News Report

A proposal on shared governance which embodies the concept of a cabinet comprising all the major parties, and the re-introduction of a non-executive Head of State appointed from the party with the largest popular vote, has been tabled by the PNCR at the invitation of the Social Partners. The document which is described as not being 'written in stone', is seen as a significant step in the party's embrace of shared governance, given its novel and detailed approach.

A committee headed by parliamentarian and central executive committee member, James McAllister developed the proposals, which were endorsed by the party's central executive committee at a recent meeting. The other members of McAllister's committee were Vincent Alexander, Ivor Allen, Hamley Case, Stanley Ming, Lloyd Joseph, Deborah Backer and Sherwood Lowe.

The proposals outlined in the paper are said to be consistent with the PNC's submission to the Constitution Reform Commission in which it advocated "inclusivity" as a form of government that would be relevant to the problems that were facing the nation. It identified "inclusivity" as a system of governance that would involve all interests, including the majority party and the opposition. The contents are also said to be consistent with the views of PNCR leader, Desmond Hoyte. In his presentation to the party's congress in August he told his audience, "an adjusted system of governance for our country - whether we call it 'power sharing', 'shared governance', 'inclusive governance', or any other name - appears to be an idea whose time has come... We should not shy away from examining possible modalities for a transformed system of governance that meets the needs of our peculiar situation; nor should we be diffident, as a party, about putting forward proposals as part of any national debate on this subject."

The PNCR proposals call for all significant political groups of society to be represented in the national executive decision-making process: "Proportional representation (as determined by periodic national elections) should be used to fix each party's level of involvement in the national government." In addition, the document recommends that measures be put in place to ensure the appropriate representation of special groups (eg, women, Amerindians, youths) in the national decision-making process.

Also the draft calls for predetermined structures and procedures to "be enshrined in the constitution or in any multiparty agreement to facilitate decision-making by consensus and to resolve disputes in the national executive."

Another suggestion is that the larger the margin of victory of the winning party, the fewer should be the inhibitions to the exercise of its powers in the multiparty executive. In order to prevent foot-dragging and undue delays, the design of executive and legislative decision-making processes should incorporate decision deadlines beyond which special mechanisms would be triggered, says the paper. The proposals also say that the parliamentary committee on constitutional reform must keep the new political arrangement under constant review through its own research and analysis, and by encouraging and examining submissions from the public. The shared governance approach "should infuse all aspects of national decision-making that have to do with resource allocation (tender boards, state boards, land selection committees, etc)" and that the "government must be subject to independent, powerful and effective mechanisms of oversight and scrutiny." The submission states too that the new system of governance must mandate the participation of the public and civic society in national decision-making and expressly provide mechanisms for the economic empowerment of the disadvantaged. There must too be broad agreement on a national development programme.

The PNCR contends that there are a number of facilitative conditions for the success of multiparty governance. These include: the ability of the major parties to sit and discuss rationally as they did in the Constitutional review process; the presence of strong "partiocracy" (the situation when parties can control or manage the actions of their supporters, thereby maximising the chances that agreements struck among party leaders will be respected by most party members); the interests of international stakeholders (financial institutions) in preventing failure; and the convergence of ideologies among the main parties.

A multiparty Cabinet/Council of Ministers:
Concerning the formation of the multiparty coalition government, the PNCR proposes that the partners in the government must first work out and sign a Coalition Agreement. The agreement must encompass a policy platform (based on the national development programme and a merger of ideas from party manifestos), portfolio allocation and party responsibilities, and the decision-making structures and procedures within the executive. Its proposals also call for the coalition agreement to be publicised, as the public then could monitor the process and assess the compliance of coalition partners to the spirit and provisions of the agreement and the constitution. The PNCR says, "The primary objective of the coalition decision-making process must be to facilitate consensus and to avoid surprises (significant unannounced unilateral action) by setting up rigid mechanisms for communication, consultation and dispute resolution within the executive itself."

In the allocation of the ministerial portfolios, the PNCR suggestion is that the Prime Minister should be appointed from the party that obtains the largest vote at the national elections, and the number of ministerial positions a party holds would be dependent on the support it received at the elections. However, it says to qualify for a ministerial appointment, a party must have gained a minimum of five per cent of the votes cast at the elections.

The PNCR suggests too that the number of ministries and their responsibilities should be fixed by Acts of Parliament and that in the distribution of the portfolios, the parties qualifying to participate in the Council of Ministers should attempt to decide on allocation through discussion within a specified time-frame. It suggests that in the event that no agreement is reached on the distribution of the portfolios that an alternating pick system be employed based on the principle of largest remainder, with the party with the largest number of votes in the polls being granted the first pick. The PNCR proposes that the decision-making process in the governing executive should be a mixture of collective responsibility (where consensus has been reached) and single-party responsibility (where no consensus has been reached or where unilateral actions are allowed).

