UK warns of Commonwealth sanctions
The continued suspension of Guyana’s Parliament without any date being named for the hosting of General and Regional
Elections by the executive could result in sanctions as stipulated in the Commonwealth Charter being imposed on Guyana.
People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) General Secretary and Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, in a swift reaction, said that the Guyana Government did not need the UK to tell it about prorogation, insisting that this country gained its independence from Britain decades ago. (See other story on page 2)
These sanctions could take the form of suspension from the Commonwealth as was seen when Zimbabwe and Fiji violated the Commonwealth Charter. This is according to outgoing British High Commissioner Andrew Ayre who on Monday reiterated the United Kingdom’s concern of the prorogation of Guyana’s Parliament. Ayre was at the time addressing members of the media fraternity at a press conference on Monday morning at Cara Lodge on Quamina Street.
Ayre, in his remarks, underscored the importance of parliamentary democracy, pointing out that it was not only a “domestic” issue but one of concern for the broader international community.
The National Assembly has not met since its recess in August 2014. It was supposed to be resumed on November 10, but was instead prorogued by President Donald Ramotar using a constitutional power granted to him under Guyana’s Constitution.
The Commonwealth Charter, which was agreed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting [CHOGM] in Perth in 2011, is a single document which sets out the Commonwealth’s 16 core values and reflects the aspiration of Commonwealth members. It identifies development for poorer countries and improving human rights and democracy, as the key priorities for the Commonwealth.
“Parliamentary democracy is not just required by Guyana’s Constitution, it is also required under the Commonwealth Charter. Recently, Heads of State/Governments at their Sri Lanka CHOGM meeting outlined the centrality of democracy in Commonwealth Member States,” Ayre said.
He pointed to several key fundamentals outlined in this Charter and called on the President to honour the obligations and either resume Parliament or announce a date for General and Regional Elections.
“The suspension of Parliament in November and the fact that it has not been resumed since then is a clear breach of the Commonwealth Charter, clear breach of Guyana’s Constitution … the UK and these Governments don’t sign things like the Commonwealth Charter and don’t sign the Sri Lanka CHOGM declaration and just put them to bed,” the High Commissioner declared.
When asked about the UK lobbying for sanctions to be imposed on Guyana among Commonwealth Member States, Ayre posited that at present there are “discussions” among Commonwealth countries with respect to the prevailing situation in Guyana. He pointed out that “Guyana is moving towards a category of concern for the Commonwealth that is quite clear from discussions that are taking place among them.”
He pointed out that presently with Guyana in breach of the Commonwealth Charter, it was possible that sanctions may be imposed, but made it clear that those sanctions were not going to be immediate. Ayre noted that besides a possible suspension, Guyana could be subjected to a critical review or could be referred to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).
CMAG is a group of representatives of members of the Commonwealth of Nations that is responsible for upholding the Harare Declaration. That Declaration dictates the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values, and sets the core membership criteria of the organisation. Its remit is to evaluate the Harare Declaration lapses every two years; the remit must be renewed and its membership reviewed by the biennial CHOGM.
According to Ayre, UK’s representatives have held meetings with the Government on the issue of prorogation, but have not received any positive response.
“We made our views quite clear both in private meeting with the Government and in public statements … the reality is we have a Guyanese problem and we need a Guyanese solution … let’s be clear the President is the one that can end this impasse,” the British High Commissioner said.
When asked about funding for several projects underway in which the UK played the critical role of donor, it was noted that these projects may be in jeopardy, with some “reluctance” to provide developmental funds to Guyana from the UK.
“Without the Parliament, there is no parliamentary oversight … clearly the appetite to send money to a country that has no parliamentary oversight is much reduced … there’s a reluctance to send development funds, how can we justify that to our own taxpayers?” Ayre questioned.
It was also noted that the UK was making its position on the matter very pellucid given the amount of investment that the country has in Guyana’s economy. “It’s not just a domestic matter, the UK has invested significant sums in helping to promote a developed Guyana through, for example, bilateral development assistance, both local and regional … the UK has significant business interests here which benefit not just UK companies but Guyanese people too. All this is at risk as is the notable progress made by Guyana in recent years,” Ayre said in his statement.
The United Kingdom in the last weeks has been very vocal about its position on the matter, calling for Parliament to be restored or a date named for the hosting of General and Regional Elections. This included a statement from Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood, who said the suspension of Parliament means that an “essential element of a functioning democracy has been put on hold”.