June 27, 2017

Guyana’s Sovereign Wealth Fund

During the debate on the “Petroleum Commission of Guyana Bill 2017”, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo suggested that on the proposed Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) the Government had proposed for the petroleum revenues that are expected to start flowing from 2020, they should follow the example of Norway rather than our neighbour Trinidad and Tobago. During the last election campaign, the People’s Progressive Party has already suggested a SWF.

The suggestion seems to have struck a raw nerve in Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, who burst out: ““How dare you lecture us? …we will not be lectured by the Leader of the Opposition on good governance!!” This intemperate outburst was rather unfortunate, to say the least, since it touches on what will perhaps be the most important decision to be made in the country in this century: what to do with our oil revenues.

While there is no one definition of a SWF – and that in itself tells a story) – it is generally accepted they are dedicated Government-owned investment vehicles (“sovereign) funded by identified foreign exchange inflows which manage those assets separately from official reserves and invest them with a “buy-and-hold” perspective. Both Trinidad’s and Norway’s SWF’s (respectively “Heritage and Stabilisation Fund” (HSF) and Pension Fund Global (PFG) are based on oil revenues unlike those of China – the largest, based on revenues from “non-commodities”. While both countries belong to the “International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds” (IFSWF), which follows the non-mandatory “Generally Agreed Practices and Principles (the GAPP) known as “the Santiago Principles”, these focus on the investment principles to be followed rather than what revenues flow into the funds and how they are expended. These, however, are the crucial variables that the Opposition leader would have been emphasising.

From a utilisation perspective, SWF’s can be broadly classified as “savings” or “stabilisation” funds – or a mixture of both. In Trinidad, the Government is required by law to deposit 60 per cent of the surplus of actual oil revenue over projected oil revenue. In this way, the Government can “game” its HSF by ensuring the projections are either negative or very minimal. In 2009, for instance, the projections were negative and no funds went into the HSF, yet when in 2013, oil spiked to over US$100/barrel, the 60 per cent surplus was not deposited without any repercussions.

While Trinidad’s HSF purports to be a mixture, in reality, based on its history the emphasis has been used for “stabilisation” due to profligate current spending that ensures budget deficits. After 50 years of oil production, the HSF had just US$5 billion in 2015 and US$2 billion has already been used for “stabilising/spending” since.

The Government has announced it will now split the Fund into two components – Heritage and Stabilisation, but it is almost certain not much will be left for future generations in an economy where Government expenditure is still over 33 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. Very little of the Fund was used for diversification and TT’s economy is an example of “Dutch Disease”. From the utterances of Trotman and the Finance Ministry, Jagdeo has good reason to fear Guyana is going down the road of Trinidad.

In Norway, on the other hand, explicitly seeking to avoid Dutch Disease, ALL petroleum revenues go into its SWF and only a maximum of four per cent can be used for interventions in budgetary current spending. As a result of this discipline, their PFG has grown to US$930 billion in assets even while the country has over two billion Euros in debt. While in the last two years Norway has had to make emergency withdrawals from the funds because of low oil prices, these have scarcely made a dent in their PFG because of the size of the latter.

One report from the IFSWF recommends: “small population, resource-dependent, non-diversified economies must use SWFs to convert resource windfalls into permanent financial assets through tightly controlled savings.”

Appropriating these resources, to do otherwise would be to doom us into poverty in perpetuity.


That Oil Contract

The adamant refusal of the PNC-led APNU/AFC coalition to release details of the oil production contract it negotiated with the ExxonMobil-led consortium is more than troubling; it is frightening.

This obdurate stance comes in the face of calls by a wide swathe of civil society organisations – including the local Transparency International (TI) body and the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) – and not only the Political Opposition, the PPP, but a member of the coalition body that makes up APNU – the WPA.

