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GUYANA | The Oil Curse strikes again, Guyana in election turmoil !

  • Written by Calvin G. Brown -Wiredja.com
  • Published in Opinion
MONTEGO BAY,  Marc h 26, 2020 - Guyana’s March 2 general and regional elections was billed as the proverbial ‘mother of all elections’ and one of the most important general elections in the country’s history since independence from Britain in 1966.

The March 2 polls came against the background of recently found offshore commercial oil and gas deposits which is expected to make Guyana one of the richest countries in the hemisphere.

In May 2015, barely a couple of months after the election which catapulted Brigadier (ret’d) David Granger’s APNU+AFC’ coalition party to power, having dislodging the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) after 23 consecutive years, ExxonMobil announced a significant offshore oil discovery. To date, 16 more discoveries have been announced.

Guyana offshore discovery460The Department of Energy says the country is expected earn about $300 million this year from exports of five million barrels of oil and up to $5 billion by 2025 when two more oil fields kick into production.

Actual oil production began on December 20, 2019 less than five years after the commercial finds were first announced. Guyana earlier this month sold its first million barrels to Shell Western with links to Barbados.

Companies such as Repsol of Spain, CGX Energy of Canada and Tullow of the UK are also drilling for oil this year and could strike it rich in the much-heralded Guyana-Suriname Basin.

The magnitude of these findings cannot be understated. Guyana, a country in which approximately one-quarter of its 800,000 population lives in poverty, now has close to eight billion barrels of proven oil reserves—which even surpasses Mexico’s 7.9 billion.

The oil boom promises to transform Guyana’s economy completely. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the country’s real GDP will grow by an extraordinary 85.6 percent in 2020 alone.

Whichever political party gets to direct the spending of this wealth, it will probably remain in office for a long, long, time. As one commentator said “instead of viewing the oil revenues as a source of wealth for the nation, the country’s traditional parties have turned its income into a zero-sum game. Both believe that the other will use the vast amount of resources to remain in power—effectively preventing the other from accessing those funds.”

At present, we await a court decision to determine whether there will be an entire recount of the ballots for regions 1-10 or whether they are entitled to continue where the count left off in Region 4.

The High Court is hearing a judicial review of the Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) decision to order a total recount of votes cast in March 2, 2020 elections, although the Returning Officers have already declared their results for Guyana’s 10 districts.

The count was abandoned after a contingent of PPP supporters invaded the CGEOM counting centre making demands of the returning officer. It was then that the Returning Officer halted the counting and made a declaration, based on the remaining Statements Of Polls in his possession.

It was after the declaration had been made, that the High Court to which the PPP had gone to prevent a declaration by the Returning Officer made issued an injunction that no declaration should have been made.

Orders were also granted restraining the Chief Elections Officer from setting aside or varying the declaration of the 10 Returning Officers of the 10 administrative districts and from substituting or replacing those declarations with any other documents or declarations until the judicial review is heard.

The final declaration by GECOM for Region Four showed that the APNU+AFC had acquired 136,335 votes while the PPP had acquired 77,258. That final count saw the coalition government moving ahead of the PPP with an overall count of 237,020, while the PPP followed by 229,562.

The result showed that the PPP had lost and they were not happy. Region 4 had again pushed the Coalition in the winner’s column and the PPP would have none of it. This is why they had retained an international lobby firm and the millions of US dollars spend would now come in handy.

Guyana Chief Justice Roxanne George460
Chief Justice Roxane George

In a ruling sought by the PPP, Chief Justice Roxane George had ordered  the Guyana Election Commission’s (GECOM) Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo to return to the process of tabulating the Statements of Poll for Region 4 and to complete the process before making a declaration. She has nullified the previous declaration, declaring it unlawful.

The Chief Justice said it was entirely the decision of Returning Officer Mingo, as to what method of tabulation should be used and that the counting should resume in Region 4 on Thursday March 12.

