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W. Hawley-Bryant in ‘The Song of Guyana’s Children’ reminds us that we are “Born in the land where men sought El Dorado, Land of the Diamond and bright shining gold, We would build by our faith, love and labour, God’s golden city which never grows old.”
In pursuit of the aforesaid, the Preamble of the Constitution of Guyana requires that we “Forge a system of governance that promotes concerted effort and broad-based participation in national decision-making in order to develop a viable economy and a harmonious community based on democratic values, social justice, fundamental human rights, and the rule of law.” This is the overarching spirit and intent to guide development, through a set of principles that would guide our relationship, the management of our business, and the security and protection of the nation-state.
It is therefore important to establish from the outset what is the fundamental requirement to forge the system of governance we set for ourselves. Article 13 which outlines the ‘Objective of the political system’ expressly states, “The principal objective of the system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being.”
It should be noted that “inclusionary democracy” replaced “consultative democracy” in the 1999 constitutional reform exercise. This was behind the backdrop of concerns the consultative process lent to and justified exclusion of stakeholders- political and non-political. Inclusion is expected to bring about greater involvement and ensure the human rights of all in the developmental process of the people and country-i.e. to be treated as equal with dignity and respect.
Article 13, which represents a declaration of intent, awaits legislation to strengthen and deepen the democratic processes of the State. Nineteen years after it is yet to see any meaningful action from the politicians through laws, programmes, and policies. It is my view where the politicians- who are representatives of the people- are failing to act, the people must demand actions from them.
Since 1992 there is evident growing fluidity in which a group or party holds control of the Executive and Legislature, but this reality is not matched with corresponding respect by the politicians to respect the will of the people, their right to freedom of association and economic self-determination. To continue to ignore these realities would be to the nation’s peril because they run contrary to the constitutional system of governance and the basic rights of the people.
The role and function of the Executive and Legislature impact our day-to-day lives in intimate ways, and we must ensure these redound to our collective well-being. The Executive has day-to-day administrative responsibility in conceptualising, developing and implementing policies and programmes within the confines of laws, universal declarations, international conventions, and charters. This branch operates at three tiers- they are national/central, regional, and local governments.
Careful examination of the Executive would see inclusion of so-called losers (i.e. opposition) in every tier. I would like to urge a rethinking of the notion that ours is rigidly a winner-takes-all system that shuts out losers, given the constitutional provisions. If we look at the United States for instance the losing presidential candidate is excluded from the legislature and the executive. As per Articles 110 and 184 in our Constitution the Leader of the Opposition forms part of the Executive.
Upholding the spirit and intent of inclusion it would be appreciated the Leader of the Opposition’s role is not only to oppose but to also oversight, propose and support. There are instances in the Constitution where specific involvements are identified, such as consultation with the President on appointment of Chancellor of the Judiciary and the submission of a List for appointment of GECOM Chairman. These approaches are intended to forge consensus through engagement and spirited debates where necessary, even as there exists recognition of the potential for disagreement. But consensus should be the aim.
In the Regional and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils there is seat at the table based on proportionality of the votes received, which allows for the input of all. Forty years after Articles 75 and 76 which attend to financial devolution of power to the people, via the regional and local government systems, the nation still awaits legislation to give these meaning. Outside of a Bill brought to the House in 1990 by then Minister of Regional Development, Jeffry Thomas, to give meaning to these articles and had one reading, nothing happened since.
It is time for all of us, regardless of race, class or creed to benefit from this nation’s bounty. We are reminded of Guyana’s promise and the task of the people to fulfil in the words of ‘My Guyana, Eldorado.’ We the people must move to ensure we forge the system of governance we set ourselves. We must eschew acts of non-cooperation and sabotage, transgressing of rights, violating laws, intolerance for dissent or alternative views. For too long these have stalled our growth, hovering over us as dark clouds hiding the bright potential of a nation and her people.