A country has to be governed by laws, not by policy, because policy can be subject to arbitrariness and caprice. No country should subject its citizens to the whims of public officials, because to do so, exposes them to being abused.
Policy cannot supersede law. The law is always paramount to policy, and policy has to be consistent and subservient to the law. If the law allows certain actions, then policy cannot make prescriptions that override those laws.
One of the unfortunate things with the politicians in this country is that they seek to make policy which imposes conditions on citizens which are not backed by laws.
This is the first stage towards arbitrary rule. The second step is when those who administer the law begin to believe that they make the law and therefore whatever they say or do has the force of law.
The common law has its roots. One of its main roots is the defence of private property. Indeed, there are some who hold to the view that the very reason why the common law emerged was in order to protect private property.
This defence of private property goes to the heart of our legal system. Without our legal system, private property would be subject to the caprice of rulers and to the mercy of those with greater strength and force.
Indeed, if there was no common law, the State would have free rein in encroaching on the private property of others.
A person could be dispossessed of his or her property at the fancy of another and not have any recourse.
The defence of private property, therefore, remains a key aspect of the common law, and by extension, of a country’s legal system. But by also granting constitutional protection against the arbitrary deprivation of property, the laws of most democracies have now placed the protection of property under the law, and in the case of Guyana, it is under our supreme law that individuals are expressly protected from being arbitrarily deprived of their property.
It is important, therefore, that the State, and particularly our high-strung public officials, be restrained from believing that they can dictate to a citizen how he or she should use their property.
It is the right of every citizen to determine what he or she wants to do with his or her property; be it a house, a piece of land or a vehicle. Obviously this right, protected by the common law, is not absolute. It cannot be used for unlawful purposes or to deprive someone of his or her legally safeguarded rights.
But if I own a piece of property, the State has no role in telling me what I can lawfully not do with it. They cannot, for example, tell me what to do or to whom I should sell that property. It is my property, and once it is not used to commit a crime, then no one has any right to tell me what I can do or not do with it.
This is not just a polemical issue; it is not just a legal issue. It goes to the very heart of the relationship between a citizen and the State. The State cannot and should not be allowed to encroach on the private spheres of citizens, because to do so would amount to tyranny.
Public officials therefore cannot, either through policy or otherwise, dictate to any citizen how his or her property should be used.
Once the State begins to encroach on the private property of others, when it assumes that it has such a right to tell a citizen what he or she should do with what he or she owns, then we are on the road to anarchy.
The very legal architecture of the country is going to be threatened and the rights of citizens would become like common currency to be traded freely.
This is a fate that must be avoided in Guyana, especially in the midst of those who feel that public office grants them a licence to prosecute personal agendas and settle personal scores.
If this threat is not contained then every citizen, big or small, rich and poor, powerful and weak, is in grave danger. The right to public property must be preserved in all its manifestations.
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