Chief Justice Roxanne George also ordered that the Guyana Elections Commission can only make a final declaration upon the completion of the process by the Returning Officer.  She noted that it will be up to the Returning Officer to decide whether he will start the process all over again or continue it from where it was suspended.

On the issue of verification, the Chief Justice said that is not catered for in the law and if there are issues following a declaration, the law is clear on the steps that will have to be taken after that.the court ruling,

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Leader of the APNU+AFC President David Granger

The count did not begin on Thursday as President Granger, while GECOM was studying the court decision, in light of the threats of sanctions by the western nation diplomats, decided to invite CARICOM to supervise the recount which attracted its own legal appurtenances and required legal advice for GECOM.

In the midst of all this, an application was made to the High Court to halt any recount of the votes. High Court Judge Franklyn Holder granted a mandatory order to restrain the Chief Elections Officer from embarking upon the recount agreement between President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.

“An interim injunction is hereby granted restraining the Guyana Elections Commission from permitting or authorising any person or persons to any agreement between the President of Guyana and the Leader of the Opposition and or any agreement between the Guyana Elections Commission and the Caribbean Community or at all to count or recount any ballots cast by the electors at the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections until the hearing and review of the judicial application review filed herein,” the court document states.

The March 2 general and regional elections was held against the background of a questionable voters’ list which was extremely bloated by any test. The official voters’ list contains approximately 661,000 eligible voters in a country that boasts a population of about 780,000.

Despite efforts by the coalition led government to sanitize the list, there has been stiff opposition by the main opposition PPP which maintained that the list should not be touched.

The Guyana Elections Commission’s final voters’ list of 660,000, was considered problematic and an improbability given the fact that the national schools population of students under the voting age of 18 is 260,000.

Following an application by the PPP, a court ruling prevented the electoral commission from removing persons who had migrated and other categories from the list. This allowed the two main parties and approximately seven small parties to contest the elections with this highly questionable voter list, in an effort to capture as many seats as possible in the 65-member parliament.

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Leader of the APNU+AFC President David Granger fielding questions from the Guyana media

In the 2015 elections which was captured by the APNU+AFC coalition, in which the PPP was ousted after 23 years, the final voters list was 585,727 and saw 416,000 electors actually casting votes.

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and People’s National Congress (PNC) have historically dominated Guyanese politics. The difference between the two political parties is primarily based on support along ethnic lines rather than on ideological grounds.

Historically, the PPP for the most part appeals to the country’s Indo-Guyanese population, while the People’s National Congress (PNC) is the party to which persons of Afro-Guyanese descent mostly gravitate.

According to the 2012 census, persons of Indian descent represent 39.8 percent of the population while Afro-Guyanese ethnic grouping make up 29.3 percent of the population. 

On the surface, it may not seem so, but at its core, Guyana is an ethnically stratified society, to the extent that while there is some inter-marriage between the races, it is not encouraged, particularly by the PPP that down played the participation of Afro-Guyanese in its administration.

Political science lecturer Freddie Kissoon, an inveterate critic of Bharrat Jagdeo, labelled the former president “an ideological racist” in a memorable libel case brought by Jagdeo against Kissoon in 2011.

Giving testimony in court, former Cabinet Secretary and close confidant, of Jagdeo, Roger Luncheon told the court that under the Jagdeo administration, no black Guyanese was worthy or “qualified” to represent the country as an overseas ambassador.

He said all Guyana’s ambassadors with the exception of one of European extraction was an Indo Guyanese.

Luncheon’s stunning revelation came during humiliating cross examination from one of the country’s leading attorneys, Nigel Hughes.

Hughes also got Luncheon to reveal facts pertaining to preferential treatment of Indo-Guyanese by the Hindu-led administration especially in the area of infrastructural development. In one case, the sports ministry decided to place the national athletic track in an Indian dominated area on the west coast of Demerara, far from the city where many Blacks and acclaimed sportsmen and women reside.

