Across the globe, the calls for a deepening of democracy go on. In President Obama’s address directed to the world Muslim community, he noted that while no form of governance should be “imposed” on any country, there is “a single standard for all who would hold power” democratically. They would have to “maintain power through consent” i.e. through elections and “respect the right of minorities”. In Guyana, few would doubt that the first condition (free and fair elections) has been satisfactorily met, but there have been complaints about the latter – minority rights. From a political participation perspective within a parliamentary system, the rights of the minority are summarised in the ancient phrase “auditor et altera pars” – let the other side be heard. What this means in practical terms is that the party that captures the majority of votes forms the government and has the wherewithal to pass any piece of legislation it introduces in parliament.
The remaining party or parties that form the minority in parliament, form the opposition and a perennial problem of democratic governance is how to ensure that this minority is effectively “heard”. Obviously, it is not enough for the minority to only be allowed to rise and speak in debates and the government blithely proceeds to enact legislation that consistently ignores the opposition’s viewpoint.
On the other hand, the government has received a mandate to govern and must be allowed to enact its enabling legislation. How then are these two always immanent imperatives to be balanced? In Parliamentary democracies, the dilemma is addressed by the workings of Special and Standing Committees, in which proposed bills and other governmental proposals are examined by governmental and opposition representatives, in a more collegial atmosphere. Additionally, there is a Parliamentary Accounts Committee that is always chaired by a member of the opposition, which is authorised to scrutinise and report on the spending of the government. These participatory mechanisms were deemed insufficient to our local conditions, and in the 2000 reforms of the Constitution, two key innovations were introduced.
The first was a Parliamentary Management Committee, comprised of members of all the parties elected to Parliament and chaired by the Speaker. The agenda of Parliament is set in this forum and one disappointment since then, is that the opposition has not been as vociferous as it could have been to insist that Members’ Day – in which they could present their concerns to Parliament – be more consistently held. The most radical change to let the minority be heard, however, was the creation of four Sectoral Committees – Economic, Natural Resources, Foreign Relations and Social Services. These spanned the entire gamut of governmental activities and their remit was to “scrutinise” those activities – under a structure in which the government maintained its majority, the chair for each committee was rotated annually between the government and opposition.
These innovations provided tremendous scope for the minority to have their voices heard, since the committee can summon any Minister or governmental officer to explain government’s work, in real time.
Last week, the Economic Services Committee presented its report to the Parliament and while there was widespread support for the report, some opposition members claimed that information provided in one hearing was “inaccurate”. But this protestation highlights a persistent failure of opposition elements to live up to the responsibilities imposed by the new inclusive facility: the cavilling opposition member should have conducted the necessary research either before, or after the testimony to contradict the alleged prevaricator.
The opposition members also unnecessarily restrict their remit, by not utilising their cracks at the chairmanship of the committees more creatively. The bottom line is that in widening and deepening our democratic credentials, especially those that represent the minority, must work much more diligently to exploit the opportunities presented to ensure the latter’s rights are secured.
May 27, 2020The Guyana Boxing Association (GBA) was on Monday informed that the four boxers stranded in Cuba have been given approval to return to Guyana. This information was given during informal discussion...
May 26, 2020
May 26, 2020
May 25, 2020
May 25, 2020
May 25, 2020
With less than half the votes completed so far in the recounting project, Joe Harmon, (the only man in history who insinuated... more
By Sir Ronald Sanders Caribbean countries are, once again, being placed in a difficult position as they try to navigate... more
Editor’s Note, If your sent letter was not published and you felt its contents were valid and devoid of libel or personal attacks, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]