At a minimum, one can say the majority of the country is demanding that the contract details be made public. It is not that the citizens of Guyana believe the consortium, comprised of the US companies ExxonMobil and Hess Oil, and the Chinese CNOOC, is particularly rapacious; but it is just that they are au fait with the standard practices of oil companies across the Third World – particularly in Africa, where countries are at a state of development that is similar to Guyana’s. And those practices demonstrate that countries have to be vigilant.

Realising that the rationale offered by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo for non-disclosure – it would jeopardise ongoing negotiations on the Venezuelan Border controversy – was risable, Minister of State Joseph Harmon attempted what can only be labelled “damage control”. He offered, in addition to the “security concerns” articulated by the PM, that there were also “legal” barriers raised by the governing 1997 Petroleum Act. He was presumably referring to Part II, Section 4, which states: “no information…by a licensee shall be disclosed to any person who is not a Minister, a public officer or an employee of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, except with the consent of the licensee”.

But even at a most cursory examination, the terms of the contract are not “information (by the) licensee”, to which the Petroleum Act refers. From the practice of the industry, “information (by the) licensee” is, for example, proprietary information gleaned by the licensee in its exploration activities or from its plans on developing and exploiting the field. In other words, it is information that can offer its competitors on the market a competitive advantage.

What are the salient aspects of the contract that Guyanese are interested in? The royalty percentage is one – and that this has been the one detail revealed by the Government is very disturbing. It is disturbing because the average royalty imposed on oil production in Africa – which were “frontier” oil territories like us because of the undeveloped infrastructure – is over 10%. And these are countries that regularly complain of being given the short end of the stick in negotiations with oil companies. If the PNC-led APNU/AFC Government is willing to boast about negotiating a measly and pitiable 2% royalty rate, the mind boggles at the details it refuses to reveal.

To rub salt into the wound of non-disclosure, the Government is being quite dishonest – not disingenuous – when it insists on labelling the 2% royalty as a “200% increase of the 1% imposed on the original contract negotiated by the PPP in 1999”.

The PPP had signed a contract even before anyone had any evidence there was oil offshore. The US Geological Survey had not yet released its data gathered from space-based mapping. Tullow was not to discover oil off Ghana until 2007, and then speculate that across the coast of South America, from which Africa had split off eons ago, there might be “mirror fields”.

In 1999, the PPP Government had to be on its knees to entice Exxon to commit to exploration. But last year, when the PNC-led APNU/AFC Government began negotiating with Exxon, the contract had expired by its own terms, and the billion-barrel oilfield had already been confirmed. The Government was now in a stronger position to negotiate. If a 1% increase in royalty is the best the Government can do, imagine what the figures on “cost-oil vs profit oil” or corporate taxes on Exxon’s profits will be. All Guyanese must demand this information.


Decriminalising same sex relations

On a weekend that saw the election of an openly gay son of an immigrant as the head of the ruling Fine Gael party of Catholic Ireland – and so in line to be confirmed as Prime Minister when their Parliament reconvenes on June 13, Guyana’s LGBT community remains in a quandary about their right to engage in same sex relations. For over a decade, the discriminatory nature of laws falling under “offences against Morality”, such as: “Everyone who commits buggery… shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life” remains hanging like a modern day Sword of Damocles over the heads of LGBT citizens, even as the Government has promised to adhere to international covenants to which it has signed on.

In 2010, after information was presented by Guyana to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Human Rights Group, Government spokesperson Gail Teixeira  noted: “Recommendations 70.47 to 70.53 refer to decriminalisation of consensual same sex relations and ending discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisesexuals, and transgenders… Guyana noted these recommendations and voluntarily commits to hold consultations over the next two years. Based on the outcome of this democratic process these will be reflected in its domestic laws.”

