If the government has evidence that the protestors who picketed outside of the Pegasus Hotel, last Thursday, had engaged in acts of violence and had held persons hostage in their vehicles, this evidence should be produced.
Social media is ubiquitous, and it is most likely that if there was such evidence, it would have already been posted on Facebook. There are pro-government provocateurs who would have been most willing to spread such coverage like the spread of the wildfires in Brazil.
Nothing has been made public which established thuggish behaviour or hooliganism. The PPPC has denied the allegations that its protestors were engaged in hooliganism.
And on top of that, there was this clumsy statement made by the PNCR blaming the GMSA for the disruption of the President’s speech. One remembers a few years ago, PNCR protestors descended upon a PPPC meeting in Buxton and made such a din that the speakers could hardly have been heard. The PNCR therefore has no moral authority on this issue. Neither does it have its facts right.
What is true is that the PPPC supporters, both inside and outside of the protests last Thursday, were boisterous. The PPPC’s actions in disrupting the President’s address were in bad taste. But neither was against the law.
If it is the case that a Minister was held hostage for half an hour, then the large numbers of police which were outside of Pegasus Hotel on that day should be sent packing. If they could have allowed something like that to happen, then they should not be on the job, and their failure to protect the Minister would amount to a dereliction of duty.
People have a right to protest. It does not matter how high one’s office is, everyone can be subject to peaceful and law-abiding protest. The right to protest is protected under the Constitution.
The PPPC was protesting an illegal government. Guyana now has the only unconstitutional government in the world. Three of the major diplomatic missions in Guyana have issued a statement stating that the government was unconstitutional and this would affect its support for the country’s development. The claim of illegality was therefore not contrived. We have reached this stage, because the government was not complying with the provision of the Constitution which required it to have elections within three months.
The excuse about GECOM is poppycock. Once a date was named, GECOM has to be ready and could have been ready. Administrative arrangements cannot take precedence over a constitutional mandate. GECOM’s mandate was supposed to be secondary to the naming of a date for elections.
One of the dangers of the events in Guyana over the past year is that the violation of one right under the Constitution could signal the violation of other rights. Any government which does not respect one right under the Constitution cannot be trusted to comply with others.
Guyanese have had experience of this. There was never any ban against wheaten flour between 1980 and 1985. There was an import restriction, which meant that you needed a licence to import flour. Yet when the police held you with flour, they did not ask you for a licence. They simply seized the commodity and threw you in the lockup.
When in 2017 it was pointed out to the government that its appointment of Justice James Patterson was in violation of the Constitution, the government made all sorts of fanciful statements. When the Court ruled that it is not mandatory for a judge to be appointed, the government made comments to the effect that the Court had its interpretation and the government had its own. The government was going down a slippery slope and it spelt danger for the Guyanese people, as later events confirmed.
The government did not resign and call elections after the passage of no-confidence motion last December. Instead, it went to court to defend its failure to resign. What we have had is a clear case of contempt for the Constitutional provision which insisted on the resignation of the government and the holding of elections within three months.
And this is the danger which faces Guyanese. The violation or disregard of one Constitutional right inevitably leads to contempt for other rights. This is why the public has to take seriously any attempt to holding fast and loose with the Constitution.
Guyana’s constitution has been ‘roughed up’. It has been shoved around over the past nine months. It is bruised and battered. Unlike the government, it cannot defend itself. It requires the voices of citizens to protect it. But when half the country is prepared to ignore constitutional violations or to stay silent in the face of such violations, then the Constitution passes for a piece of tattered paper.
The failure of citizens to demand that the government comply with the Constitution will come back to haunt them, because as we are now seeing, persons exercising their democratic right to protest are being labelled as hooligans, thugs and hostage-takers.
There are other rights which have come under threat during this first term of the APNU+AFC coalition. There were concerns over freedom of expression. There was a case where private citizens were put under surveillance undertaken by army ranks, one of whom died during a car chase on Carifesta Avenue.
The issue of holding elections in accordance with the Constitution is therefore not an isolated issue. One violation of the Constitution can lead to others and we know what can happen in such cases. People can be subject to arbitrary arrest. Their movement can be restricted; their privacy invaded and they can be victimised for speaking out and protesting legitimately. We must not return to those days!
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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