Constitutional reform is needed to curb Presidential excesses currently enjoyed under the existing 1980 Constitution.
This is the view of some legal minds that have waded on the recent course action adopted by former President Bharrat Jagdeo during the investigation over the acquisition of ‘Pradoville Two’ lands.
The probe mounted by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) relates to lands which were converted into an exclusive community cynically dubbed Pradoville Two.
The plots were sold, allegedly, below market value to mainly Government Ministers and others, who were handpicked by Jagdeo and his Cabinet.
SOCU is contending that State monies were used to develop the lands under questionable circumstances.
On Monday, Jagdeo, who also owns a mansion in Pradoville 2, met with officers of SOCU but challenged their right to question him owing to provisions under the constitution.
The former President invoked the constitutional provisions where the Executive President of Guyana is immune from answering any questions about acts done or decisions made while he is acting in that capacity.
However, lawyers who have been following the issue noted that latest development only exposes the naked exercise of power under the existing 1980 constitution.
Article 182 of the Constitution of Guyana shields those holding the office of President from being prosecuted now or later from any civil or criminal matter even if their actions constitutes executive abuses.
The relevant portions read the holder of the office of President shall not be personally answerable to any court for the performance of the functions of his or her office or for any act done in the performance of those functions and no proceedings, whether criminal or civil, shall be instituted against him or her in his or her personal capacity in respect thereof either during his or her term of office or thereafter.
However some legal minds have noted that although the law cannot be invoked retroactively, amendments to the constitution as it relates to exercise of Presidential powers can guard against the future abuse of power by the executive.
“While the amendments to the Constitution in this regard cannot apply to anything Jagdeo and former Presidents would have done while in office because the law cannot be applied retroactively, it will guard against the future use of excessive power by the Executive,” a prominent senior lawyer explained.
In 2015, while on the campaign trail PNC-led coalition had promised that constitutional reform would be top priority for the party once elected to government.
In fact, the issue was the centerpiece of the party’s election campaign manifesto. It was placed at the top of their manifesto priority list, and they vowed to have (constitutional reform) ready within one year of the party’s accession to power (by May 2016).
The manifesto indicated that they plan to introduce “a meaningful constitutional reform programme geared towards improved governance and fair representation.”
And their action plan states, “within the first 100 days of formation of a Government of national unity, the following will be done: establishment of a Constitutional Reform Committee with a mandate to complete consultations, draft amendments, and present same to the National Assembly for approval within nine months.”
More than three years have gone by since this promise was made and a part from setting up a Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform (SCCR), the coalition’s promise on the urgency for reform has yield little to no results.
It was Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo who, following his accession to office, vowed to bring about Constitutional change.
Nagamootoo was quoted as saying “I will be fully occupied, but will pay special attention to information and constitutional reform.”
“I want to start on humbling the powers of the President, the excess powers of the Executive and to bring about inclusion within the government system.”
However, the PM is yet to act on the report from the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform (SCCR) which was concluded in April 2016.
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