In 2012, the People’s Progressive Party Government attempted to establish a Special Select Committee to conduct hearings on the subject but against strident protests by the People’s National Congress (PNC), the matter was shelved. Last month however, the PNC-led A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change Government submitted a letter on the issue to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). It claimed there remained mixed views on the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity and repealing of the laws to decriminalise homosexuality and “it was recommended, that the matter be taken to a vote, where the people of Guyana will decide by a referendum on these matters.” The Government was now rejecting its predecessor’s position that the people’s representatives in the National Assembly would make the decision to decriminalise, and would now go directly to the people.

Ignoring Guyana’s status as the only country in undeveloped South America where homosexual acts remain illegal, Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge noted that in the developed OECD countries, social change has made “certain types of behaviour” acceptable, “But” he argued, “this is Guyana and in these countries you have a different mix of not only ethnic groupings, but you have religious groupings.” Not surprisingly, members and supporters of the LGBT community are outraged and see this move as a form of “forum shopping” that is unquestionably “outcome determinative”. The Government believes the majority of Guyanese are against the legalisation of same sex relations.

It is very unfortunate that while Guyana follows precedent in law from Britain, it has stubbornly refused to do so on the law on same sex relations which was imposed by that country in the 19th century. But the British laws were revised around the same time as our Independence was granted. A decade before the UK Government-sponsored Wolfenden Committee on homosexual relations and prostitution had submitted its report. It made a crucial distinction between private actions and public order, which subsequently dominated the enforcement of morality that is at the base of the criminal law. Wolfenden took up the utilitarian proposition of Bentham and JS Mill that it should not be the function of the law to regulate private behaviour that did not harm anyone else; however distasteful others might find it. Its role was to establish the framework of public order.

In the famous subsequent HLA Hart-Devlin debate that centred on Wolfenden’s recommendations, much of the present Guyana Government’s position was represented by the jurist Lord Devlin and while no one would deny that the “voice of the people” does matter, the position articulated by Oxford Professor Hart has carried the day. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act decriminalised same sex relations in England and Wales.

From that time, the moral right of the individual rather than society became determinative of what went on in private. When will Guyana catch up?


A national debate on sugar

It is quite unfortunate that in spite of the mounting calls for the coalition Government to reconsider its decision to downscale the sugar industry via closure of sugar estates, the Administration seems unmoved and is bent on moving in a direction that will see thousands of workers and their families being severely affected.

On May 8, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder presented Government’s ‘white paper’ on the future of the sugar industry to the National Assembly. He had announced that two sugar estates would be closed and the annual production of sugar would be reduced, among a number of other measures, as part of a new policy on the sugar industry.

Cognisant of the huge impact these closures would have on their lives, scores of sugar workers have taken to the streets over the past few weeks to highlight their concerns on the matter, with the hope that the Government would stop to listen. However, so far, the powers that be have basically turned a deaf ear and are operating as if they are unconcerned. For example, the Wales workers’ contention is that they cannot be compelled to travel to the Uitvlugt Estate on the West Coast of Demerara – some 22 miles from Wales – hence they prefer a severance package. But the Administration seems to be sending a message that they (workers) do not have any other option.

The latest organisation to add its voice against the closure of the estates was the Private Sector Commission (PSC). The PSC, which represents several Private Sector bodies in Guyana, has highlighted several valid reasons why the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) should be allowed to continue current operations and has even offered to work with the Administration to explore all possible options to avert closure of the estates.

Certainly, the estates are a major source of sustenance and their closure will be felt deeply and far and wide. Workers and their families are rightly fearful that their communities would be destroyed, families broken up and there will be increased incidence of crime and other social problems. It should be mentioned that in December 2016, sugar operations ceased at the Wales Estate, leaving over 1000 workers jobless. Even though it might be too soon to measure the impact of the closure, analysts have predicted it would be severe. One can only imagine what will happen to workers and their families; and communities in general, if the Government moves ahead with other planned closures. It should be noted that the Government-initiated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) did not recommend closure of any estate, but, on the contrary, recommended divestment into private hands.

