate to the Elections Commission. We believe that respect for the independence of the Elections Commission is an essential condition for credible elections.
The President is empowered by the ‘Constitution’ to proclaim a date for the holding of elections. The ‘Constitution’ [at Article 61] states:
An election of members of the National Assembly under article 60(2) shall be held on such day within three months after every dissolution of Parliament as the President shall appoint by proclamation:…
This decision is not whimsical. I must be advised that the Elections Commission is in a state of readiness to conduct elections. It would be reckless of me to name a date for the holding of elections without ascertaining the Commission’s readiness to do so.
I have indicated to the Elections Commission that I would like to see elections at the earliest time possible. I shall proclaim a date for general and regional elections once I am advised by the Elections Commission that it is in a state of readiness.
The Government recognizes the importance of political stability to enhancing the business environment. Political stability promotes increased investments; reduces risk and the cost of doing business and boosts investor confidence in the economy.
My Government will not condone violations of the law which endanger public order and public security. There is no political unrest in Guyana. The business community need not fear political violence or social unrest.
My Government will do everything necessary to ensure political stability. The business community has nothing to fear from the forthcoming elections. I am committed to ensuring a safe and secure environment for businesses, communities and citizens in the process leading to, during and after general elections.
My Government will respect the democratic will of the people. Anything contrary would be abhorrent to the values to which my Coalition Government subscribes.
My Government assures the business community today, of its resolve to ensuring credible general and regional elections at the earliest time possible.
The manufacturing and services sectors have been making significant contributions to national development. The two sectors, combined, constituted more than 60 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product in 2018. These sectors have expanding the economy over the past four years.
The highest rate of growth rate over this period was recorded last year at 4.1 per cent. Economic growth for the first half of 2019 was 4 per cent and it is anticipated that national output will increase by 4.5 per cent by the end of the year.
Tax policies have been tailored to incentivize the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector. The corporate tax rate, as you know, was reduced from 30 per cent to 25 per cent and tax waivers were provided for ‘green’ energy investments.
The Mid-Year Report 2019 paints a positive picture of manufacturing and services.
∙ The manufacturing sector expanded by 3.6 per cent in the first half of 2019. It is anticipated to record an annual growth rate, this year, of 3.7 per cent.
∙ The services sector is estimated to have grown by 4.6 per cent between January-June 2019, the highest rate of growth since 2011.
∙ Trade – wholesale and retail – grew by 5.9 per cent; transportation and storage by 5.5 per cent; financial and insurance transactions by 4.1 per cent; rental of dwellings by 5.9 per cent; and other services by 10 per cent.
Indicators suggest expansion of business activity. Private sector credit increased by 5.7 per cent for the first half of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018. Credit to the mining and quarrying sector increased by 6 per cent; credit to the manufacturing sector increased by 0.5 per cent and credit to the services sector increased by 7.2 per cent.
The Inter-Ministerial Round Table, comprising the Government and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association, was established in 2017. Its work has been fruitful. Cooperation is taking place between the Government and the GMSA to facilitate agro-processing development and to ease doing business in Guyana.
The Roundtable’s work has resulted in achievements. It has resulted in:
∙ increasing the Common External Tariff on imported pinewood which posed a threat to local timber producers;
∙ initiating an inventory of the forests to aid the forest sector better and to enable it to allocate forest resources to producers;
∙ improving trade facilitation at the ports;
∙ moving towards the development of a consolidated stockyard for lumber to better improve timber sales; and
∙ addressing constraints to fair access to external markets by our agro-processors.
My friends, the cooperation between the Government and the GMSA is bearing fruit. The economy is being rebalanced to become more competitive and resilient. It is being prepared and primed for rapid economic growth.
Decade of Development
My friends, you would have heard over the past eight weeks or so my reference to a Decade of Development. My Government is looking to the future. Guyana is entering a new phase of economic development. The advent of petroleum production, next year, will result in sustained expansion of the economy. Petroleum revenues will be prudently managed to ensure sustained benefits to all sectors of the economy. The ‘rising tide will lift all boats’.
We will launch a Decade of Development: 2020-2029. The ‘Decade’ will witness the emergence of a world-class education system aimed at ensuring that the best skills are available for economic development. The ‘Decade’ will include at least ten major sectors of development, inter alia:
• First, there will be education reform to ensure that the education system is more reflective of the needs of our new economy; access to information technology and of course, the promotion of social cohesion;
• Economic expansion, diversification, restructuring, including emphasis on value-added manufacturing and food security;
• Energy security and the transition to renewable and clean sources of energy;
• Environmentally sustainable management of our natural resources;
• Empowerment of regional and local communities – and this is a promise we made prior to the Coalition entering office and on entering office, within less than a year, we held Local Government Elections which had not been held for over two decades. Since then, we held Local Government Elections a second time so in the first four years, the Coalition held Local Government Elections on two occasions. We will continue to empower regional and local communities.
