Attorney Nigel Hughes has come up with a cluster of constitutional points which form a new constitutional arrangement for this troubled land. Before we enumerate his adumbrations, mention should be made of a trenchant reminder by Hughes of obnoxious sections of the 1980 Constitution, a reading of which is bound to disgust you. Here is what Hughes observed:
“Article 50 of the Constitution boldly proclaims “The Supreme organs of democratic power in Guyana shall be (i) The Parliament (ii) the President and (iii) the Cabinet.
One may well draw the conclusion that the three organs of democratic power are separate, divided and equal. The very next article in the Constitution, article 51, begins the unmasking of the true architecture behind the distribution of power.
Article 51 located in a different chapter under the heading PARLIAMENT. Composition of Parliament states, “There shall be a Parliament of Guyana, which shall consist of the PRESIDENT and the National Assembly”. The second “organ of democratic power”, the Presidency, is vested with “supreme executive authority” by virtue of the provisions of Article 89 of the Constitution.
The third and final “organ” the cabinet, is constituted as follows in Article 106 “There shall be a Cabinet for Guyana, which shall consist of the President and such other Ministers as may be appointed by the President. The power to appoint is coupled with the power to terminate which is located in Article 183 3(b) which provides “The office of any Minister shall become vacant if the President so directs…”
“The icing on the cake is located in Article 99 which does not vest executive authority in the Cabinet, but in the President. But it gets worse. If as Article 13 has mandated, that the principal objective of the political system is to establish “an inclusionary democracy”, then the manifestation of inclusionary democracy is a mirage, as Article 50 locates democratic power effectively in the hands of the President.” (End of quote)
We should thank Nigel Hughes for this unambiguous and straightforward explanation of what Forbes Burnham wrote into that 1980 constitution. Long before Hughes’s exposition of Forbes Burnham’s tight grip on power, two UG professors – Rudy James and Harold Lutchman – in the eighties wrote a superb book on the 1980 constitution that showed the power instincts of Mr. Burnham. Titled “Law and Political Environment” the authors demonstrated that you will find an article in the constitution that gives power to the citizenry, then another article overrides that and empowers the president in an absolute way.
Nigel Hughes proposes far-reaching constitutional changes that, if they become a reality, could be the beginning of the end of political hegemony that began in British Guiana a long, long time ago, and which has virtually killed off the future of this country a long, long time ago.
Included in Hughes’s formula are the following; there should be direct election for the presidency; the president’s Cabinet selections must have approval of the National Assembly, the US system embodies this feature; ministers do not necessarily have to be Parliamentarians. The section of Hughes’s outline that I have an emotional attachment to is his advocacy for the severe reduction of the immunities of the president.
Hughes wants the president to be open to criminal and civil litigation after his/her presidential tenure is over. He suggests that if during his/her tenure, the president commits a criminal violation, then after demitting office, the president can face criminal charges. This is a priceless inclusion in a package of constitutional changes that can save a nation from tyrannical torment.
It is my unshakeable belief, to which I cling tenaciously, that several civil and criminal cases can be made out against Mr. Jagdeo during his twelve-year reign as an autocratic president. I honestly believe the evidence is overwhelming.
Mr. Hughes promised to submit a more far-reaching document about constitutional changes. Because of his national standing and popularity, his proposals have given weight to the discussion on exigent constitutional newness that this country must have sooner than later.
One of the greatest ironies in the political history of Guyana is that the PPP, which denounced with mad fury the 1980 Constitution, and facetiously nicknamed it the “Burnham Constitution”, has mastered it more than Burnham himself. Both Jagdeo and Ramotar have resorted to unilateral use of the authoritarian sections of the document that Burnham and Desmond Hoyte never did. I don’t believe in their wildest imagination that Dr. Mohamed Shahabudeen and Sir Shridath Ramphal who worked on the 1980 document would have thought that the PPP would have made more use of the 1980 paper than Burnham himself. What an irony!
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