TO the PPP’s credit, the intellectual authors behind the public mischief to blur constitutional requirements and duty to appointment, acting Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire’s ruling, and the multiple tags being attached to Justice James Patterson to make him out as underserving to be appointed GECOM Chairman must see those in Freedom House jumping in delight.
The unfolding of events are sure to have exceeded the authors’ expectations, proving once again the potency of propaganda. If this devious tactic was meant to serve as a test run, given more than two weeks after it continues to attract headlines and remains a major conversation, it casts a shadow of what the future will likely portend. As a boy we played the game “send the fool on.” Watching this game being played with the nation’s politics and people’s psyche if not halted, does not augur well for our collective well-being.
The protest events in and around the National Assembly last Thursday confirms that Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo’s threat to the government of his party’s intent of engaging in non-cooperation and protests will be supported by actions. Those placards, including Jagdeo’s that attracted the public’s attention and amusement with dividing spelt as “deviding,” brought into sharp focus how the table has turned.
As president he was intolerant of dissent and the police were conditioned to see their role in front of Parliament Buildings as not that of protecting the rights and safety of the demonstrators and passersby, but that of engaging in brutality and transgressing citizens’ rights. It is important to remind society as the current PPP leadership has the temerity to talk about democracy being under threat and the constitution being violated, positioning itself on a moral perch as guardians of, this group has no moral leg to stand on. It was under this leadership that the constitution was stomped on, and citizens’ democratic rights and freedoms taken away or curtailed.
As a sidebar to this conversation, but not of insignificance, though Article 161 (2) of the constitution requires that the List of Nominees for GECOM Chairman come from the opposition parliamentary parties, Jagdeo went outside this repertoire to include members of civil society. The Guyana Trades Union Congress was among those invited. This aspect of consultation augurs well for Guyana and the citizens’ development. But it should be said that this act confirms that politicians, on both side of the divide, only pursue such engagement when in the opposition or political wilderness.
When in government, as the PPP did and now being seen with the APNU+AFC, politicians no longer see value for or respect having different heads put together, or what the constitution calls “inclusionary” approach to decision-making (Articles 13 and 149C). Shrewd politics should inform this government of the importance of fulfilling the people’s desire and its campaign promise to ensure the people’s involvement in the management of their affairs. Where this government fails to respect this and the opposition embraces it, there will be, deservedly so, intensified pressure to comply, failing which any adverse consequence visited on this government it has only itself to blame.
Those barriers around Parliament Buildings were first placed during the Jagdeo administration and Clement Rohee as Minister of Home Affairs to deprive citizens– particularly those with dissenting views — from expressing the right and freedom their supporters enjoyed on Thursday. The continued presence and expansion of those barriers remain an indictment on the David Granger/Moses Nagamootoo Government, who when in opposition had brought a motion and voted for their removal, but cannot themselves respect their own vote and citizens’ incessant clamour to remove them. This kind of double-standards are not only disheartening, but is also helping the PPP to make its case the government cannot be trusted, and is making citizens become more disillusioned in their leadership.
It was Anil Nandlall who soon after the appointment of Patterson started the rumour that he, Patterson, was “never appointed chief justice in Grenada.” In the chaos, it became immaterial that the constitution never required the appointee to be a chief justice, picked up as a scandal of irredeemable proportions, became gospel, relayed, added to or distorted thousands of times over. Patterson was “appointed” to act as chief justice. Whether acting or confirmed, he held the instrument of that office.
Before he could have performed the duty he would have had to take an oath of the office and given the instrument to so perform. There is no equivalency to being appointed to a position/office in the Public Service to that of an elected office, such as being appointed to act as prime minister or president. The judiciary is staffed by Public Service rules, guidelines and conditions of employment which are dissimilar to that of elected office.
Both Patterson and the government failed in properly addressing the issue, thereby allowing the propaganda to snowball, morphing into all sorts of ugliness and the PPP’s goal post for seeking his removal from office changing ever so often, picked up or reported as credible or constitutional. To Kaieteur News’ credit, it made efforts to elicit an opinion from the chairman, to no avail. When the media confronted him on Thursday on his way into the Parliament, the subsequent coverage the story received was proof positive of the effectiveness of propaganda.
The offence which Patterson expressed in the media on Saturday with regard to Kaieteur’s coverage became a case of “too late, too late, shall be the cry,” for his prolonged silence helped to add wood to the raging fire. We are witnessing a full-scale misinformation war. In this information age, misinformation or lack of information is detrimental, making professional competencies vital and important, but in this regard government continues to woefully fall short.
In the same manner there resides concern that should the court’s ruling go against the propaganda the nation is being fed, who handed down the ruling will likely face similar assault to their character and reputation. And in this regard the initial response from President Granger to acting Chief Justice George-Wiltshire’s ruling helped to make a tenuous situation untenable, whether it was his intent or not. His statements were interpreted as disrespect for the supremacy of the judicature when it comes to adjudicating on the law, which also adds fuel to the propaganda and the suspicious lens through which the administration is being viewed on this matter. A word wrongly expressed (spoken or written) can lead to problems and in some cases, war. It is not an accident or folly persons would defer to making comments off- the-cuff, placing greater reliance in reading from prepared statements, including using a teleprompter, particularly in delicate matters.
In this midst of the propaganda and what has become clear battle lines drawn between government and opposition, we the people have to ensure sobriety is restored and good sense prevails to bring about our quest for good governance, protection of our rights and freedoms, and the enabling environment created for equal opportunities. As a trade unionist I continue to be alarmed at this government’s insistence or unconcern going down the path of “Do Nots,” making acceptable or less worse the egregious conduct of the PPP government.
The pursuit of good governance, from day one, should have seen in policy form documentation of the things those in leadership condemned the PPP for, and also what the society said they want from their government and voted for. In 2017, society continues to hear the auditor general expressing concerns about non-compliance with the laws, over-payment, and non-submission of receipts for spending taxpayers’ money, some of which are being used to repay international loans. Constitutional bodies are still to be established and citizens’ right to be involved in the management and decision-making processes on matters that impact their well-being being treated with contempt.
There is so much ground being lost. Where on one hand the opposition has created a wildfire around a non-issue, allowing for it to regroup and refuel, we also risk in an environment of division and propaganda, government officials acting not in the interest of the people, and both sides playing to fears and insecurities for the self-serving agenda of a few. We the people should not be caught in the manufactured divide on either side. We must equally hold this administration’s feet to the fire to govern consistent with the Laws of Guyana, as we hold the opposition accountable for its stewardship when in government and presently.
Society needs the help of the media, now more than ever, and the voices of those unafraid to call a spade a spade, in order to protect, strengthen and advance our fledgling democracy. We the people must cross and thereby erase the battle line and demand that the politicians come to their senses.