Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds, is of the view that should the APNU+AFC allow the excessive powers vested in the Executive to go unchecked, it will have serious implications for its reputation and legacy.
The political activist said that executive power is a most troublesome area of Guyana’s politics.
He said that the Westminster system is based on Legislative supremacy. He noted, however, that Guyana has long moved away from that to a form of “Executive Tyranny” where the all-powerful executive dominates the other two branches.
Dr. Hinds said that this was taken further with the movement to the Executive Presidency that in effect, separates the Presidency and his executive from the direct oversight of the legislature.
Despite modifications, Dr. Hinds said that the presidency is still powerful.
He said, “One may argue that there is no problem once the chief executive does not abuse his or her power. But extreme and unchecked power has a life of its own. We have seen that played out under the Jagdeo-Ramotar regime.”
The University professor added, “If the Coalition government is to separate itself from its predecessor in this regard, it has to be more pro-active in advocating and working for constitutional reform aimed at further reducing the power of the executive, but more critically to strengthen the legislature as a credible oversight of the executive.”
Dr. Hinds said that it is somewhat disappointing that the Government has not been doing more in this area. He said that it appears to be the old story of critiquing power when one is on the outside but becoming comfortable after attaining it.
The WPA Executive Member said that a few Caribbean countries have used the mechanism of the referendum to push for changes. In this regard, he said that the government needs to explore this possibility.
He added, “If it were to leave power without moving to alter the power mechanism, its legacy would be severely tarnished.”
For the time being, President David Granger continues to remain open to the idea of taming the powers of the Executive.
He has made it clear that the issue is indeed one which remains part of Government’s agenda.
“Mr. Nigel Hughes (AFC Executive Member) has already presented a preliminary report (on Constitutional Reform) and we will be proceeding with discussing it more fully. And it is my view, given the controversy that has surrounded Constitutional reform for nearly 40 years, that we need to go to the people, find out what they think, and have consultation. We need to listen to them, the President remarked.
He added, “Some people seem to have jumped to conclusions and they seem to have their own ideas about the form reform should take. My view is that the people know best and we had better consult them. So yes, if it involves ‘taming’ the powers of the Executive, well, so let it be; but let the people speak. Don’t let us try to tell the people what to think. Let us find out what they need. Let us find out what the people really want to see in their Constitution.”
The Head of State said that he has no intentions of having a “boardroom constitutional reform” but would rather prefer to pursue a public discussion on the matter.
“I want people in their communities to meet and express their views. I don’t want a group of people sitting down in a room saying what must be done,” the President added.
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.
“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 since April 30, last, to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.
The Prime Minister is yet to inform the nation on the status on this report and how Government intends to move forward in this regard.
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