It must be mentioned too that in spite of the many calls for the Administration to develop a plan of action to have the necessary impact assessments completed and to engage industry stakeholders, nothing concrete was done in this regard. We had stated on numerous occasions before, that no informed decision can be made on the sugar industry without proper and detailed impact assessments being carried out.

Further, because of its level of importance, we suggest that the issue be brought for discussion and debate at the national level with the involvement of all stakeholders. After all, this is people’s livelihoods that would be affected and they and/or their representatives deserve to be fully engaged on what matters to them. The Government has not presented any justifiable reasons to convince the populace that closure is the most viable option.

No one can deny the huge contribution sugar has made to the economy. It could be recalled that years ago, the earnings from the sugar industry helped to prop up other sectors when they were performing badly. Of note too is that the industry remains the largest employer other than Government and is the main foreign currency earner. It is, therefore, necessary that all stakeholders – the workers’ union, parliamentary Opposition, Private Sector bodies and other civil society organisations – continue to raise their voices against the closure of the estates.

Citizens, especially sugar workers, must hold the Government accountable, as it had promised a good life for all Guyanese during the 2015 General and Regional Elections campaign. Closing sugar estates and placing workers on the breadline are certainly not a good example of wanting to create that promised ‘good life’


Impeaching a President

While there were murmurs about “impeaching” Donald Trump from almost the moment he was sworn in on January 20, few expected the proposal would be raised in the House of Congress as early as it did – yesterday. Representative Al Green, Democrat of Texas justified his call because he claimed President Trump had “obstructed justice”.

He was referring to a memo sent by Trump to then FBI Director James Comey, to drop the agency’s investigation into Mike Flynn, for not disclosing his contacts with a Russian diplomat at his confirmation hearing as National Security Advisor. Comey was subsequently fired by Trump. The memo was published by the New York Times and more pertinently, the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, Jason Chaffetz, has officially asked the FBI to turn over all documents and recordings of communications between Comey and Trump to determine the extent to which the latter might have attempted to thwart the investigation.

This week had opened with a Washington Post article claiming Trump had divulged highly classified material about ISIS operations to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in an Oval Office meeting the previous week. The material allowed the Russians to very easily pinpoint US intelligence assets in the Middle East and was related to the US ban on laptops on flights from Europe and several other countries. After denying that sensitive information was divulged, Trump in his usual style reversed gear and claimed the information was not as sensitive as claimed; he wanted to save lives and he was within his rights to do so.

The question now arises as to whether Trump can actually be impeached. While the US Constitution is very clear in stating that a President “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanours”, the determination of which of Trump’s actions constitute “high crimes or misdemeanours” is critical. Another tact that could be taken would be to prove that Trump has violated his oath of office to “preserve, protect, and defend” the US Constitution, when he divulged sensitive intelligence.

The impeachment process begins in the House of Representatives (HoR), where an independent investigation would be conducted and then handed over to the House Judiciary Committee. The HJC will review and debate the evidence, and if a majority votes for it, writes up the Articles of Impeachment. From there, the latter are sent to the full House and if voted by a majority then sent to the Senate where the real trial is held. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court acts as the Judge and the Senate, the jury. The President will mount his defence and the House Judiciary Committee will act as the prosecution. If a two-thirds majority in the Senate votes against the President, he is removed from office.

As Guyanese observe the rule of law being applied in the US with Trump possibly soon having to face impeachment as did Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon in recent decades. Clinton was exonerated primarily because the Senate was controlled by the Democratic Party as is the Senate, presently controlled by Republicans. Clinton, however, had massive popularity ratings while Trump is sinking and Republicans might not be as willing to take their chances at the next Senate elections.

In Guyana, we also have a similar procedure for impeaching a sitting President which is stipulated in Article 180. A motion alleging that the President has committed any violation of the Constitution or any gross misconduct must be laid and have the support of the majority of the National Assembly.

