In a liberal democracy, although they should, governments/civil societies/NGOs rarely have a loving relationship. It can be worse in an autocracy or a dictatorship. Indeed, in most cases, ruling elites see themselves in office to govern, while civil society functions as organs to “watch” governments, especially when it comes to constitutional issues. Governments in general tend to view the role and place of civil society with deep mistrust. Opposition parties are no different, their relationship with civil society is more competitive and strategic than tactical. It is usually a marriage of convenience.
Placed in the context of Guyanese politics, where does this difficult relationship place us? To appreciate where we are, we need to start with what can be seen as the proper and appropriate perspective. Guyana is a signatory to the CARICOM Charter for Civil Society (CFCS) of 1997 and the “Liliendaal Statement of Principles” (LSOP) of 2002. The latter was adopted at a special meeting between the heads of state and civil society organizations from across the region. The Charter defines the role of the social partners in public affairs and provides a framework for genuine participatory democracy. It paved the way for greater engagement between government and civil society to support national development. For its part, the LSOP affirms that civil society has a vital role to play in the development of political and social policies and calls for “the establishment of a mechanism for continuous dialogue between civil society and the leaders of the CARICOM to move the initiative forward”.
None of the various articles of the Charter are found in the Constitution of Guyana. The implementation of the LSOP proposal or the “regular institutional dialogue” has also not been followed up. Neither the provisions of the Charter nor the decisions of the LSOP are binding. They remain declarations of intent. Member States, are left to their own devices with regard to implementation. Despite this state of affairs, governments are expected to act honorably and in good faith, in pursuit of the purposes of the Charter and the LSOP. If implemented, the Charter and LSOP are potentially the best and most enduring recommendations of the fifteen Member States of the Community. Under current conditions in the region, and particularly with regard to good governance, the Charter and LSOP can serve as bridges to promote and sustain a modus vivendi between governments and civil society in promoting people-centred development. people, policy formulation, environment and indigenous peoples’ affairs.
Take Article 4.1 of the Charter, for example: “States shall each establish a national committee or designate a body to monitor and ensure the implementation of this Charter and such national committee or body shall include: (a) state representatives; (b) representatives of other social partners; and (c) All other persons of high moral character and recognized competence in their respective fields of activity. The Committee or the national body, as the case may be, examines the implementation of this Charter, analyzes the problems and difficulties encountered and receives reports of allegations of violation or non-respect of the provisions of this Charter attributed to the state. or to one or more social partners. No allegation of violation or non-compliance may be made by any natural or legal person in relation to a matter that has been adjudicated by an international body whose decision is binding on the State.
“The national committee or body shall notify the State or the social partner, as the case may be, of the receipt of any allegation and seek its comments thereon and the national committee or body shall report to the general secretary on the allegations received, along with their comments thereon, including their own views on the matter. Defining people of “high moral character” can be politically problematic, even critical, as long as it is the state that will determine who among its citizens has that specific attribute. The qualification of “high character” was put to the test in 2020 when four lists of names deemed “not unacceptable” by the President were submitted for the position of President of GECOM but were unilaterally rejected by President Granger. Notwithstanding this irritating qualifier, Article XXII of the Charter stipulates: “The States undertake to establish in their respective States a framework for genuine consultations between the social partners with a view to achieving a common understanding and support for the objectives, content and implementation of national economic policies”. and social programs and their respective roles and responsibilities in good governance”
Among the many positive features of the Charter is the fact that in the absence of any manifestation of healthy cooperation, collaboration and communication between governments and civil society, the Charter provides a powerful means for its civil adherents to hold governments accountable and pressure those who strut the halls of power to conduct government business in a transparent manner, whether in the form of public sector investment projects, Cabinet no objection in the awarding of contracts and appointments to constitutional bodies, but especially when a government’s actions require its support of foreign-funded infrastructure megaprojects, appointments and/or an appeal to the Consolidated Fund. Whether they are “one-person” organizations or groups of like-minded individuals, civil society organizations are not necessarily homogeneous in their ideological or philosophical perspective. And while they may differ tactically, they tend toward an unstated but common strategic goal. For many civil society groups, public recognition of their efforts, media exposure, as well as tangible support from the diplomatic community to address constitutional violations, flagrant acts of corruption and support inclusiveness provide oxygen to their existence. .
However, it is the lack or absence of a consensual approach at the tactical and ideological levels that governments seek to exploit, thus rendering unity of action and solidarity among civil society organizations ineffective. However, through a free and independent press as well as social media, civil society organizations have a voice and a means through which their voices are heard on issues of public concern. Specifically, with respect to matters of public interest, the Charter states: “States, in order to secure the morality of public affairs, agree that holders of public office and all who exercise power whose exercise affects or may affect the public interest regulate their affairs in accordance with national law such an order gives no reason for any conflict to arise or appear to arise between their private interests and their duties to the public, or to compromise otherwise their integrity. To this end, the States agree to establish a code governing the conduct of holders of public office and of all those who exercise a power the exercise of which affects or may affect the public interest.
And while reporting responsibilities are included in the Charter, with no obligation to do so, Member States are required to submit regular reports as follows: “States undertake to submit periodically to the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (hereinafter referred to as the “Secretary General”) for transmission to the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, reports on the measures adopted and the progress made in accordance with the provisions of this Charter”. But there is an exception that makes reporting mandatory by member states; these are reports approved by the Conference of Chiefs. During the period of implementation of the provisions of the “Herdmanston Agreement” and the “Saint Lucia Declaration” agreements, Guyana was required to submit progress reports to intersessional or Conference meetings in because of the deep and sustained interest of Heads of State in helping Guyana achieve illusory national goals. reconciliation, social peace and political stability, at least temporarily. Such reports by the current Chairman of the Conference and the President of Guyana at the time were not only necessary but extremely useful for all parties. In addition, Guyana has a long tradition of submitting reports on the status of its relations with Venezuela. In addition, after assigning “portfolio responsibilities” to member states, Guyana was given the responsibility of submitting reports on the state of the agricultural sector in the region.
The Charter provides for the submission of: “Reports, other than special reports which may be requested by the Conference at any time, shall be submitted every three years according to a rotation system to be determined by the Conference, indicating the factors and difficulties , if which affect the implementation of this Charter”. The Charter further stipulates that “when preparing their reports, States shall, in accordance with the provisions of Article XXII, undertake consultations with the social partners, given their crucial role in achieving the objectives of this Charter.In order to ensure transparency and oversight of the reporting process from start to finish, Section 5.(1) of the Charter states that; The Secretary-General shall submit each year for the consideration of the Conference, in accordance with criteria established by the Conference, the reports received from national committees or bodies in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 4, para. graph 3, of this article.
The drafters of the Charter and the Heads of Government of the day, recognizing that their deliberations on the reports of the National Committees should not remain locked behind the walls of CARICOM, went further: “The Secretary-General informs the States and their national committees or bodies of the results of the Conference’s deliberations on reports submitted under this article, as well as any recommendations emanating from their consideration of reported violations, non-compliance, difficulties or problems encountered in the implementation of this Charter. However, in an effort to reinforce the national sovereignty of Member States, the Charter states: “Allegations of violations or non-compliance do not impose any obligation on a State to refrain from carrying out a decision of its courts or ‘other authorities pending review under this section’. So there we have it. There is a way forward. However, whether such a relationship between government and civil society within the meaning of the Charter, the LSOP or both, can emerge in Guyana is the business of all those who have an interest in the realization of such a relationship. .
Clement J. Rohee