Jul 03, 2022 News
The Constitution and You
“We the Guyanese people, heirs of the indomitable will of our forebears, in a spirit of reconciliation and cooperation, proclaim this Constitution, in order to” firstly, “safeguard and build on the rich heritage, we won, through tireless struggle, bequeathed by our forebears.”
By Gary Eleazar
Kaieteur News – Guyana, through years of struggle, on May 26, 1966 lowered the Union Jack for the last time and hoisted the Golden Arrowhead, marking the beginning of a new era as a free and independent nation, free to determine its destiny and more importantly in charge of setting its own rules.
Early in this young nation’s existence, there were changes to be made but it was not until 1980 that the country was able to formally move in that direction.
So, in the beginning, there was the end, the end of one epoch with the repeal of Guyana Independence Act and Independence Order of 1966, in order to pave the way for the nation’s Supreme Law—the Constitution of Guyana—which came into force, in October 1980.
With the coming into being of the Constitution, the rights of every Guyanese were enshrined in Law, as is the case with new legislative protocols and mechanisms for government, the newborn country and encapsulates, among other things, the exercise of the powers of Parliament and the President.
The all-encompassing laws were also constructed to address, inter alia, the role and powers of the Prime Minister, Cabinet, Supreme Court, Commissions and critically, the country’s electoral list and a list of electors.
This, since it was the birth of a new way of doing things in the young democratic nations, nestled on the northern shores of South America between Spanish speaking neighbour to the West Venezuela, Dutch Guiana/Suriname to the east and to the South, Brazil.
With its new destiny ahead, Prime Minister Linden Forbes Burnham at that time assumed the post of Executive President of Guyana of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, with new homegrown rules in hand. The country had 10 years earlier attained its Republican status, stripping off the final cords of colonial rule.
The final document is divided into a number of sections, each subdivided the first of which, aptly names the new law, Chapter 1:01 Constitution of The Cooperative Republic of Guyana Act.
Immediately thereafter, this law goes on to begin establishing its Supremacy, as has been adumbrated by numerous legal scholars in many forums, including the Magistracy and Judiciary when lawyers argue a case or rulings are handed down and National Assembly where legislators oftentimes consider the implications of their actions and its conformity to the Constitution.
That Article reads, “References in Article 133 of the Constitution to any question as to the interpretation of the Constitution shall be construed as including references to any question as to the interpretation of any provision of this act.”
In short, wherever Article 133 and its provisions references a section of the constitution, its meaning must be in conformity with other provisions in that document.
Article 133, which is referenced, deals with Appeals on constitutional questions and fundamental rights.
It reads, (1) An Appeal to the Court of Appeal shall lie as of right from decisions of the High Court in the following cases, that is to say—(a) final decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings on questions as to the interpretation of this Constitution; and (b) final decisions given in the exercise of the jurisdiction conferred on the High Court by article 153 (which relates to the enforcement of fundamental rights and freedoms.”
As with the case with just about any law written, there are caveats, in this case Article 133 (2) stipulates, “Nothing in this paragraph (1) shall apply to the matters for which provision is made in Article 163.”
A perusal of Article 163 outlines that this delves into specifically, the determination of questions as to the membership and elections for members of the country’s 65-member legislative body, consisting those elected to government and opposition.
Guyana has had some experience with this aspect of the Constitution in the recent past, when the matter of eligibility was raised in relation to a number of then sitting Ministers and this column intends to also explore this in future.
That 1980 Constitution—since amended somewhat—commonly referred to as the Burnham Constitution, has not been in existence without its share of condemnation and praise, nonetheless, the course had been charted.
But who exactly charted this course. No doubt there would have been numerous contributions to its final formulation by legal luminaries. Since laws are written for its words or text to be considered, according to lawyers, to be taken in the content of its spirit and intent.
The document itself provides some insight, as adumbrated in Preamble to the more than 230 Articles—each subdivided into a plethora of provisions and further supplemented by even more schedules.
In that it affirms immediately, “We the Guyanese people, heirs of the indomitable will of our forebears, in a spirit of reconciliation and cooperation, proclaim this constitution, in order to” firstly, “safeguard and build on the rich heritage, we won, through tireless struggle, bequeathed by our forebears.”
The Constitution of Guyana; “affirms our sovereignty, our independence and our indissolubility; Forge a system of government that promotes concerned effort and broad based participation in the national decision-making in order to develop a viable economy and harmonious community based on democratic values, social justice, fundamental human rights and the rule of law.”
Enshrined too in the solemn preamble is the stated intention of the document to cement celebrating “our cultural and racial diversity and strengthen our unity by elimination any and every form of discrimination.”
Speaking directly to Guyana’s first peoples, the Guyana Constitution proclaims that Guyanese ‘value the special place in our nation of the Indigenous Peoples and recognise their right as citizens to land security and to their promulgation of policies for their communities.”
Additionally, Guyana’s supreme laws immediately sought to proclaim and acknowledge “the aspirations of our young people who, in their own words, have declared that the future of Guyana belongs to its young people, who aspire to live in a safe society which respects their dignity, protects their rights, recognises their potential, listens to their voices, provides opportunities, ensures a healthy environment and encourages people of all races to live in harmony and peace and affirm that their declaration will be binding on our institutions and be part of the context of our basic law.”
Additionally, it accommodates an affirmation that “we the Guyanese people proclaim this constitution in order to” demonstrate the nation’s commitment to protecting the country’s natural “environment and endowment (natural resources, et al).”
Importantly, it establishes that “as citizens of Guyana, we adopt these fundamental laws and make provision for their amendment to reflect the changes in our society, inspired by our collective quest for a perfect nation, whose characteristics include the commitments, concepts and other principles proclaimed.”
With this in mind, it would be poignant to at least have an idea, who those framers were, since for all intents and purposes, they are the ones that ultimately penned the new rules for a sovereign nation.
Next week, ‘The Constitution and You’ will delve into just who exactly played this critical role before moving onto exploring this guiding instrument that has since played a crucial role in the unfolding of the country’s evolution on its own.
Feel free to send comments to [email protected] or [email protected]
(Disclaimer: The author of this article is not an attorney or constitutional scholar and the information conveyed above is not meant to be legal advice on Constitutional matters in any way)
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