Guyana: Constitutional Reform – By Leonard Gildarie

Constitutional Reform

Leonard Gildarie

Events of December 21, 2018, where a government parliamentarian, Charrandass Persaud, voted against his colleagues, in effect causing the administration to fall, is continuing to be the major story. And why shouldn’t it? That no-confidence, thanks to one vote, has awakened Guyana from its slumber. The threat of early elections is hanging over our heads like the proverbial sword of Damocles.

The Speaker of the House has made a ruling that gives a little legroom of satisfaction to every party.
The Government has gone to court asking for the vote to be quashed and the judge to consider the fact that Persaud, who has since been expelled by his party, the Alliance For Change, also had citizenship for Canada at the time of the vote.            

The Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland, to his credit, has made a ruling, which heralds hope.

By “declining” to consider the application of the government to review or reverse the vote on the no-confidence motion, Dr. Scotland has proven to me that even at one of the highest offices, which the world is watching, we can stand proud to be in the league of developed countries.

His deliberate choice of words and opening up the doors for the courts to be approached has to be applauded at a time when the country remains deeply divided.

There will be a few who, for partisan reasons, deny that there is division. The fact is the division happens every time there are national elections. We can bury our heads in the sand or acknowledge that we have a growing problem on our hands. Elections will be held in the near future.

The fact is the analysts will tell you that based on the current construct of the voting system, no single party will be able to gain the majority. There are several reasons for this.

If we are to agree on the assumption that ethnicity plays a role in elections, then it will be argued that Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese have been voting for the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and A Partnership For National Unity (APNU) respectively.

Unless one party commands totally, the swing votes of the Amerindians, immigrants and youths, we can predict that the likelihood of another no-confidence happening successfully in the future.

That is, unless we find another formula.

From all indications, the next elections will bring a coalition government.

The vote of Charrandass Persaud has raised some worrying issues…our Constitution.

The Constitution is the supreme law of Guyana. It outlines the branches and powers of Government, establishes qualifications and times for elections, lists basic human rights and sets up independent institutions to protect these rights.

According to the Parliament of Guyana website, all laws made by Parliament must be in keeping with the provisions of the Constitution. This means that any law that is in conflict with the Constitution is unconstitutional, in other words, it is not valid.

Over the years, it has been amended.
In 1970, amendments were made proclaiming Guyana a Co-operative Republic. The British Monarch was replaced by a Ceremonial President elected for a fixed term.

The 1980 Constitution identified the President as the Head of State and the Supreme Executive Authority, and established a system of local democratic organs. There have been 12 amendments to the 1980 Constitution, five of which were temporary in nature, to facilitate the 1992 national elections.

According to the Parliament website, early in 1999, an Act of Parliament established the Constitutional Reform Commission. It successfully completed its tasks and submitted its report to the National Assembly by the due date of July 17, 1999. The Commission made 171 recommendations for constitutional amendments. All amendments, with the exception of those requiring a referendum, have been passed into Acts of Parliament.

Fast-forward today, the Constitution is being tested in ways it has never been tested before.

The selection of a new chairperson for the Guyana Elections Commission – where the country became familiar with the term “Fit and Proper”- was one of the recent ones.

Lawyers on both sides of the House had their views.

However, more pertinent now is the interpretation of the Constitution when it comes to the no-confidence vote.

hile for some, the Constitution could not be clearer, there are others who argue that the wording is vague.

Without going into too much details…I leave that to the experts…the recent events in the National Assembly send a stark message to all and sundry. We just cannot continue business as usual.

Our country is about to start benefitting from oil proceeds. Already, the pre-production activities have been seeing a rash of activities that has seen money being spent.

From shipyards to storage facilities, and of course, the planes are coming.

Consultants are staying in hotels. Training is being conducted. Food has to be eaten.
Marriott is doing good business. People are forming new companies.

The point is we are preparing for oil, and while it is not the only thing for Guyana, we can ill-afford to have any disruptions.

One cannot help but consider the US. People were angry with George Bush Sr., especially over the Iraq war in the 90s. Bill Clinton of the Democrats was voted in. Voters then switched to George Bush, the son. The votes swung back to Barack Obama of the Democratic Party.

Today we have a Twitter-loving president, Donald Trump, in the White House. He is Republican.

The US is unforgiving. I have a strong feeling that Guyana is heading in that direction.

Politicians will have to adapt of face the wrath. It will be in everyone’s interests to ensure changes. Like I have said before, a whole new generation grew up under the PPP. They don’t care for the old, divisive politics. They want jobs, phones, cars and a country that looks as if it is prospering.

That is why the offer of President David Granger, to hold the door open for some sort of collaboration with the Opposition, must be seen as an opportunity. Where common issues of concerns, like Venezuela, would see a front being portrayed to the rest of the world.

I would love to see a Guyana where we can offer the other side some seats on the Cabinet.

On Wednesday, the President will meet with Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, to discuss a number of critical things, including the December 21st vote and its implications.
Enough of the talk, let’s get it on.

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  • Trevor  On 01/07/2019 at 1:56 pm

    Why did the Canadian government assist Charrandas to flee Guyana after making a disturbance here?
    Behind every commotion in a “3rd world country”, is the palm rubbing of a white man or woman.
    I’m afraid that we will fight like rabid animals while they take away our oil for pennies on the dollar, or even freely.

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