Talks of constitutional reform and shared governance are doing the rounds again, in what have become sporadic and less than straightforward discourses anytime political power is believed to be threatened or desire to be achieved. Recent Local Government Elections have re-ignited these discourses and with the upcoming National and Regional Elections, there will likely be more.
Citizens are being informed shared governance is desired because it does not exist, and this can only come through constitutional reform. The pretense of its absence is the result of political leaders who do not understand the concept as presented in the Guyana Constitution or lack the will to implement it.
On the other hand, there is a call for all the political parties to be included in the Cabinet, which for the proponents constitutes shared governance. There is disagreement with this proposal, because it doesn’t constitute shared governance, but that of the political leaders ganging up against the ordinary people.
Let’s for instance take the issue of Collective Bargaining which is a constitutionally protected right for workers that are unionised. Going back to Desmond Hoyte, as Leader of the Opposition, when the PPP/C government engaged in the imposition of wages and salaries in the public sector, there was loud condemnation from the Opposition. As the PPP/C continued this malpractice, the Opposition, during the leadership of Robert Corbin and David Granger, remained vocal in condemnation.
For the past three years, and it will happen again this year, the David Granger/Moses Nagamootoo government has been engaging in the exact transgression and violation they condemned the PPP/C government for. Instructively, the PPP/C’s silence on this matter is deafening, and this can only be because the coalition’s behaviour has signalled an act of kindred spirit. The PPP knows that should it be elected to office, the incumbent would have no moral authority to condemn any act of transgression or violation.
If the past is a prologue, given the track record of some in government and opposition, the ordinary folks can only envisage when these forces are put together, in one Cabinet, what will happen to us. They have already signalled their avaricious appetite will come at the expense of the people. They have secured for themselves access to quality healthcare, as the ordinary man remains deprived. With remuneration packages that far exceed the common man and compete with leaders in developed societies – a standard that will not be adversely affected in retirement – they are set for life.
We must also be wary of the notion that elected representatives are considered rulers. Rulers seldom see themselves having to operate in the interest of the masses and be held accountable by the people. Putting all these men and women in the same Cabinet, given their current conduct, they will make the colonial masters look like angels. Be it the coalition or PPP government, none takes kindly to their decisions being questioned or held to account. Many who dare do this are aware they do so at their peril, given that they are likely to be targeted.
So-called platitudes of becoming “united” and achieving a “government of national unity” must give rise to cause for concern. Who will tell who not to engage in corrupt practices, not to violate the laws or trample on the citizens, and if any so choose, isn’t it expected he/she will be excommunicated from the fold? How could we the people prevent the making of decisions to protect and advance the interest, first and foremost, of the political class and having them concoct stories as to why we must bear our chafe? This type of shared governance is a recipe for entrenching poor governance.
For Guyana’s good, our politicians are better apart, watching the other like a hawk. The desire to get into office allows the activating of the checks and balances in the governance system. Even though at times action(s) could be considered self-serving, such often result to the nation’s benefit, for we become informed and could add our voices to what is taking place. In our scenario, while the politicians’ pursuit may not be that of good governance, the appetite to challenge and expose the other create, the opportunity to demand its fostering.
If there is political will to achieve genuine shared governance, it must start with the current Constitution. Since 1980 there has been established three tiers of government, i.e. a form of shared governance. It constitutes the sharing of political and executive/administrative authority at the Central/National, Regional and Local levels. From 1992, this has become more pronounced in the regions and local authorities, and recently the National Assembly, based on the control by and gains of various political parties, groups or individuals.
Regional governance is still being denied its constitutional autonomy due to the absence of required legislation and unwillingness of the national political leaders to remove their chokeholds over the regions. On one hand, the leadership in Georgetown wants to dictate who must be the leaders within the respective regions. On the other hand, Central Government wants to determine the agenda of the regions, even when it has little or no political control. This nation has seen where regions are won by the opposition, resources have been denied the people to develop their communities. Putting all the politicians in the Cabinet will not solve this. Solving this requires respecting the right to self-determination, including freedom of association and the electing of one’s leaders.
In 1999, Guyana went through another constitutional process of reform. It was felt that rampant discrimination in the management of the nation’s business and distribution of its resources had come to a head and must be addressed. For several months the input of stakeholders was solicited and received in designing a system of governance that can be more inclusive and relevant to our needs. This is evident in the seminal Article 13, along with others.
Ralph Ramkarran, who headed the Constitutional Reform Commission, is one of the leading proponents for reform and change in the governance structure. It would have been expected that as Chairman, he would have deemed it of import to have the body of work that was developed and placed in the Constitution be implemented through laws and other measures.
This commission was not treated with lightly and seen as a landmark project for this nation. The failure by Ralph and other leading operatives – such as Rupert Roopnarine, who was a member, and Moses Nagamootoo, who was politically active – to protect and advance this work, brings into question whether there was ever any seriousness at the beginning, and to what purpose were their roles.
How can persons be intimately involved in conceptualising and building structures, and without seeing to the reward of the labour (mental and otherwise) find it more worthwhile carrying the society down the proverbial rabbit hole. Are we becoming a nation of mice, where characters of national prominence can no longer stand up and defend beliefs embraced, even though these remain relevant and just?
The talks about constitutional reform and shared governance are not buttressed by reasoned thinking. This is in large part due to the absence of regard for the instrument, and the recommendations made by the United Nations (UN), whose input was solicited by the Coalition as to how to proceed. Additional to the non-implementing of the recommendations by the APNU+AFC, there seems to be scant regard for the UN, evident in the disregard for the advice offered. Two of these are the need for public education on the Constitution and proceeding with reform in a deliberative manner.
Article 119A speaks to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform which is tasked with engaging in review of the Constitution. Public education will bring grassroots’ awareness as to what currently exists and how same can benefit the citizens. Society must decide whether attitudes are being informed by a serious desire to change our way of life in an organised manner, capitalising on the demonisation of the Constitution to play on fears, and/or considered a sexy topic that will garner attention and hold no one accountable.
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