Indians traditionally, hardly participate in track and field disciplines as Luncheon was forced to admit as it became clear that race and politics were the main reasons for locating the track there.

The same is true for the national Olympic swimming pool on the east coast, located in an Indo enclave.

To understand the politics of Guyana, one has to understand the political etymology of the South American nation.

Guiana was originally inhabited by semi-nomadic Amerindian peoples – Caribs and Arawaks – who named it Guiana, meaning the land of many waters.

In the late 16th century the Dutch invaded the country and settled there. In 1796 the British turned up and became the de facto rulers. The colonies of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice were officially ceded to Britain in the Congress of Vienna, and in 1831were consolidated as British Guiana.

With the abolition of slavery in 1834, thousands of Indians were brought from India, along with Portuguese and Chinese as indentured labourers, to replace the enslaved Africans on the sugarcane plantations.

While most Afro-Guyanese moved to the towns and became urbanized, the Indo-Guyanese remained predominantly in the rural areas while the Amerindians remained primarily in the interior.

Dr Cheddi Jagan 460
Former President and PPP leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was Guyana’s first modern political party formed in January 1950. At that time, an Afro-Guyanese named Linden Forbes Burnham was Chairman of the PPP, while Dr. Cheddi Jagan was second vice chairman and his American born wife Janet Jagan was secretary general.

The PPP’s Dr. Cheddi Jagan in 1953 won the country’s first popular elections permitted by the British colonial power and became head of the national assembly. After five months, in October 1953, the British suspended the constitution and returned control of the government to a nominated administration.

These tumultuous events led to a split within the PPP during which Burnham broke away and formed the People’s National Congress, (PNC).

Elections to the assembly were restored in 1957 and Jagan won. Elections were again held in 1960 following a constitutional conference and Jagan was again victorious.

In the December 1964 elections Jagan’s PPP got 46% of the votes; Burnham’s PNC received 41% while a new party, The United Force (TUF) got 12% percent. The TUF placed its support behind the PNC to form a coalition government and Burnham became Prime Minister.

Burnham’s leadership followed a strong socialist line where some 80% of the economy was nationalised, resulting in considerable unrest and economic difficulty. When Hoyte took over, after Burnham’s death, he gradually reversed Burnham’s policies moving to as market economy and a more liberal society.

linden forbes burnham 460
Former Leader of the PNC former President Linden Forbes Burnham

The PNC ruled the country from 1964 to 1992. Forbes Burnham led from 1964 to 1985 while Desmond Hoyte was president from1985 to 1992 having acceded to the presidency following Burnham’s death in 1985.

From the elections of 1992, The PPP won five consecutive elections (1992, 1997, 2001, 2006, and 2011), mostly due to loyalty stemming from the simple majority status of the Indo-Guyanese population. In this regard, Guyana’s party system seemed frozen along ethnic lines. 

Despite efforts by the British to prevent electoral domination by any one ethnic group by introducing proportional representation during the 1962-63 constitutional conferences, this was to no avail, and the ethnic stratification continued.

However, in 2015, Brigadier David Granger, a retired military officer who represented the PNC, defeated the PPP’s Donald Ramotar who won the 2011 elections.

Granger was only able to defeat the PPP as a result of the coalition created between the PNC and four other parties and named ‘A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) plus the Alliance for Change (AFC). The AFC is a small party that has support of voters from different ethnic backgrounds.

The APNU+AFC coalition, won by a razor-thin margin of 5,000 votes that gave Granger and his allies a one-seat majority in the country’s unicameral National Assembly. The election shocked the PPP and put an end to two decades of PPP rule.

The Indo-Guyanese led opposition is determined that it must win the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections by whatever means necessary. Under the guidance of its General Secretary, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, a former Guyana President, the PPP has been utilizing every means at its disposal to frustrate the APNU+AFC coalition and place the party in a competitive position.

In April 2019, in what was said to be a desperate bid to return to office, the Jagdeo-led People’s Progressive Party hired the US lobby group, Mercury Public Affairs, a firm embroiled in the probe into alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections, to help run its March 2, 2020 election campaign.

