Polling Day declared National Holiday
May 11, the date set for the holding of General and Regional Elections in Guyana, has been proclaimed a public holiday by the Home Affairs Ministry.
In a press statement on Monday, the Public Affairs Department of the Ministry said “pursuance of the powers conferred on the Honorable Minister of Home Affairs by Section Six of the Public Holiday Act, the Minister has declared Monday, May 11, 2015 as a public holiday in observance of General and Regional Elections.”
President Donald Ramotar on January 20 announced the holding of General and Regional Elections for May 11, three months after he had prorogued Parliament, and only three years after he had been in office. Ideally, election was not constitutionally due until November, 2016.
Guyana elects on a national level a unicameral legislature– the National Assembly. The National Assembly has 65 members. Since 2001, the makeup of the National Assembly is that 25 members are elected via proportional representation from 10 Geographic Constituencies and 40 members are chosen also on the basis of proportional representation from national lists named by the political parties.
Prior to 2001, 53 members were elected for a five-year term by proportional representation and 12 members delegated by local government councils. The President is elected for a five-year term on the basis of the parliamentary elections. Guyana has a two-party system, which means that there are two dominant political parties, those are the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) and the People’s National Congress (PNC) now turned A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition.
In what is expected to be the largest showing over the past two elections, a total of eight political parties, including the PPP/C and APNU/AFC are expected to contest the May 11 General and Regional Elections.
The other six are The United Force (TUF) headed by Marissa Nadir; the United Republican Party (URP) with Vishnu Bandhu at the helm; the Independent Party (IP) led by Mark Benschop; Healing the Nation Theocracy Party (HTNTP) guided by Alfred Parks; the Organisation for the Victory of the People Party (OVPP) under the leadership of Gerald Pereira; and the National Independence Party (NIP) headed by Attorney-at-Law Saphier Subedar Hussain. However, HTNTP and OVPP would only be contesting the Regional Elections.
As the parties presented their lists, the leaders all expressed confidence in making a good showing, with those of the major parties staking their belief in victory come Election Day.
Wage increases will come from ‘diverted’ funds – Granger
Convinced that a ‘substantial portion’ of government revenue has been systematically diverted from
the consolidated fund, the APNU+AFC coalition plans on increasing wages for public servants by redirecting these monies. This is according to Presidential Candidate for the Coalition David Granger who further emphasized, that an efficient government could only be achieved if there is an effective public service.
Granger made the assertions during a broadcast of the radio programme Hard Talk which was aired on Sunday afternoon.
During his interview, Granger opined that huge sums of money had been kept out of the consolidated fund and was instead being paid into funds that are not directly under control of the National Assembly. Granger went on to specifically call out the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and the Lotto Fund and said, “These funds run into billions and the funds are so lucrative that the government could have embarked on the construction of a multi-billion dollar hotel with funds which are really state funds; they’re public funds.”
He further said that the coalition, if voted into power, intends to divert these funds from “non-legal sources” back into the consolidated fund. Hence, Granger said, public servants will be better paid.
Granger maintained that the coalition “knows funds are being diverted” though they would best be able to say how much when they get into power.
The coalition had previously received criticisms from the incumbent People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) for making plans to spend revenue rather than plans to garner it. Questions had also been raised on how the coalition intended to increase wages without fully knowing whether funds were available.
“Indicators are that maybe as much as 20% of the budget is being diverted into these funds that are not under control of the National Assembly,” Granger said. He continued, “In addition to that, a more efficient public service would lead to more efficient revenue collection, the enforcement of fines by the police and courts and will lead to generally greater efficiency. When we have a lot of money being siphoned off, it means money is not being paid into the consolidated fund.”
He emphasised that once systems are put in place to effectively collect revenue, the country would be better administered.
He added that the coalition must wait and see how much money there is and how programmes are being administered when it gets into power.
“We cannot go into office without a plan; we have a plan…but the point I’m making is that, precisely we won’t know the condition of the treasury, the condition of administration, the condition of revenue and tax collection until we go into office.”
Nonetheless, Granger maintained that wage increases will still be high on the coalition’s agenda.
He further explained that the plan for salary will be the implementation of a mechanism by which unions consult with employers.
“We are not going to intervene between the unions and the employers. If there is a Guyana Public Service Union, that union will deal with the government,” Granger said. He went on, “Given the present cost of living and the present problems facing the public servants, there will be a minimum of 10%. But we have not set the ceiling and I’m sure that the GPSU is not going to be satisfied with 10%; Ten percent must be regarded as relief but I am sure when we sit down with the public services unions…there will be more precise negotiations, but we support the right of the workers organisations to negotiate on a collective bargaining agreements with their employers, and right now that’s the government.”
Granger further opined that the current administration has been treating public servants with contempt.
“The present administration has treated the public service generally in a very contemptuous manner; they wait until Christmas time and someone comes around and gives them 3 or 4 or 5% but by that time, the cost of living has risen by 3 or 4 or 5%. The public aren’t foolish people; they realize they are being kept at the same level as they were in the previous years and it’s also contemptuous to not sit with the representatives and discuss salary increases and the condition of work.”
He further said, “We believe that to have an efficient government, there must be an effective public service and there’s no point in keeping the public service merely surviving. It’s like they are on life support: they are not getting any better but they’re not getting any worse.”
Meanwhile, Granger reiterated that the coalition’s manifesto was a “people manifesto” that had been well received during its launch last week. He said the party had deliberately chosen to launch the manifesto at the Stabroek Market rather than the “air-conditioned comfort of a hotel”.
He said too, that the people of Guyana “understood what we were trying to say, they understood that it was a document and a plan that was going to transform their lives.”
The APNU+AFC coalition has promised a “comprehensive review” of the workings of the public service sector. This review includes the current taxation policy, salaries increases, remuneration and union action among other areas.