By: Kiana A. Wilburg
When Former President Donald Ramotar prorogued the Tenth Parliament, it awakened a discussion on
taming the powers of the Executive. And leading this discussion at the national level was the hierarchy of the Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).
Members from both sides agreed that during Ramotar’s reign, Guyana experienced an unprecedented abuse of Executive power. They agreed, too, that there is a need to alter the boundless authority afforded to the Head of State.
But even under the “Better life for All” leadership, the AFC maintains that the powers of the Executive need to be reexamined and amended.
AFC Executive Member, Nigel Hughes, had outlined that one of the important things the Constitution speaks to is the distribution of power and how it should be exercised. Referring to Article 51, the Attorney-at-Law said that supreme democratic power should be vested in three organs; the Presidency, Parliament and Cabinet.
Hughes had said, “What you have is the President being a part of the parliament and then when you go to Cabinet, you have him there, where he has supreme executive power. So in effect, he has power of all three organs of the state.
“He dominates them, and this is long before we come to discuss his immunities from suit, which means that in the exercise of his executive power, he is not answerable to the court or anyone; he can only be removed by grave misconduct, ill-health or loss of confidence in him by the House.”
Hughes, a practicing Attorney, said that the current structure of the Constitution gives the President absolute power to govern. The AFC has advocated for this to be addressed with urgency, for power, he opined, must be distributed evenly.
The other difficulty with the Constitution and the powers vested in the President, Hughes said, is how one becomes President due to the party list system.
“Let’s say you have three political parties in a race. One gets 33 percent of the votes, the other 32 and the last 31 for argument sake. The party with the 33 percent gets to be President with full executive power. In essence you are giving this person or party, which doesn’t represent a plurality, the presidency, and it puts the nation particularly at a disadvantage, because you have people from different cultural backgrounds not being represented when the 32 and 31 percentages are combined.
“If you continue this, then you perpetuate a system where others are excluded and they will have no representation in the executive and the executive is where the decisions are really made, that is where policies are made and carried out.”
“My position on that issue has not changed… My position does not depend on who is the
President; my position depends on the powers not who is occupying the position of the President. You don’t wait till you have a good candidate to decide whether or not you are going to change the powers of the President. You try to protect yourself in the event that you have a bad candidate. So the fact that you may have a good candidate now is not a basis that you should change your position at all.”
Hughes did not want to state whether this was noted during the discussions of the Committee on Constitutional Reform. He said that he was the convener on the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform and the report on its finding and recommendations was submitted on April 30, last to Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo. Hughes said that he would leave it to the Prime Minister to reveal any content in that regard.
The AFC Executive Member noted that Guyana needs a Constitution that protects the people from the possibility of abuse. He maintained that he saw it as a priority issue during the campaign trail and maintains the same stance now.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, the First Vice President said, “…I would want to believe that it (amending the powers of the Executive) is not an issue that stands alone.
“We have to see how is it that the Constitution could be reworked and amended or reformed to bring about greater comity between the powers of the Executive and the Legislature and particularly how you could be able to diffuse some of the powers of the Executive to bring some of those powers within the purview of the Prime Minster.
“That was (one of) the intention (s) of the Cummingsburg Accord. It might not have been a manifesto promise but I am not the one to decide whether these things are to be done now.”
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