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-Forde tells Labour Week forum
The Constitution and the Laws of Guyana are being trampled on by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration, Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde said as he delivered the 2021 Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow Lecture at the Critchlow Labour College last week. He also warned that the law does not specifically require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
Addressing students, workers and trade unionists, Forde, an Opposition Member of Parliament, said while the Rule of Law is a profound and fundamental legal principle, which is universal in its acceptance, in Guyana it has been trampled on by the government of the day.
As he described the current state of the Rule of Law during his lecture held mid last week, the Senior Counsel pointed to the case of Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones. “In August, 2020, the Guyana Police Force arrested Christopher Jones, M.P., and searched his home although Mr. Jones had a Court issued Injunction preventing the search; the Officers of the Guyana Police Force literally stepped on and trampled on the Court Order;” Forde explained.
In its 2020 Report on Human Rights practices in Guyana released earlier this year, the United States (U.S.) Department of State had also pointed to the case of Jones, in addition to that of Cecil Sampat, who was killed at the hands of the police.
“In August police arrested Christopher Jones, a senior member of the Opposition, and searched his home, although Jones had a court-issued injunction preventing the search,” the U.S State Department said.
Not long after the incident, Jones said that his 7-year-old daughter had to begin seeing a psychologist after 49 policemen surrounded his home and power to his community was cut, all in an attempt to arrest him, though the Court had granted an injunction.
Just last Thursday, the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon accused the Government of using the Guyana Police Force as a political weapon to target persons perceived to be antigovernment.
“The PPP regime continues to wantonly use the Guyana Police Force as a political weapon to target and persecute citizens who challenge their thin-skinned leaders,” the Opposition Leader said hours after the police took online talk show host Gavin Matthews into custody for allegedly causing emotional distress and humiliation to the Minister of Culture Youth and Sport, Charles Ramson Jr.
It is alleged that Matthews used a computer system on March 25, 2021 to publish a derogatory video on Facebook intended to humiliate and embarrass or cause emotional distress to Minister Ramson. However, details of the alleged offence have not been made public. Matthews has since been placed on $100,000 bail pending the completion of the investigation.
Harmon had submitted that the arrest of Matthews is an attack on all Guyanese. “This is a clear case of political persecution and abuse and misuse of the Cyber Crime law. No citizen is now safe except those in the inner sanctum of the PPP regime. The APNU+AFC calls on all right thinking citizens to condemn, without condition, this vulgar, brazen and corrupt mis-application of the law. This is another violent assault on democracy in Guyana,” the Opposition Leader said.
Meanwhile, during his presentation, Forde said all persons are presumed innocent and no citizen should be arbitrarily arrested, as he referenced to the human rights protected by the Rule of Law.
The Senior Counsel, in his presentation, said too that the enforcement of legal rights and by extension the defence of the Rule of Law requires a functioning and effective legal system. However, he said while the Court System has seen some improvements over the years, it is burdened by delays, inefficiencies and a large backlog of cases.
As Forde continued to paint a picture of the state of play since the PPP/C took office in August 2020, he said essential to the protection of rights and the effective operation of the Rule of Law is the freedom and ability to express and communicate ideas widely and freely, however, he submitted that Opposition is at a disadvantage.
Quoting a section of the U.S State Department Report on Guyana, Forde said: “The ruling party’s monopoly of state media creates an imbalance in public discourse and tends to give them a public affairs advantage…”
Further, he said the while the law prohibits anti-union discrimination by employees, it does not specifically require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
Forde submitted too that there has been a clear breach of the Constitution. “National Assembly passed the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act of 2021. By this Act all the Constitutional Agencies are required to submit their Budget Proposals or Submission to the Concerned Minister. This Act effectively renders Constitutional Agencies’ right to financial independence and autonomy as granted by the Constitution nugatory.
This Act is in breach of the Constitution, and the usurpation of authority by the Executive over the Constitutional Agencies is a flagrant and grave breach of the provisions of the Constitution which provide for the financial independence and autonomy of the Constitutional Agencies,” the Senior Counsel reasoned.
Against that background, he said it is important that citizens and workers be prepared to stand up and defend the Rule of Law.
“Defending the Rule of Law, is defending citizens and Workers’ rights to equality of opportunity, freedom from discrimination, freedom to associate and defending the dignity of citizens and workers,” he told those present.
He said “effective defence of the Rule of Law requires Citizens and Workers vigilance at many levels, firstly, at the work place, by joining and creating Employee Organisations and Associations; and secondly, at home and in the community by teaching, talking and advocating for the rights of workers and the citizens.”
Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow is the father of Trade Unionism in Guyana, and widely regarded also as the father of Trade Unionism in the Caribbean and the Commonwealth.
Reflecting on the life of the Guyanese stalwart, Forde said Critchlow’s contribution is important and tremendous, as all of the major political movements for workers’ rights, advancing the cause of the working classes, self-government and independence all trace their roots to his work, and the social and political awakening that he birthed.