I believe that one of the greatest tests for Guyana and Guyanese, over the past two decades perhaps, was the passing of the No Confidence Motion (NCM) in Parliament on the 21st December, 2018. Two significant signs of growth in our society include; the maturity of the people and the strength of some institutions. The passing of the NCM has made these more evident.
The day after the NCM was passed and ever since, it has been business as usual, well for the most part; people were still getting about their business. If one was to conduct a survey, I am sure that a number of factors would be attributed to this calm, but one factor is definitely that we have matured as a people.
I also believe that social media played a major role by creating the space for citizens to vent, express themselves, laugh at themselves and essentially, transmit information. So many persons, instead of taking to the streets, took to social media to express themselves.
The role and strength of some institutions was also major in ensuring that the country did not fall apart. The functioning of two Arms of Government are severely affected by the passing of the NCM. The ability of the Executive Arm to function is restricted and the Legislature for the most part was non-functional; it is not business as usual as it relates to the governance of the country. Here is where I would like to highlight the role of the Judiciary as the third Arm of Government and the critical role it is playing in enforcing and upholding the Rule of Law in an effort to ensure that there remains a sense of stability in the country.
The response from the Judiciary is commendable. But let me revert to the Speaker of the National Assembly who upheld the NCM and effectively transferred the matter to the Judiciary for interpretation. This was no doubt a tough decision but nevertheless, one that showed the highest level of professionalism.
The Executive Arm of the Government sought a Judicial review on the validity of the NCM in the High Court. The Chief Justice’s decision was essentially that the NCM was validly passed. The Executive Arm proceeded to the higher Court, the Court of Appeal, where two of the three Judges ruled that 34 votes constituted an absolute majority and was required to pass the NCM, instead of 33; one Judge dissented. The Opposition PPP/C appealed the decision to a highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the CCJ ruled in favour of the Opposition, noting that 33 votes constitutes a majority for the passing of the NCM in the 65-seat Parliament. We now await the CCJ’s decisions in the consequential orders today.
The CCJ also ruled that President Granger’s unilateral appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was flawed. The Chairman of GECOM, Rev. Retired Justice Patterson has since resigned from that position.
Since human behaviour is unpredictable, society created laws and rules as a part of the construct of the society, to limit the behaviour of individuals and institutions. I think the Judiciary stood tall and played a tremendous role in preventing the society from disintegrating, by upholding the Rule of Law which is the authority and influence of the law that serves to constrain the behaviour of individuals from the Executive and Opposition as well as other institutions and the people as a whole.
Additionally, we have seen positive signs of an emerging Judiciary which augurs well for the growth and sustainability of Guyana, providing that it is allowed to assert its independence. On 24th June, Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry ruled that Finance Minister Winston Jordan was to be jailed for 21 days if he failed to comply with a previously issued court order to pay Trinidad construction company Dipcon the more than US$2 million owed to it by the government for road construction works.
On 5th July, a Full Court comprising Justices Simone Morris-Ramlall and Diane Insanally refused to grant a stay of Justice Sewnarine-Beharry’s order to the Attorney General Basil Williams who was representing Minister Jordan. On 8th July, President David Granger granted respite to save the Minister of Finance from imprisonment.
Four years ago, in April of 2015, Former President and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had been summoned to appear in an East Berbice court to answer a private criminal charge by then Magistrate Charlyn Artiga at the Whim Magistrates’ Court. It was alleged that Mr. Jagdeo had made statements which were believed to be in violation of one of Guyana’s electoral laws, The Representation of the People Act
In May 2018, Chief Justice Roxane George had ordered the Attorney-General to bring the long-delayed Judicial Review Act into force no later than July 31st, while finding that his failure to do so thus far was unlawful and in violation of the will of the Parliament. The National Assembly had approved the Judicial Review Bill since October 2010. Subsequently, in the Court of Appeal, Justice of Appeal Rafiq Khan dismissed a request for a stay of execution application by the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs. Judge Khan noted that the Minister was trying to frustrate and obstruct the operationalization of the Judicial Review Act.
These are positive signs and the impact of strong institutions and upholding the Rule of Law for the stability of the country, even in difficult times of political uncertainties, and despite the authority of the parties involved in the matters.
Another important group to maintaining stability in the public sector, and the country as a whole, is Permanent Secretaries. Permanent Secretaries are really the guardians of the principles of the public service; Ministers and politicians will come and go. Also, many ministers and politicians do not understand policy development, management, diplomacy, governance, and one of the key roles of the Permanent Secretaries is to uphold the principles; therefore it is critical for them to be strong.
Other key institutions for the ‘New’ Guyana are the Police Force, Guyana Revenue Authority, Guyana Prison Service, Immigration Department, these are crucial for maintaining stability in the country; economic and otherwise, and it is important that they become strong.
Another main group is the professional associations. Professionals associations should bring a depth to the dynamic of the country and if developed and conducted in a professional and impartial manner, could become one of the pillars upon which the ‘New’ Guyana – the Oil and Gas Guyana – can be built and developed. Key associations include the Guyana Bar Association, Guyana Women Lawyers’ Association, Private Sector Commission, Chambers of Commerce, Guyana Association of Professional Engineers, among others. Much more focus needs to be placed on strengthening these institutions in preparation for the oil and gas era.
In the case of the Judiciary, we have seen the critical role of a strong institution to maintaining stability. To the Judges and Magistrates well done! Do not be intimidated, this strong posture is absolutely critical for the ‘Oil and Gas Guyana’.
Citizen Audreyanna Thomas
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