There is a growing body of legal opinion that President Granger’s own actions in seeking to unilaterally interpret the Constitution and his unequivocal support for members of his executive, especially his Attorney General, in violating the separation of powers doctrine which is an integral aspect of our constitutional basic structure, might lead to a constitutional crisis that would precipitate an impeachment motion.


The French Government

The French presidential elections last week grabbed world attention primarily because it was seen as a sign of how extensive the move towards “populism” – read “right wing” sentiment –was in Europe, after the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in the US.

Now that Emmanuel Macron’s one-year-old En Marche! Party has defeated Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN), the analysts will be generally consumed by the implications for EU unity and the terms of Britain’s exit as well as the facticity of Le Pen securing one-third of the French electorate’s support. The issues of immigration and European “identity” will not go away.

But for Guyanese, there is another element in the French elections that should be of interest – the structure of their government. Launched in 1958 by their towering – literally and figuratively – – President Charles de Gaulle, it has been defined as a “semi-presidential” system, in which there is a President in addition to a Prime Minister and a Cabinet, but with the former elected separately. This is a classification under which our system of governance also falls, but with some noteworthy differences.

Our system is rather unique, but is most like the “President-Parliamentary” system where the President appoints the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and the latter two can be removed at will by the former. Our President secures his post when his party obtains a majority or plurality – at the polls. France, on the other hand, has the “Premier-Presidential system” in which the Prime Minister and Cabinet are exclusively accountable to Parliament. The President, who is elected in a separate election as in the one just won by Macron, chooses the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but only the Parliament may remove them from office with a vote of no confidence. The President does not have the right to dismiss the Prime Minister or the Cabinet.

In the Premier-Presidential system, which is in place in several other countries, such as Sri Lanka and Finland, when the President and his Prime Minister and Cabinet are from the same party, the system in effect works very similar to the President-Parliamentary system like ours. The President allocates as much power as he feels comfortable with to the Prime Minister.

However, if the President’s party does not have a majority in Parliament and the Prime Minister is from another party – as occurred in France in the 1980s, a system of “cohabitation” falls into place. The President is now possessed of specific defined state powers and the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament, is in charge of the other functions of Government. During “cohabitation” in France, by convention, the President is in charge of foreign affairs and defence policy. In Finland, their Constitution explicitly allocates Foreign Policy to their President.

For many analysts, when the Cummingsburg Accord was negotiated between the AFC and APNU before the elections, it was assumed that the AFC-origin Prime Minister by being allowed to “chair” Cabinet and be responsible for domestic affairs would in effect function as in the French Premier-Presidential system. The subsequent “explanation” by President David Granger that this agreement could not be implemented, because there was “no constitutional stipulation” flies in the face of the French experience, that works very well by convention. In Guyana, before the 1992 elections, Dr Cheddi Jagan had suggested that the French semi-presidential model might be suitable for Guyana with its divided polity and the need for a sharing of powers between the major parties.

In the coming months, elections for representatives to the French Parliament will be contested by all parties including the Socialists and the Republicans, which were the major parties before Macron launched his En Marche!! It is very likely that the Prime Minister might come from one of those parties and the “balance of powers” under the “cohabitation” doctrine will be tested. Guyana should follow closely.


Take the economy seriously

A half-year ago, repeating the need for a governmental stimulus of the economy, we discussed in this space the latter’s evident choice between “guns and butter”. The phrase “guns or butter” entered the lexicon as a trope for signalling the tendency of some political leaders to focus their energies and their nation’s spending on the military (guns), rather than on the needs of the civilian population (butter). The Nazi-militarised Government was particularly fond of the phrase, as its officials scoffed at the production of “butter”. It entered economics as the classic model of a “production-possibility frontier” of a nation having to choose between two goods.

At that time, President Granger announced a “five pillar” plan to reinvigorate the Defence Force versus his studied silence on a plan to stimulate the nose-diving economy. The five pillars of the plan were: personnel, infrastructure, equipment, readiness and morale. The rationale offered by the President for the increased military spending was the threat on our borders posed by Suriname on the east and Venezuela on the west. Yet, the then Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Mark Philips, had just assured the nation that our present forces were adequate to defend any threats from Venezuela, and had launched in Georgetown an impressive display of our military might.