• We will emphasise the eradication of extreme poverty, destitution and homelessness
• We will emphasise infrastructural expansion, not only in terms of highways and bridges, but in term of aviation and riverine transport, in particular to serve the hinterland communities of Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine.
• We will emphasise internationally competitive trade and investment;
• We will emphasise of course, especially in the light of the heavy migrant of Venezuelans into Guyana of whom there are now over 10,000; we will ensure and enforce national and border security, human safety and the development of our international relations to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity; and
• Institutional strengthening will receive greater attention especially in light of constitutional reform to ensure good governance and especially in the light of the fact of the inability, after more than a decade, to appoint a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary and a substantive Chief Justice, not to mention the difficulties that we’ve had in the first half of the year in the National Assembly. These are topics which will be dealt with in our constitutional reform during the Decade of Development.
The ‘Decade’ will place emphasis on education, which is of paramount importance. Investment in education represents a large share of national Budget. This year, 2019, we spent 17.5 per cent of the Budget, 6.3 per cent of GDP, on public education.
My Government will expand expenditure on education during the Decade of Development. We shall focus, increasingly, on graduating better trained teachers who could impart more critical thinking skills to children.
The public education system and curriculum will be modernised to reflect recent research and to address advancements in pedagogy and learning for children.
My Government will improve access to education. The Public Education and Transportation Service (PETS) will be expanded to provide more boats, buses and bicycles to move children at no cost to their families, ensure that they attend school.
The school-feeding programme will be expanded to encourage children to go to school and to remain in school.
The public education system will be reshaped to emphasise science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) without deemphasizing the humanities as you saw last Friday when I visited the New Amsterdam Secondary School. We’re serious science, technology, engineering and mathematics and this will remain the focus of our educational development in addition to paying attention to the humanities.
The objectives of the ‘Decade’ are aligned to the Green State Development Strategy; Vision 2040 (GSDS) and to the Sustainable Development Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The ‘Decade’ will yield increased business opportunities, including for the manufacturing and services sectors. The ‘Decade’ will ensure an enabling environment which would allow our local entrepreneurs to capitalize on these opportunities. We envisage a future of thriving businesses and globally-competitive manufacturing and services.
The ‘Decade’ will accelerate the process of the renewal of regional development which commenced when we entered office with the establishment of four new capital towns: at Bartica, the capital of the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, which is larger than The Netherlands. It cannot be governed by a village.
Lethem, the capital of the Rupununi, which is bigger than Costa Rica. It cannot be governed by an NDC; Mabaruma, the capital town of the Barima-Waini Region, has now become a town and Mahdia, the capital town of the Potaro-Siparuni Region is now a town.
We held Local Government Elections (LGEs) in 2016 and 2018 and we will continue to abide by the Constitution by holding LGEs when they fall due. We will not be establishing any interim management committees. We will not be removing any elected Neighbourhood Democratic Committees.
These capital towns are expected to become drivers of the economic and social development of these huge hinterland regions, which occupy three-quarters of our territory. The capital towns allow for increased business opportunities and the improved access to public services. Those of you in the business community would know that prior to entry into office of this Coalition, if you had a business at Lethem and you wanted to register it, you had to travel to Anna Regina in Region Two, that’s height of absurdity. So it is essential for economic development that we allow these regional capital towns to provide the services which business need in every single region of this country.
The Decade of Development will promote sound environmental management of our natural resources. It will witness greater emphasis on preserving and protecting our environment, air, water and earth, for the benefit of future generations.
The ‘Decade’ will reduce youth unemployment. It will expand initiatives such as the recently-established Guyana Youth Corps, the Hinterland Entrepreneurship Youth Service (HEYS) and the Sustainable Livelihoods and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) which are serving as incubators of youth entrepreneurship and employment.
The Green State Development Strategy has identified a pivotal role for the manufacturing and services sector in the economic development of this country. The economy will be realigned along increased diversification and a low-carbon pathway. Emphasis will be placed on building a competitive manufacturing base and moving production away from primary production towards more value-added production of goods and services.
Guyana’s future is bright. We are on the right path. We are moving forward. We will progress more rapidly during the Decade of Development 2020-2029.
My friends I assure you, the private sector, the engine of growth, the agent of national development that we expect and we will help you to play an integral role in ensuring that the next decade will be a decade of unsurpassed and irreversible progress and prosperity for our country.
I thank you. Ω