The Council of Ministers/ Cabinet would be the highest executive decision-making body. It would comprise all ministers of government, parliamentary secretaries and (probably) government advisors. The Council would be the point through which all cabinet matters must be channelled for discussion and approval. These matters, the PNCR says, should be all policy issues that affect government's financial position or commitments; matters concerning the machinery of government; decisions and actions, allowed under the statutory powers granted to ministers, that would affect the collective interest of government; proposals involving new legislation or regulations; government responses to select committee recommendations; controversial matters; all but the most minor public appointments; the release of important government documents, papers and reports; and matters affecting the interests of a number of ministries. The proposals suggest that the Prime Minister should chair the Council of Ministers which is to meet at stipulated times. They suggest too that the quorum for a meeting of the council should be two-thirds of the members of each of the major parties.

A Standing Coalition Management Committee:
The document advocates that decisions should be based on consensus and where this is not possible the matter should be sent to the Standing Coalition Management Committee (SCMC), which the PNCR considers should comprise "the leaders (and possibly also senior party members) of the political parties in the Council." "It is therefore a forum of summiteers (similar to the current inter-party dialogue), with two important roles: overall management of the coalition arrangement and to serve as the highest forum for dispute resolution".

The proposals call for the SCMC, which the Prime Minister would chair, to meet as often as necessary; it could be summoned at the request of any party leader in the coalition. It is suggested that to form a quorum for SCMC meetings "all the major parties must be represented." As to the main areas for consultation, co-ordination and negotiation among parties, the PNCR wants the establishment of Standing Ministerial Working Groups, which it describes as sub- committees of the Council of Ministers, comprising, at a minimum, key ministers from the coalition groups, selected MPs, civil service heads and government advisers.

It recommends that mandates of sub-committees should be broad enough to facilitate co-ordination among related government ministries. It suggests as possible groupings: foreign affairs, economic policy, and social policy. It says, "From the experience of other countries, working groups are most effective as informal decision-making forums (referred to in Finland as 'government evening classes'). Their fundamental objective is to process issues so that they need only be formally dealt with at full meetings of the Council of Ministers".

The proposals explain that the relevant Ministerial Working Groups are to be the first point of inter-party discussion and bargaining, for all initiatives (whether bills, policies, etc) from the various ministries before an issue comes before the Council of Ministers/Cabinet. It explains too that the council could delegate authority to a subcommittee to make final decisions. With regard to the resolution procedure for unresolved issues, which it says hopefully should be rare and would have to be managed to avoid destabilising the government, the basic requirement would be that those issues should relate to different party positions, and not to differences in the opinions of individual ministers. As a consequence it says, "Dissociation of individual Ministers from Council decisions outside the agreed coalition processes should be discouraged."

It suggests that unresolved issues should be treated differently depending on whether a member party of the government identifies them as inimical to race relations in the country, or as issues of "party distinction."

A non-executive head of State: According to the PNCR proposals, the non-executive head of state would constitute a moral, symbolic and, in a few cases, statutory authority standing over and above the dynamics of party politics.The person appointed after a multiparty vote in parliament would hold office initially for a period of seven years that would ensure the presidency straddles the holding of elections, thereby reducing the pressure on the office-holder to pander to parties in the hope of re-appointment. The submission provides that the president should only be removed by a weighted parliamentary vote and on specified grounds. The functions of the head of state, according to the proposals, would include assenting to bills; acting as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; acting as a mediator in unresolved political disputes; and appointing presidential commissions of inquiry into suspected government misconduct.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President would be required to act only on the advice of the Defence Board, which must include in its composition the leaders of the main political parties in the government. In the event of unresolved political disputes where a member party of the government identifies an issue as harmful to race relations, the proposals call for the president to make a judgement on the issue after seeking the advice of the Ethnic Relations Commission. The commission would be required to hold public hearings on any guidelines for correction it recommends. "Where the Head of State, acting in accordance with the ERC, rules that the measure is indeed harmful to race relations, the coalition partner must withdraw and amend the measure along the proposed guidelines before resubmitting it to the Ministerial working group." Alternatively if the head of state rules that the measure is not harmful to race relations, the matter could be implemented and considered a collective decision of the Council.

What role for parliament? In discussing the role of parliament under a system of shared governance, the PNCR says that the executive government "will still be accountable to Parliament" but that "because of the nature of the decision-making process within the executive (especially its consensus-driven relations), the dynamics of parliament inevitably will change." The document envisages that the parliament should still be required to perform the functions of passing legislation and granting statutory powers, appropriating and empowering government to use public funds, and scrutinising and conducting inquiries into the policy, administration and expenditure of government.

It says: "In Guyana, the same parties that will dominate the government will also dominate the parliament. Given also the existence of strong party control over MP's (partiocracy), the parliament will likely endorse and support the joint decisions of the coalition government. This situation becomes acceptable, as these decisions would have already been processed by inter-party negotiations in the Council of Ministers and in Select Committee where MP's can make their input. However, there should be provision for MP's (especially regional MP's) not involved in the NEC to dissent."
The PNCR however recommends that the "the structure and functions of parliament should not in any way be weakened or diluted, as it is the only forum for citizens, interest groups, independent MPs, non-government parties and other stakeholders to influence the actions of government."