With the GDF then at about half its authorised strength, the plan to bring back the Force to its full capacity plus re-launch the atrophied reserve force which used to be called the People’s Militia and staff it with its full complement will obviously cause the wage bill to rise precipitously. When the equipment needs are factored in, the present annual spending on the entity, estimated at about G$600M will have to be at least doubled.

When the choice is between guns or butter, a country can end up in a no-win situation. After WWII, the Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower became President of the USA, which had become the greatest power on the planet. Having to deal with that choice, he declared, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

But the choice does not have to be “guns or butter”; it can be changed to “guns and butter”. While this newspaper is fully supportive of the need to revive and maintain a force that can adequately defend our borders, we have to be realistic to appreciate that even a weakened Venezuela, for instance, can deliver a much bigger bang with their bucks. It therefore becomes even more urgent for our Government to spend a commensurate amount of time to halt the slide of our economy and initiate policies that can create double-digit growth rates to push our surpluses. We would then be in a position to support a larger Defence Force without the strain that would be caused in the present strained circumstances.

We note the recent acknowledgement of Finance Minister Winston Jordan of the need for a stimulus package to reverse the slide of the economy, but urge the Government – as we did six months ago – not to focus solely on the expenditure side of the balance sheet. Rather than criticising the business community for not taking risks, Government must use the panoply of tools at its disposal to reduce – or allow the business community to reduce – those risks.

The liberalisation of the economy was not meant to be confined to the external trading regime only, but also to the internal investment environment. We repeat our call to the Government: “Work with the business community to collaborate on ways to generate more income for the country. In this way, we can have the safety of a prosperous populace protected by well-paid security personnel.”


Guyana prepared to counter U.S. nixing of HIV funding – Dr Cummings

The United States (US) has announced that it would cease pumping money into the fight against HIV/AIDS in Caribbean countries, less than a month after pulling funding from the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF).

Guyana is one country which benefited from the US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the US $15 billion initiative to combat global HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria primarily in 15 HIV Caribbean countries hard hit by these scourges. This fund has been in existence since 2003, but now directors of America’s global fund to fight AIDS around the world say they can no longer justify supporting the upper middle-income countries of the Caribbean, and have ordered fund terminations from as early as this year.

Guyana’s status

However, junior Minister in the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), Dr Karen Cummings, told this newspaper that Guyana is safe in this regard, as Government has been putting contingencies in place for such an occurrence, because it has been expected.

“We have been putting systems in place to phase it in gradually as we strive to embark on our universal coverage in terms of our 90/90 plan — that of seeking to ensure that 90 per cent of the persons who are HIV positive are tested, and those who are tested are treated, and those treated have the viral suppression as well.”

She said the MoPH is still in the program, and is “trying to scale up”. “I would say that we have it under control in the sense that there is funding. We are phasing it in, and we continue to have retroviral to meet the demands of those who are HIV positive,” she explained. “We are still working with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), and the National AIDS Program Secretariat (NAPS) to assist us in this regard. So we have it under control. We also have global funds for HIV, TB and malaria,” she told Guyana Times International.

The Bahamas, which at just over 3% has the highest population prevalence of HIV in the English-speaking Caribbean, will have its funding cut entirely in September 2017, followed by Barbados in 2018. Meanwhile, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago will have their funding slashed to historic lows for two years, before their allocations end in 2019.

Of the middle-income Caribbean countries, only Jamaica will be spared from cuts, but under strict conditions. Far fewer people living with HIV in Jamaica receive treatment than in the other upper-middle income Caribbean countries, and estimates are that more than 3 in 10 Jamaican men who have sex with men are HIV positive. To address this, PEPFAR says, it will move 67-75 per cent of its Caribbean regional budget to the island between 2017 and 2019. In exchange, Jamaica will have to meet ambitious targets to curb its epidemic, or PEPFAR will leave the English-speaking Caribbean region entirely, including the member countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.

