Guyana: Waiting for Granger to Go

Democracy delayed is democracy denied

by James Tweedie

Today is the 40th anniversary of the murder of Guyanese revolutionary writer Walter Rodney, a crime his family still believe was ordered by then prime minister Forbes Burnham.

Three months – and a ballot recount – after the March 2nd general election, Burnham’s People’s National Congress (PNC) still refuses to cede power to the winning People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) that led Guyana’s liberation from colonial rule.

Opposition voters have likened the situation to the quarter-century of elections rigged in favour of the PNC following the South American country’s independence from Britain in 1966.

Despite the recount showing a narrow victory for the PPP/C, President David Granger is still squatting in the State House in the capital Georgetown at the head of an interim government.

Granger’s PNC, founded by Burnham after he split from Cheddi Jagan’s PPP in 1958, leads the APNU coalition that narrowly won the 2015 election amid allegations of vote-rigging.

Later that year, Granger halted a commission of inquiry into Rodney’s killing, launched in 2014 by PPP/C president Donald Ramotar.

PPP/C leader and unofficial president-elect Dr Irfaan Ali told the country in a Thursday broadcast that his party stood ready to reverse the economic downturn afflicting all sectors of the economy – especially sugar, Guayana’s main export.

Ali said his government “will ensure the productive sector gets back going, to have the right mix of incentives and measures …to bring back energy to the economy, to reignite construction and to rebuild confidence in Guyana.

Ali condemned Granger for refusing the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s May 15 request for a government bailout.

“The sugar sector is not on the verge of collapsing any more, but is now in total financial chaos, the government has announced that there is no money for the industry.”

Ali accused Granger of squandering nearly £400 million of public money during his term. “The Government has basically overspent $100 billion, which resulted in the domestic debt skyrocketing and has led to a large fiscal deficit,” he said.

In 2016, Granger allowed ExxonMobil to drill for oil in territorial waters off the western Essequibo region, a territory claimed by Venezuela since the 19th century.

But Guyana’s corruption watchdog the State Assets Recovery Agency launched a probe into the contracts last year, a move former president Ramotar supported. The PPP/C has pledged to make sure Guyana’s oil wealth benefits all its people.

The Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) continues to delay the official announcement of the result, resisting calls by the Commonwealth, Organisation of American States (OAS) and regional bloc CARICOM.

In 2017 the PPP/C protested after Granger broke the 1992 agreement, brokered by former US president Jimmy Carter, for the sitting president to accept opposition nominations to Gecom.

This week News Room Guyana interviewed six PPP/C voters who APNU election agent Anna Ferguson claimed were out of the country on election day – a claim the workers, farmers and fishermen denied.

One of them, pump operator Hemant Vivikanan, does not even own a passport. He said the accusation reminded him of the stolen elections of the 70s and 80s – and lamented that his children witnessed the same fraud in their lifetimes.

Last weekend Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland, a former British attorney general, said her office “continues to pay close attention to the electoral process in Guyana and commends the people of Guyana for their patience during the recount process.”

Meanwhile APNU General Secretary Joseph Harmon rejected the OAS election report’s statement that “the people of Guyana have been patient and they now deserve a peaceful transition of Government based on the majority vote,” calling it “interference” and hoping CARICOM would back Gecom.

But Ralph Gonsalves, the new CARICOM chair and prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, said on Thursday that the bloc “will not stand idly by and watch the recount which was properly done… be set aside.

“CARICOM is not going to tolerate anyone stealing an election.”

Gonsalves advised Granger: “If you lose, as Sir Arthur [Lewis] said, ‘take your licks like a man’.”

Lewis was the St Lucian-born economist who served as an advisor to Ghanaian independence leader Kwame Nkrumah, drawing up the West African nation’s first five-year economic plan in 1957. He later served as the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank.

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