Kaieteur News – Now that the law has been passed for the establishment of a Constitutional Reform Commission, it is time for hearings to be organized and for suggestions and recommendations to be taken on board to create a Constitution that truly reflects the idea that sovereignty belongs to the people.
This column will not waste time trying to justify the need for changes. Instead it will make a few recommendations which will help to ensure a People’s Constitution – that is a Constitution that serves the interests of the citizens and not solely that of the political elite.
The first suggestion concerns the name of the country. It should be changed from The Co-operative Republic of Guyana, to Guyana. The country is no longer a co-operative republic. Cooperatives are no longer the principal instrument for creating a socialist state and in fact have become dysfunctional and shunned by the people. Most citizens refer to the country as ‘Guyana’.
Second, the reference to the country being in transition from capitalism to socialism should be deleted. The prospects of socialism died when Burnham and Jagan passed to the Great Beyond. The former failed to establish socialism and the latter abandoned any hope of doing so in the post-Cold War era. If anything the country appears to be in transition towards neo-liberal capitalism.
Third, all declaratory provisions that are non-justiciable should be deleted from the Constitution. These provisions, especially Article 13, merely speak to the political, economic and social objectives of the State but are not enforceable in any court of law. They create more confusion and polemics rather than help the ordinary citizen. They are part of the arsenal of bourgeois promises that are never given effect. They are rhetorical devices that overload the Constitution.
The Constitution already has a preamble which speaks to the aim and objectives of the State. There is no need for declaratory provisions which have no enforceability in a court of law.
Fourth, Executive Authority should be modified. There is no need for an Executive President. It is not consistent with democratic government to have a situation where sovereignty is said to belong to the people and is exercised through their elected representatives when those very representatives in Cabinet merely act as advisers to the President. A way has to be found to vest Executive Authority in Cabinet. The President can still be the Chief Executive but should be accountable and subject to Cabinet. We have creative legal drafters who can achieve this feat.
Fifth, the Constitution establishes a number of Service Commissions which should be dissolved. They are costly and do not satisfy the purposes for which they were created. For example, the Teaching, Police and Public Service Commissions can hardly claim to be independent when their members are appointed by Politicians.
Immediately therefore these Service Commissions should be dissolved and the rights of officers in the Public, Teaching and Police Services protected by law. The Judicial Service Commission should be revamped.
Similarly, the Ethnic Relations Commission, Human Rights Commission, Women and Gender Equality Commission, Indigenous Peoples Commission and the Rights of the Child Commission should be dissolved. They are a drain on the Treasury and serve no purpose which cannot be served more cheaply and efficiently by Government Departments.
Sixth, Local Government has to be revamped-Their system is too unwieldy. It is not simply, a case of lack of resources. There are far too many layers of local governance without the requisite number of qualified persons to administer the organs. As was stated in a previous column, many local government organs are occupied by persons who attend meetings more for the stipend rather than to participate in decision-making.
Seventh certain constitutional appointments should not require the consent of both the Leader of the Opposition and the President. For more than a decade and a half, there has been no substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice appointed because the country’s two main political offices could not agree on who should hold these positions.
The formula enshrined in the Constitution has led to gridlock. Guyana needs to look towards a new formula, one which removes the need for political consensus. The CCJ has an interesting model which may be adapted here.
Lastly, a decision will have to be made as to same-sex marriages and unions as well as to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. This is an issue which cannot be avoided and for which there may be need for a referendum.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not this newspaper.)
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