In the Caribbean, PEPFAR contributes to the cost of HIV prevention programmes; drug procurement; and the treatment, care and psychosocial support of people living with HIV and AIDS. The Fund also works with community organisations to target HIV prevention and care for LGBT people and commercial sex workers who are on the periphery of direct government programmes.

PEPFAR’s interventions are further supported by health experts at US diplomatic missions, where some vacant posts have already been frozen as a result of the claw back.

PEPFAR’s moves now increase the burden on regional governments to bring their HIV/AIDS epidemics under control, even as public finances in several of the affected countries have already been stretched. With the exception of Haiti, which will retain its PEPFAR funding entirely, a complete regional pullout would leave a US$9 million gap in financing for the Caribbean’s response to HIV and AIDS, based on PEPFAR’s 2014/15 expenditure levels.

Despite some progress, the picture of the Caribbean’s HIV/AIDS response is mixed. Prevention messages that focus on abstinence and condom use are mainstays of national health campaigns, and costly interventions such as drug prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection are off the radar for most. Moralistic views and discrimination against the LGBT community are effective barriers to healthcare, and the prevalence of HIV among these marginalised groups can often run times higher than in the general population.

Strong progress and adoption of international best practices — such as the Barbados decision to treat all people living with HIV, regardless of the stage of their disease — have been largely supported by PEPFAR funds. Central governments will now have limited time to ensure sustainability of these gains, and to finance gaps after the departure of US aid.

While PEPFAR’s directors made no explicit link between their decisions and President Trump’s dictates to cut America’s levels of foreign aid, the repeal of PEPFAR’s reach in the Caribbean follows the administration’s decision to cut funding to the United Nations Food and Population Fund, as well as its removal of federal dollars from Planned Parenthood and other international development programmes.

Guyana’s sugar industry

In spite of the coalition leaders’ promise to keep the sugar industry alive, adopting the “sugar is too big to fail” mantra, the steps they have taken so far seem intended to dismantle this vital industry, which is the mainstay of entire communities.

Today, along with entire estates, the livelihood of sugar workers and the survival of thousands of families are on the chopping block.

During the tenure of the previous Government, despite the challenges facing the survival of the industry, sugar workers’ pay packets were assured, as were their incentive bonuses, no matter how small. Also, their retirement benefits were cast in stone.

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration was determined to sustain the industry, and it strove with a multiplicity of interventions to make sugar production viable again.

At the commissioning of the packaging facility at Enmore in May of 2011, then President BharratJagdeo, addressing Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) management and staff, and workers in the industry’s ancillary services, reiterated his pledge that the PPP/C government would always provide sustained support to “…an industry in which you work, an industry that provides a living for thousands of people, an industry that contributes to our national economy in innumerable ways; in fact, 16 per cent of our [Gross Domestic Product] GDP comes directly from this industry”.

One can draw parallels to indicate the quantum of this amount and its importance to the national economy. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the financial sector contributes just five per cent to that country’s GDP, yet, when there is turmoil in that industry, it threatens to create decades of stagnation in that economy and economies related to it.

“So the sugar industry is vital for Guyana, not just for sugar workers, but there are some realities to this industry, and the path to success will not be easy…but we have to succeed…there is no other choice,” Jagdeo warned.

As he reminded his audience, “We have kept the sugar industry alive in Guyana when sugar industries right across the world – including in the Caribbean – are failing.”

In the waning years of the millennium, several Caribbean islands scrapped their sugar industries in the wake of difficulties faced as a consequence of the European Union (EU) price cuts several years prior. As a result of these unilateral price cuts, Guyana’s sugar prices were 36 per cent less than they were five years prior, which resulted in approximately G$9 billion (US$45 million) in lost or reduced revenue every year. Detractors had a field day, increasingly, pessimistically prognosticating doom-and-gloom scenarios and advocating relinquishing the sector because they envisaged the problems and challenges in the sugar industry as being insurmountable.

