A new democracy -PM says coalition victory heralds ‘new paradigm’
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Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo
Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo

The election of the APNU+AFC coalition government to office in May 2015 marked the beginning of a “new democracy”, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has said, referencing the separation of powers, a free press and the integrity of the judiciary.

In an interview with the Guyana Chronicle, Nagamootoo said the two years in office have seen a very marked and significant definition of the political landscape. “We have begun to see the contours of new democracy emerging,” said the Prime Minister as he reflected on the coalition’s two year journey as a government.
He pointed to what he termed several facets of life in Guyana as examples of the “new democracy” and made specific reference to the existence of parliamentary democracy, the doctrine of separation of powers, a free media and the integrity of the judiciary.
“To have achieved definition of a new democracy in two years cannot be measured in financial value,” said Nagamootoo a former People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP-C) executive, who joined the Alliance For Change in 2006 that later teamed up with APNU to oust the Donald Ramotar-led administration.

Failed state
Moreover, the Prime Minister said measures by his administration to curb illicit activities here have been the bedrock of success. He said institutional as well as legal measures to combat what he described as an “almost failed state” when the coalition took office have brought about a higher level of accountability here.
He told this newspaper that several forensic audits of state agencies have been done since the government took office and have unearthed a plethora of instances of corruption, although critics have lamented the sloth in which charges have been brought against those culpable. The Prime Minister, an attorney said, “The mechanism of forensic audits brought naked truths…we have seen charges against those who held public office for theft, and misappropriation of public funds.”
“We feel that a large portion of public assets have been privately appropriated by persons…those assets should not end up in the deep pockets of those who hold office,” said the Prime Minister. On that note, he referenced the passage of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) Bill and the set up an agency to enforce it.
On the legal side, he referenced the passage into law legislation which brought into being the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) and saw its members being named and the Anti-Money laundering initiatives by the state. Nagamootoo noted that another significant achievement by his government in the context of a “new democracy” was the hosting of Local Government Elections (LGE) in 2016. “The fact that this government dared to hold LGE after 21 years opened up a wide avenue for people’s participation from the grassroots level to the level of municipalities.”

Active citizenship
This he explained represents the reactivation of civic and citizen interest in community matters. As an example, the Prime Minister noted the recent protest by citizens against the institution of paid parking in Georgetown which also called for the Georgetown Mayor and City Council to scrap its contract with Smart City Solutions (SCS), the company contracted to run the project.
“You have the idea of new towns, Bartica, Lethem, Mahdia, Mabaruma…which saw the rejuvenation of interest in community development…this is the inclusion of the grassroots in governance; self-governance,” he added.
Also, Nagamootoo made it clear that consultations have been the “bedrock of the administration’s decision making” and noted that policies implemented must be premised on the widest possible consultations. He said too that some changes would prove adverse to the way of some persons. “Changes are made in the interest of the country,” said the Prime Minister who referenced the resistance by sugar workers to the changes that are currently occurring in the sector.
“We are trying to move the industry away from its bankruptcy,” he added while calling on citizens to fear not as his administration is working in their best interest. “There is no reason to fear- the country is in safe hands and the coalition has both plans and vision to lead this country into a state of viability that could protect and improve their (citizens) conditions of life.”

Slow pace
Meanwhile, notwithstanding the achievements, the Prime Minister expressed disappointment with the pace at which some of the government’s plans are materialising. “We are not moving fast enough,” he said while stressing that the government is on the right trajectory. “We know we need to build a law abiding nation…but it needs to be done quicker to calm fears. The promise of jobs for young people, housing etc. but we are fighting too many fires that were burning from a past regime,” the prime minister who also has portfolio responsibilities for governance, parliamentary affairs and the state media said.
Asked to respond criticisms of government not fulfilling some of its promises to citizens, the Prime Minister said in reflecting on how well the government has performed at its second anniversary has to be rooted not in unfulfilled promises but in the reality of what has been possible, and not what was expected. Prime Minister Nagamootoo believes that while all promises have not been fulfilled, his government has been able to increase wages by 38 per cent, something he described as a “magnificent achievement.” “VAT has been reduced from 16 per cent to 14 per cent… these constitute the reality…there is now more disposable income for the working poor,” the Prime Minister noted while adding that they are incremental achievements which show the consistency of the APNU+AFC government in the delivery of services.