Mercury Public Affairs is a political strategy and consulting firm that focuses on campaigns and political communications ranging from advocacy advertising to litigation communications to media and public relations. It is owned by Omnicom Group, a company chaired by Bruce Crawford, which controls 1,500 marketing communication agencies around the world.

jagdeo 460
PPP General Secretary, Bharrat Jagdeo saunters outside of Capitol Hill, Washington, DC for the promised meeting by the lobby firm with US Congressmen

Jagdeo is quoted in the PPP-run ‘iNews Guyana’ as saying that the move is “proactive” and shows that the party understands “modern geopolitics.” He added: “This is how American policy is shaped and the most effective way to counter APNU/AFC misrepresentation…”

Jagdeo says he is aware of the negative reports on the firm, but his main concern is that it is bipartisan and that it is effective in getting the party’s message to the leaders of the US Government.

Jagdeo is also reported as saying that the hiring of the firm “is a small one to pay for the protection of our democracy and it is a harbinger of how a future PPPC administration will influence policy decisions regarding our country in a very positive manner.”

A Guyana Chronicle press report revealed that the PPP paid the firm US$31.4M in up-front fees for its services. According to the contract, the PPP agreed to pay the firm US$ 150,000, US$100,000 of which had to be paid at the time of the signing of the contract and the remainder on May 1, 2019. The PPP also agreed to pay and reimburse the firm for all business expenses in providing the services it needed. The party also has to pay the lobby firm for all filing fees, costs and expenses paid or incurred related to compliance requirements in any jurisdictions,” the Chronicle said.

Guyana’s March 2 general and regional elections has the country on the brink of social unrest. The election resulted in both the government and opposition claiming victory amidst cries of foul play.

It now appears that Jagdeo and the PPP has begun to reap rewards from its investment in Mercury Public Affairs, as the lobby firm with rich back-links into the Trump administration seem to have been able to skew the outlook of US, British, Canadian and EU diplomats in Guyana with a PPP slant in relation to the recently held elections.

In fact, the ABCE Diplomats as they are called, as well as some of the observer groups such as that of the OAS, have been guardedly ‘hostile’ to the Granger administration, publicly spreading the fallacy that Granger as president, has the power and authority to instruct the constitutionally independent Guyana Elections Commission how to conduct its affairs.

The Elections Commission recently, reminded that as an autonomous constitutional agency, it is guided by a legal framework and therefore it is imperative that it abides by the decisions of the Court.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case seeking a full injunction blocking the recount of votes under an agreement reached by the President, the Opposition Leader and CARICOM.

GECOM has given a commitment to ensuring the elections conclude in a manner that is guided by the Court.” The body which is led by a former high court justice, said it will refrain from any major actions until the matters are properly ventilated in Court and a decision is given.

The electoral body said it is abiding by the injunctions granted refraining GECOM from proceeding with the national recount that would have been overlooked by a team from the Caribbean Community.

Granger has repeatedly insisted that he will not interfere in the deliberations of the Guyana Elections Commission, in spite of the pressure from the western diplomats and some members of the business sector who seem to have very little regard for Guyana’s courts.

“The Elections Commission has the sole authority for the conduct of General and Regional elections and must be allowed to function independent of political interference, instruction and influence,” Granger declared.

The PPP’s contract with Mercury Public Affairs LLC was renewed for a third 90-day iteration at the princely some of US$31.4 million @pop. My arithmetic tells me that this adds up to in excess of a hundred million dollars. A small sum to pay in the pursuit of state power and the control of its potential oil wealth.

There is no doubt that for the PPP, that this bold attempt to wrest state power from the neophyte Coalition government is worth it. Any government that controls Guyana’s oil will remain in power for a long, long time.

The question is where did that money come from? To whom is the PPP indebted ?


Last modified onThursday, 26 March 2020 23:14
  • Countries: Guyana

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