President Granger vs. The Media (To Be Announced)

After reading the morning buzz from the GT Mosquito, I am pleased to know that there are other folks who share my concern of President David Granger not sitting down with the press corps since his coming to office after the May 11 elections.

It has been 80 days to the point of publishing this blog since President Granger was sworn in, and in that 80 days, he has not had a single press conference. Any efforts to inquire when the President will meet with the media has always been met with the response of “soon” by senior officials in his Administration. Good governance, transparency, and accountability means the country’s Head of State, who is also the Head of Government, must engage the media.

It seems President Granger has taken on the sole role of the ‘ceremonial’ Head of State. It is not uncommon for democracies to have a Head of State, and a Head of Government as two separate beings. Take the example of Trinidad and Tobago, where President Anthony Carmona is the Head of State, and Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar is the Head of Government. This system seemed to be the aim of the APNU+AFC coalition where it spelled out in its manifest the intention of:

 “Re-balancing the powers and responsibilities of the Prime Minister and the President in a manner meant to reduce abuse, avoid conflicts of interest and facilitate the more efficient execution of state functions.” (APNU+AFC 2015 Manifesto)

In the coalition’s manifesto, the party outlined their intention to have a stark reduction in the powers of the President to merely appointing Commissioners, Judges and other constitutional authorities, as well as meeting foreign dignitaries and the like. President Granger is set to be such a President, but with the discovery of ‘black gold’, those intentions seem to have been adjusted. The APNU+AFC learned its lesson being in opposition with a winner-take-all Government system.

“The PPP has raped the Constitution by its abuse of presidential powers and ignoring of statutory obligations, including the appointment of Commissions and oversight bodies. Constitutional, electoral and parliamentary reforms are imperative” – 2015 Manifesto of APNU+AFC. Page 14. 

Guyana’s constitution allows for an “Executive President”, contrary to the ceremonial, and somewhat behind-the-scenes role that President Granger is possibly hoping to assume. Not many democracies allow for that sort of over-extensive reach by a single individual over the affairs of the entire state including the National Assembly and the Courts.

I turn my interest to a report from the Citizen’s Report questioning the “legislative agenda” of the new Administration in Parliament. I am convinced that such an agenda is centred around the demolishing of the winner-take-all system. It seems also that the David Granger Administration is preparing for its impending return to the Opposition side of the House. Changing that system usually requires the involvement of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic in the National Assembly since amendments to some parts of the constitution demand a two-thirds majority.

I might be dragged over the coals for this, but realistically, no political party stays in Government forever. And although in the 49 years of Guyana’s history, Guyana was governed for 28 years by the PNC then 23 years by the PPP, I believe the wheels of democracy were meant to keep turning and not to be rusted in one place.

With only 33 out of 65 seats in the House, the APNU+AFC does not have that two/thirds majority they need for constitutional reforms. Or so we thought. Quite recently there was an amendment to the Constitution, where Article 222A was amended. That article spoke to the autonomy of some listed constitutional agencies. This might be the only constitutional changes allowed to happen without the PPP/C’s support.

Until any stark constitutional changes which grants President Granger ceremonial authority and Prime Minister Nagamootoo executive authority, the President is still directly accountable to the people, must engage the press corps on matters of national importance.

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