THE Government of Guyana recently hosted a visit by Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland. The visiting team was met by President, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, and other senior government functionaries including Prime Minister Brigadier (Ret’d) Mark Philips; Senior Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh; Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hugh Todd; Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill and Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Oneidge Walrond. Prior to that meeting, President Ali had met the Secretary- General in Glasgow, Scotland at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) 26 in November 2021.
The visit provided an opportunity for Guyana to further deepen and consolidate relations with the Commonwealth of which Guyana became a member in 1970. In fact, Guyana became the 24th member of the British Commonwealth immediately after it attained Republican status in 1970 and has since played an active role in the affairs of that body. A Guyanese, in the person of Dr. Shridath Ramphal, once served as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth has consistently been supportive of Guyana in several important ways, most notably in terms of the country’s territorial integrity and in the area of democratic consolidation. The country benefitted significantly also in terms of technical assistance, especially in the area of human resource development and climate change.
At the September 2017 meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Group on Guyana, ministers noted Guyana’s concerns that the long standing controversy has impacted on the county’s economic development. Earlier, at a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads in Malta, leaders noted that the Geneva Agreement of 1966 between the parties provides for a range of mechanisms for an expeditious solution to the controversy arising from Venezuela’s contention of invalidity of the 1899 Arbitral Award and expressed their full support for the United Nations Secretary-General to choose a means of settlement in keeping with the provisions of the Geneva Agreement to bring the controversy to a definitive end. The Secretary-General reiterated the unequivocal and collective support of Commonwealth member governments for the maintenance and safeguarding of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The matter has now been forwarded by the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and despite some objections by Venezuela regarding the ICJ’s jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter, the Court has ruled that it has jurisdiction. This is indeed a forward step in terms of a final resolution and the support of the Commonwealth, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and other friendly countries and institutions must be commended.
Of no less significance is the role played by the Commonwealth Secretary-General in support of free and fair elections in Guyana which was under threat by the APNU+AFC Coalition after it refused to concede power following its defeat at the March 2, 2020 Regional and General Elections. The Commonwealth fielded an Observer Group headed by the late Barbadian Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, and along with the several other local and overseas observer groups were vocal in the call for the results of the poll to be respected. Following the victory of the PPP/C, the Secretary-General extended congratulations to His Excellency, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, upon his swearing-in as President of Guyana in keeping with the Commonwealth Charter which recognises the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections. She re-affirmed the Commonwealth’s unwavering commitment to supporting the people of Guyana in their quest to strengthen democratic and inclusive governance and ensure sustainable socio-economic development in the country.
This recent visit by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and her team provide an opportunity to both parties to cement existing relationships and explore new opportunities for co-operation and collaborative engagement. At a meeting with Senior Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, and other senior government officials, the Secretary-General spoke of Guyana as a major focus of the Commonwealth in terms of its management approaches as this may serve as a model for other states, especially as it relates to climate mitigation measures and the country’s low carbon approach to development.