The premise by which most societies adhere to is that the person at the top of the food chain is ultimately accountable for whatever occurs during his or her watch – whether it’s in government or a private company or even in one’s home. “The buck stops here” is a phrase that was popularized by U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who kept a sign with that phrase on his desk in the Oval Office. The phrase refers to the fact that the President has to make the decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.
In Guyana, the buck never stops at the President’s door, the Executive President of Guyana is immune from prosecution for life, and as a result, there is zero accountability for anyone who holds this office. This is an insulation from responsibility and a complete warped and twisted law that has been put into place by Forbes Burnham and the PNC. No other head of state in the Caribbean enjoys these protections from prosecution.
My point is that this specific law allows the President and ultimately the government of the day to abuse the powers granted to their office without consequences, thus these laws are a catalyst to bad behaviour by the ruling party of the day. We have seen over the years that it does not matter whether it is the PNC or the PPP that is in office, and frankly it does not matter even if the AFC is elected, they also would behave badly and abuse the powers of their office as long as these powers are in place allowing a President to get away with libel, abusing the rights of innocent citizens, etc.
Human beings want to believe in the good of mankind, and we should, but we all know too well that this same goodness can quickly turn into evil if persons are put into a certain position of authority to lord over others with no mechanisms to restrain or contain their exuberance.
Guyanese owe it to ourselves to protect all citizens in this country from future abuses of power by politicians, regardless of whether it is your politician or not. We have seen a party that embodied many of the ideals we respected and we fought actually evolve into an entity indistinguishable from Burnham’s PNC. As a matter of fact we now have two PPP Presidents who are so bold that they state they see nothing wrong with the current Burnham constitution and powers bestowed upon the Presidency. This has got to be the height of arrogance; it is incredibly shameless of these politicians to in the same breath curse the PNC while simultaneously they wallow in all the worst parts of the PNC’s history.
I was told by the late Sheila Holder that the opposition did question Cheddi Jagan and ask him to get rid of these autocratic powers, and his response at the time was “do you think I will become a dictator?” (quite an interesting response from Jagan and Jagdeo proved him to not be a strategic thinker) and thus these laws were never repealed. This showed quite an unusually careless and dare I say ill thought-out response from Jagan. Or was it? Well I bet if Sheila Holder could have gone back and answered Cheddi’s rhetorical question, she would have had a litany of answers for him. It is up to us, the future of this country today, to answer Cheddi’s question and say yes, we think your party has the elements in it that would become and have become dictators, elected dictators.
The opposition has a duty to this country and its citizens to immediately start passing laws to repeal the powers that allow the President and any other to abuse the powers of their office and stomp on the rights of citizens. For a change, the politicians in this country need to put the people of this land first. We are demanding that you remove these powers that allow any President to be immune from prosecution, it is a direct assault on democracy and it is an affront to good governance. Let us level the playing field and demand respect from a President of this country to respect us the electorate. Is this too much to ask?
There needs to be a referendum in Guyana on eliminating these powers that are enablers which create autocratic and dictatorial leaders in this country. We must put our people first and demand that a referendum be held now on this issue of Presidential powers of excess and abuse.
John B. Singh
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