It considers that because parliament is also the largest window through which the public can see into the operations of government, a number of features should supplement the recent constitutional amendments affecting it. One of the features, it says should be the requirement that all government bills, after their first reading, be sent to the appropriate select committee for public "hearing of evidence" sessions. Exceptions would be made where a motion by the subject minister is adopted that the bill should not go to select committee because it is uncontroversial and no individual or group has formally indicated its intention to give evidence on the bill before the select committee.

Another feature the PNCR suggests is for provisions to be made in the Standing Orders for periodic General Debates in parliament during which MPs could speak on any issue of their own choice.
It suggests too the reactivation of the practice of public petitions in Guyanese politics so that citizens are encouraged to submit petitions to parliament on matters affecting them. It says that select committees should be the forum for processing these petitions and to make recommendations to the full House.

An accountable executive: In relation to the select committees, the PNCR proposals say that as envisaged by the recent constitutional amendments, government accountability to the parliament must be mainly actualised through the select committees. "In the new environment, it becomes critical that the chairmanship of these committees be opposite to the parties holding responsibility for the corresponding ministries."

The introduction of the system of shared governance the PNCR says, would inevitably redefine opposition politics in Guyana. It says, "The political parties, which traditionally would be identified as the opposition, will now be partners in the governing executive. The inter-party political debate and discussion, therefore, would no longer be conducted in the public domain but behind the closed doors of the Council of Ministers."

This, the PNCR recognises as being an undesirable development and to address it, the party suggests opening the government decision-making process to public and civic society participation as well as scrutiny. To reduce the possibility of the emergence of executive dictatorship in the new multiparty government, the PNCR committee recommends among other things that the select committee meetings should be in the form of public hearings, bar exceptional circumstances. In addition there should be mandatory consultation with stipulated interest groups (regional MPs, trade unions, private sector, municipalities, etc) on major government policies and measures.

To address the issue of government accountability, the PNCR suggests that, given that the traditional opposition parties would be in the government, the minutes of meetings of the full cabinet, bar sensitive issues of national security, foreign affairs and trade should be published; freedom of information legislation should be enacted; powers should be granted to the president to commission inquiries into government misconduct; and more effective and robust government oversight authorities, such as the auditor general and the constitution commissions should operate; and the scope and powers of the Ombudsman should be redefined.

The PNCR also suggests that the constitutional provisions in relation to local government, constitution commissions, those governing individual rights and freedoms and providing for the independence of the judiciary and the auditor general should remain essentially unchanged.
The party proposes too that a referendum be held after a period of ten years, to determine whether the shared governance arrangement should be continued.

[Editor’ Note: We do not believe that a shared government is the solution to Guyana’s political problem for a number of reasons.

1, Power sharing is not an alternative or substitution for democracy. Democracy has no substitution or alternative form of manifestation.

2, The history of power-shared government worldwide shows it to a temporary form of government, an act constituted into being out of very desperate situations in which the power-shared government always exist in a state that lacks longevity. Nowhere in this world is there a power-shared government that has existed for more than 10 years. Not India, not, Israel, not Ireland. In fact, both Ireland and Israel have had their power-sharing government disbanded recently. Israel will now have new elections in early 2003. Why these inherent problems? Simple; the fundamental, basic problems such as racial or religious or partisan differences are still in existence and, with partisan gridlock within a “power-shared” government, it is these fundamental differences that resurfaces to create problems, fractures. As long as the basic, fundamental hatred, envy, racial suspicions exist underneath, power sharing can only be a short-term reality.

3, If the majority of people in Guyana agree to power sharing, we at this site will unquestionably support such a call. However, we anticipate, given the aforementioned points, and the rancid, brutal history that exists between the PPP and PNC, and the racial problems (now taking on violent forms, e.g., Black militancy), the only long term solution besides a standard democratic government, is separation (partition).  Eventually, when power sharing fails and the death rate by political and criminal violence plummets, then people will talk about partition in the public. Right now, they speak of it, but in “hush hush” tones in their private quarters, because they know that the PNC and PPP cannot work together. Certainly not for a lifetime. “Desperation is a tender trap. It gets us every time,” the Irish rock band U2 once wrote. I think we should remember this line.

4, It is in the interest of the PNC to seek power sharing because they have no other legitimate route of acquiring some among of power. It is in their interest to acquires some power instead of not having any (being out of government totally). They know this; it is the only reason why they call for this today, and not 1992 or before 1992. In fact, this has nothing to do with the PNC; if the PNC was a white-oriented race, or the party was the PNJ, it would have no other choice other than the usual democratic form of the ballot or power-sharing. This attitude towards the acquiring of power is, in itself, fragile and therefore dangerous.

The report above, originally titled, “PNC/R for sets out blueprint for shared governance,” was posted in the Stabroek News, December 8, 2002. All credits to the paper.]       <<< Page X                                                                        Page X>>>                       

Dec 08, 2002
© 2001