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Friday 21 September 2018
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Keeping Guyana calm

THE SITUATION in Guyana is one with which all nations in the region should be concerned. Guyana is an important trading partner. Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, exported an estimated $1.1 billion worth of products to the country over the period 2007 to 2010 and for that period imported $596 million in products. Additionally, both governments have recently partnered on initiatives and incentives to reduce the food import bill and boost production, with plans to make large tracts of land in Guyana available to Trinidad and Tobago agriculturalists.

The announcement that Guyana’s President has prorogued the country’s Parliament has provoked strong reaction. President Donald Ramoutar, 64, exercised his power under Article 70 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Guyana to issue a proclamation proroguing the Parliament. The Parliament will therefore not sit for a maximum of six months, though Ramoutar said he hopes to hold a sitting before that time if a consensus can be bridged with opposition parties.

The move came in the face of a no-confidence motion tabled by a coalition of opposition parties which would have been successful since those parties hold a slender one-seat majority in Guyana’s unicameral legislature.

Ramoutar’s government, the Indo-Guyanese-tied People’s Progressive Party, holds 32 seats, while the opposition parties – including the Afro-Guyanese-tied People’s National Congress – hold 33. The President’s move was not altogether surprising as on November 4, he had indicated that if the opposition went forward with its motion, he would have either prorogued the Parliament or dissolved it, triggering a fresh election. An election is due in 2016.

In announcing his invocation of his powers under the law, Ramoutar said, “my decision to exercise this constitutional option was not taken lightly, but it was the sole recourse that was left to me to ensure that the life of the 10th Parliament was preserved.”

Ramoutar said he made a “practical choice between an atmosphere of confrontation, as the no-confidence motion debate would fuel, or that of possible accommodation, as a prorogued Parliament can facilitate, if there is a genuine intent on all sides.”

There is merit in Ramoutar’s reasoning, since in a highly charged environment which is fostered by political parties being perceived along racial lines, any move which maximises stability is most welcome. The prorogation has an utmost limit and Ramoutar has assured that if no consensus is reached he will hold an election. Such an election will, in any event, be inevitable as the government will be forced to reconvene parliament in order to pass a budget.

While the opposition parties have cried foul and have said the latest move is undemocratic, we beg to differ. It instead represents the valid exercise of a provision of the constitution of that country which must, at the end of the day, be supreme. At the same time, Ramoutar will have to soon face the reality that his latest move, although well-intentioned, may in the end be nothing more than a delaying tactic. Elections must and will come.

In the meanwhile, the President has waged in favour of a situation where there is a chance of consensus, as unlikely as that might be. And a chance is better than none. It is better for Guyana as a nation to have as regular electoral terms as possible, rather than volatile governments unable to implement changes.

Over recent years, the Guyanese economy has exhibited moderate economic growth. GDP has risen steadily, moving from US$5.9billion in 2011 to US$6.5 billion in 2013. Still, the economy is heavily dependent upon the export of six commodities — sugar, gold, bauxite, shrimp, timber, and rice — which represent nearly 60 percent of the country’s GDP and are highly susceptible to adverse weather conditions and fluctuations in commodity prices, such as the price of gold.

Inflation has been kept under control. Recent years have seen the government’s stock of debt reduced significantly. But many chronic problems still exist such as debt and poor infrastructure. Guyana must exercise caution and calmness in this current terrain and a mature approach to solving its problems must be adopted by all sides, respecting the law and balancing that with the need for expressions of the will of the electorate. To do otherwise will be an invitation to a return to the volatility that has characterised Guyana politics over the decades.

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