However, the then President adamantly assured the stakeholders of the industry that working together Government, workers, and management could make the industry once again successful, despite the very difficult environment – apart from the price cuts. He cited as one of the major challenges facing the industry, the high level of volatility and erratic weather patterns due to global warming. Since then, turnaround plan after turnaround plan has been tried with limited success and billions in subsidies. Some argue that the industry is a drain on the economy and should be rationalised.

Others believe that the naysayers and doom-and-gloom prophets are fulfilling their own prognostications of the imminent closure of the sugar sector, and are relishing sounding the death knell of the survival systems of entire communities, because their perception is that sugar is a PPP/C enclave and destroying the sector would be dismantling the support base of the PPP/C, disregarding the fact that their own supporters are also being affected.


The national discourse on Constitutional reform

With a national discourse hopefully opening up on constitutional reform in Guyana, against a background of accusations of subversion of our Judiciary for political ends by the Executive, the mechanism of “separation of powers” needs to be relooked at in general, and in reference to the Judiciary, in particular.

While the doctrine was first enunciated in the middle of the 18th Century by the Frenchman Montesquieu, it was given life in the first written Constitution of a nation – that of the 13 colonies that rebelled against the tyranny of British rule and established the United States of America. The gist of the concept is simple but profound in its implications. Since the powers of the Leviathan state can be abused when it is controlled by one person or a group, Montesquieu proposed that power could be functionally divided among Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the government. This allocation of powers would be described in the Constitution – the supreme law of the land.

The Executive would be responsible for running the government, the Legislature to enact laws and the Judiciary to ensure those laws are not transgressed by the citizenry and the Constitution not violated by the other two co-equal branches. Because “men are not angels”, in the words of one of the framers of the American Constitution, incumbents always try to increase their powers especially where the lines between the branches of government are not watertight.

For instance, since the Judiciary is the arbiter of the Constitution and, therefore, the guardians of the boundaries of power in the other two branches, citizens have to be very vigilant to ensure that neither of those branches hobble or control the Judiciary when they exercise their power of judicial review. It is for this purpose that, for instance, the salaries of the Judiciary must be independent of Executive control: even judicial mouths may be muzzled by the hands that feed them.

Another way in which the Executive may try to influence judicial decisions is by ensuring the Bench is packed with individuals who they are comfortable with. To lessen this eventuality, in Guyana, Judges are supposed to be nominated by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and then appointed by the President. If, however, the President has some concerns about the nominees, he can return the list to the JSC for reconsideration, but if it returns the list, the President has to either approve the nominees or sit on the list. In the latter case, as is presently the case in Guyana, a crisis can develop in the Judiciary since their ranks can become decimated to such an extent that justice cannot be served in the courts.

In the case of the top two judicial officers – the Chancellor and the Chief Justice, there has to be agreement between the President and the Opposition Leader. If, however, there is no such agreement – as has been the case in Guyana for more than a decade – the President can make “acting appointments” of persons who satisfy his inclinations or criteria. This situation is not very healthy for the Judiciary since citizens may see the incumbents as being compromised because their position is totally dependent on the President.

Another tack has been a growing tendency for the Executive to create administrative tribunals that are courts in all but name – but do not answer to judicial authority excepting in some instances where judicial review may be available. Even though there are several devices to strengthen independence of tribunals, in reality, the latter is rarely achieved.

Another challenge is raised when a legislature, as in Guyana, is a creature of the Executive since the party controlling the two branches are the same. A strong and independent Judiciary is even more vital here. Such legislatures may also violate the separation of powers doctrine when they enact very narrowly crafted legislation that seeks to penalise specific groups of persons. It is with good reason these are dubbed “ad hominum” laws. SARU?