M. Maxwell’s 14/11/2014 letter, “Lewis has to stop peddling the notion that attacks on the Burnham constitution are uncalled for” is absent of supporting evidence to negate my consistent position that the Guyana Constitution be respected and enforced. Reading many of the commentators on constitutional condemnation, what has been garnered is a prolonged inconsistency in thinking. This issue of the constitution is not about throwing around terms and holding to clichés, it is about cogently examining the positions that have been advanced.
Some have consistently said the constitution is no good and must be discarded. But yet at the same time, they would quote elements of this same constitution, bringing to the society’s attention that the government is in breach of those articles. This is clearly a double standard. If something is no good, how can you ask for it to be recognised or respected at the same time? This approach is aiding and abetting the lawlessness that is being committed on this society under the guise that the constitution gives the lawless the authority to do so.
I have consistently advanced for the respect and enforcement of our constitution. If, as a people, we become unflinching in demanding respect for our Rights and the Rule Law, this would go a far way in aiding our development and peaceful co-existence. Let me reiterate this position- a constitution is dead at its heart unless it is activated by the people. A constitution is a document made for society. It is the behaviour of the people that would give life to it. I’ve called for enforcement. Maxwell and some have called for scrapping and enforcement of the constitution at the same time. Persons must make up their minds what they want.
If it is felt that the constitution is inadequate, then Article 119A expressly says, “(1) The National Assembly shall establish a Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform for the purpose of continually reviewing the effectiveness of the working of the Constitution and making periodic reports thereon to the Assembly, with proposals for reform as necessary. (2) To assist in its work, the committee shall have power to co-opt experts or enlist the aid of other persons of appropriate expertise, whether or not such experts or other persons are members of the Assembly.”
This Parliamentary Standing Committee is headed by the Leader of the Opposition and calls should be directed to him to activate the Committee in order that ideas can be channeled through this institution. This is the enforcement that I’m talking about. The constitution is not supposed to be honoured in the breach by anyone. This constitution that the Members of Parliament and President swore to uphold makes provision for a Public Service Appellate Tribunal, Human Rights Commission, Public Procurement Commission, Ethnic Relations Commission, yet the nation’s business continues to be conducted without appointments. Am I to understand that persons who despise/ridicule this constitution don’t care about the establishment of these institutions?
Let it be known that the constitution exists and until such time it is amended or scrapped, this is the constitution, and we must be prepared to honour it and hold all accountable. Those constructing reason(s) for the failure to hold elected officials accountable by using Burnham and the constitution as bogeymen are not being honest to themselves and doing this society a grave disservice. President Ramotar and the PPP are being helped day-by-day by those who are planting in the minds of society that it is the Burnham Constitution that is bad, and as such the PPP has a right to run roughshod over this nation and abuse the people in the discharge of governmental responsibilities.
Having been accused as being wrong for cited reference to similar prorogation power existing in other countries that have adapted the British parliamentary system, Maxwell could have helped this nation in the conversation by providing his evidence to establish what he considered to be the truth. Some examples I used to make the point are:
a) Australia Constitution- Section 5 “The Governor General may appoint such times for holding the sessions of the Parliament as he thinks fit, and may also from time to time, by Proclamation or otherwise, prorogue the Parliament, and may in like manner dissolve the House of Representatives.
b) Grenada Constitution- “Article 52.-(1) The Governor-General may at any time prorogue or dissolve Parliament”
c) Guyana Constitution- “Article 70 (1) The President may at any time by proclamation prorogue Parliament.”
President Ramotar invoking his office’s prorogation authority, in this instance, is an abuse of power. While he may argue that it’s a power vested in his office under the constitution, he has failed to accept that the spirit and intent of this power could never have been to silence the voice of the people, to whom the constitution enshrine sovereignty (Article 9). Unfortunately Ramotar’s abuse of the prorogation clause is not singular to him, as seen in Grenada in 2013, Canada in 2008, and other countries that model itself on this Parliamentary procedure. Oftentimes while the Governor-General is the representative Head of State for the Queen, when the Prime Minister as Head of Government proposed, the parties would have already done consultation and approval becomes the matter of formality. In Guyana’s case as a Republic, the Head of State and Head of Government is vested in the same person, similar to the USA, Venezuela, Brazil, and South Africa, to name some.
In evaluating discussions on the constitution, the arguments of some are driven by feeling/perception of Burnham and this continues to cloud vision to the point where content is lacking, reasons cannot be justified or withstand scrutiny. Those who believe the 1980 Constitution is no good, have to understand that you cannot run with the hare and hunt with the wolves at the same time. This is the Constitution that exists and elected officials cannot be given an escape route by the talks that it is no good, even as they are being asked to honour it at the same time. This double standard is bad psychology and poor salesmanship.
If anyone can show me one perfect constitution, I will show them 100 dictators, since it is an inherent behaviour of politicians to want to abuse their privilege by misapplying the constitution to justify their dastardly acts. It is the spirit and intent of every constitution that ought not to be missed in its application, and society has to see to this through holding elected leaders accountable.
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