APNU’s engagement with the PPP government is quite puzzling
No matter how it is parsed or spun, APNU’s deal-making last week with the PPP/C government will be seen as a continuation of the historic engagement of the duopoly that has bestridden the political landscape for the last 55 years or so and which has left the country wallowing in the backwaters of development and deeply divided.
In respect of the expectations of the AFC, many blunt descriptions can be applied to the nature of APNU’s foray into the Office of the President when certain commitments were given and it seems that the glimmers of a deal for the passage of the 2012 budget developed. If APNU wanted its mission to OP to be described as honourable and statesman-like then it required at least a modicum of courtesy to the AFC; perhaps a discussion of what should be broached with President Ramotar or the inclusion of an AFC representative. There was inexplicably none of this. Worse, APNU appeared to want to keep this meeting a secret for as long as possible. Did APNU’s Head, Mr David Granger go to OP with his APNU cap on or as Opposition Leader? Neither capacity justifies the exclusion of the AFC. Mr Granger would no doubt understand that wherever he goes these days he is first and foremost the Leader of the Opposition and that entails representing not only the views of APNU MPs but the AFC’s MPs. In a consultative democracy representation requires consultation at the minimum with the various groups, in this case, the AFC and the constituents of APNU. APNU’s shutting out of the AFC is just as crass as the government’s disdain for the opposition parties in the 9th Parliament.
APNU undoubtedly has complete freedom of action but its constituency would no doubt counsel that this freedom be exercised wisely, judiciously and honourably. For the first time since 1992, the opposition has been gifted – via the elections results – with the opportunity to hold the blatant excesses of PPP/Civic governance in check. The clearest and most uncomplicated way for that to be accomplished is by means of a common agenda subscribed to by the two opposition parties and then presented to the government for mature discussion. The clearest and most viable mechanism through which this joint programme could be achieved is the expressing of the 33 opposition votes in Parliament as compared to the government’s 32. Reducing this equation to 33, 26 and seven is pure senselessness.
Just months after the elections, APNU has managed to undermine whatever solidarity existed with the AFC and it now has a lot of repair work to do. Further, it has `tied bundle’ with a notoriously untrustworthy dialogue partner in the PPP/C whose recalcitrance, prevarication and backsliding have been well established particularly in the last decade. The failed Jagdeo-Hoyte and the Jagdeo-Corbin talks are a stark testament to the failure of our politicians at the highest levels. What happens if these talks between APNU and the government fall apart? Wouldn’t APNU have to recombine its 26 with the AFC’s seven? What sense does the separation at this early point make at all except if there was a larger deal on the table e.g. a government of national unity as APNU wants but even then the AFC would still have to be involved? Whatever epiphany APNU conjured up of the Ramotar administration, it has embarked upon a course that will lead to harsh judgements from its constituency and other stakeholders if expected radical reforms aren’t evident in reasonable time. The majority which voted against the PPP/C’s record would have done so for many reasons foremost among which would have been the twisted governance, corruption, shady deals, a stagnant economy and the enriching of a select few while poverty remains insidious in parts of the country.
No doubt APNU’s engagement with the government could lead to the passage of the 2012 budget. That would be a positive development for the country but would it be a budget shorn of the wastage, unaffordable employment contracts and ill-advised deals? This was what the AFC appeared to be trying to do by seeking cuts of the budgets of various ministries. These proposed cuts appeared to have given APNU cold feet after the engineered protest in the vicinity of Parliament or there might have been some other factor that drove the meeting earlier in the day between APNU and the government. It must be said that the government and its ministers engaged in the most shameless exaggeration and scaremongering about the planned cuts, intimidating public servants into protests. The AFC initiative was clearly not targeting the humble cleaners, drivers and messengers and those qualified to earn what they are earning. It was targeting the questionable contracts of several dozen contract employees who have been conveniently hidden among other contract employees precisely to avoid exposure. APNU, however, cut the AFC initiative off at the knees even though it was reported to have given tacit approval the day before.
No one is suggesting that the opposition holds the government to ransom over the budget but by the same token the opposition should by all means use the instruments available to it in the budget approval process to achieve its objectives. The consideration of the estimates provides for this exactly and this is the point at which APNU and the AFC should have trimmed wherever it was deemed necessary. APNU has clearly lost the plot.
As to the deals reached so far, APNU has already trumpeted a commitment from the government to hike old-age pensions from $8,100 per month to $10,000. This is commendable but came only after the government had offered a measly $600 increase on $7,500. What sort of government offers an increase of $600 to the impecunious and then more than triples that figure as an inducement for political support? It is the same type of cynical governance that APNU and the AFC should be trying to rein in.
There is already great discord over what was reputedly agreed in relation to electricity tariffs for Linden. Prime Minister Hinds and Mr Granger have differed already over whether tariffs will go up in July. The increase in tariffs has also been linked to three issues: the age-old dust nuisance, more small loans financing via the Linden Enterprise Network and access to more television. This was quite hare-brained negotiating by APNU as the government had already been under immense pressure to deliver all three of these and would have had to. Surely APNU should have sought some other concession.
Further, by agreeing with the government that television service would be expanded in Linden, APNU and the Leader of the Opposition have wittingly or unwittingly given the green light to the radio licences hurriedly and improperly assigned by former President Jagdeo last year. It had been sensibly argued that the opposition should bless no change to the broadcasting spectrum until a new and independent broadcast authority is in place and this authority would then make the decisions. The government can now properly argue that APNU has agreed to the Linden television expansion under the same framework that former President Jagdeo operated under last year.
APNU and the government may well continue this engagement but the real test will be when the really serious questions arise. Was Mr Henry Greene’s departure one of the outputs of this engagement? If so, it is another public relations disaster for APNU as he has completely escaped any accountability for his abuse of office. What is APNU’s view on this? What will happen when the former president’s benefits Acts comes up for review in parliament? Will an APNU MP mysteriously miss that session of Parliament or will all of APNU backtrack? What of this long-talked about probe of the Roger Khan era, CLICO, the Skeldon factory fiasco, the public procurement commission and myriad other issues? What of the reforms of GECOM?
APNU, its member groups and its members clearly have much pondering to do before they go farther down this road.
(Stabroek News editorial – April 23, 2012