Pockets of disunity
Though by its very nature, the coalition government brought together a number of political parties, it seems to be struggling with bringing citizens together and according to the Prime Minister there continues to be “pockets of disunity.” But Nagamootoo made it clear that the opposition PPP would have “to develop its own strategy for survival, not on a basis of opposition for opposition sake but on making strident representations for systems that would ensure that they have not only a secured placed in the political system, but a possibility that they could return to office.”
Nagamootoo who served as a Member of Parliament since 1992 said in the context of Constitutional Reform it is important to build a political environment that is based on competitive politics and allows each person a possibility to be elected.
“Both the opposition and government and civil society recognize that there is more work to be done on the constitution and that you need to subject the constitution to another round of scrutiny and to go to the people to take from them what and how they should change or reform the constitution.” The Prime Minister who participated in the 1996, 2001 constitutional reform processes has since started consultations with the United Nations (UN) bodies to receive both financial and technical support.
He maintains that the constitution is too important and precious to be tinkered with and said “while we ought to have started the process earlier, it is not a delay that had placed us in jeopardy. I had set up cautiously all the mechanisms that were necessary to move forward. I hope there would be a buy in from opposition that would permit this process to go forward on the basis of consensus.”
The Prime Minister noted that in the Cummingsburg Accord, provision was made for the inclusion of opposition members in a government of national unity. The political coalition Nagamootoo said sees a role for wider participation in governance. “I believe that itself is a mandate for us to work together to expand the constitutional framework that would allow for us one day to achieve a government of national unity.”
He stressed that the coalition has thus far provided and catered for the interest of all citizens and on its 2nd anniversary in office, has delivered lots though he believes much more could have been done. “We had massive intervention in the economy, infrastructure, repaired old ferries, provided roads where there was none, provided lamps and lights and electricity to areas that have never seen the light of day, repairs to aerodromes in the interior…the touch of renewal can be seen, felt in the lives of communities that have never seen any renovation. Mabaruma and Lethem have radio station,” said the Prime Minister.
The Politician believes strongly in partnership and noted that in a country which is challenged by contiguous neighbours, Guyanese need more than ever to unite in partnership to defend the country’s sovereignty. “We don’t have any hidden agenda, political mission to keep Guyana fragmented, we have a determination to untie our people and that unity has to be across parties. We want to promote and I still want to extend the olive branch to the opposition,” he added while noting that Bi-partisan cooperation is necessary for the advancement of the country.

State control of the Press
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister who has direct responsibility for the state media has vehemently denied allegations of the state’s interference into the media, be it state or private. He described the allegations as absurd noting that his administration has guaranteed the plurality of the media and there is no evidence to suggest that the government has thus far been oppressive. He said, the private media has not been stifled by the government as was done in the past by the PPP which had refused to place advertisements in the private media.
“In all democracies, all societies for that matter, it is the free, independent, privately owned press that would come forward and say that the government is trying to interfere with my freedom. Our government has not withheld any advertisement from the private media.”
“I don’t know of a single case of a journalist being persecuted or prosecuted. I don’t know of a single case,” he continued while stressing that the allegations are disappointing and noted that though he is Prime Minister he remains a citizen of Guyana and like all other persons express concerns about things aired or published.
The Guyana Press Association (GPA) in its Press Freedom Day message had called on the government to desist from interfering in the operation of the state media. However, the Prime Minister who has oversight of the state media said, “the complaints of interference is without merit, they’re unsupported by any evidence, they are vindictive, malicious and only intended to besmirch the good reputation of Guyana as a country that enjoys freedom of the press.” Meanwhile, he disclosed that he is in the process of releasing a white paper on public information and said the white paper, which is under review, will speak specifically to how his office thinks information should be disseminated to the citizenry.

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