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A few weeks ago, the Opposition Leader, Mr. Aubrey Norton, outlined a number of issues other than the constitutionally required ones that he would like any meeting with President Irfaan Ali to address. In a Stabroek News article ‘One of the most advanced constitutions in the Region’ (SN: 24/04/2022), Mr. Ralph Ramkarran said that the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Hon. Justice Adrian Saunders, made the above assessment of Guyana’s constitution, and then proceeded to advise that ‘The issues of concern that the Leader of the Opposition would like to discuss with the President can be more effectively addressed in a Parliamentary Committee and when public attention is drawn to them, you bet that the President will pay attention.’
From the preamble of the 2001 constitution, the people of Guyana hoped that it would ‘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.’ In ‘Justice Saunders and the PPP’s mantra’ (VV: 30/04/2022) I argued that the constitution has delivered the opposite of what was expected. There has been too much loss of life and property, underdevelopment, political alienation, functional deficiencies in the political system and in the judiciary itself and substantial demands for reform for anyone to refer to the present constitution as the most advanced constitution anywhere, much less so in the Caribbean.
In a follow up article ‘Shared governance has no political support.’ (SN: 05/08/2022), Ralph claimed that the statement about Guyana having one of the best constitutions in the Caribbean was first made by the CCJ during the 2018 case of Attorney General v Richardson, when it discovered that as a result of the 2001 electoral reforms the president of Guyana was restricted to two consecutive terms in office. It would have served him better to have curtailed his penchant for personal invectives and noted the idiom; ‘one swallow doesn’t make a summer.’ Indeed, the very case he proffered and other statements in his presentation suggest that Ralph does not properly differentiate and evaluate theory from practice and so is unable to grasp that that given the nature of Guyana’s constitutional arrangements, he is making a virtue of nothing.
Much as it has been in the Soviet Union/Russia from the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 to the present day, it is the case in Guyana that the president is a figurehead and the general secretary of the PPP and vice-president, Bharrat Jagdeo, the real deal. The recent interview with Vice News where a friend of Mr. Jagdeo said he had pointed him out to those who wanted ‘favours’ from the government only served to confirm this view. It really does not matter if the above assumptions are true or false: the constitutional arrangements make them possible and as in Russia, term limits do not affect the position of the GS and thus he can remain in control of the government for decades once he has the ethnic votes or, as they diminish, is in a position to manipulate elections to stay in government. I believe that this is the vision of the PPP; that it should be rejected by all democrats and the rules under which we live should immediately be reformed to avoid such a tragedy.
Ralph appears to believe that the professional status of the president of CCJ gives his opinions some kind of immunity from public comment. I have never knowingly been disrespectful to anyone’s social/professional standing but their social opinions, particularly when they verge upon the political, have no such protection.
Constitutions must be properly aligned to context and the present one is not: the 2001 reformers merely institutionalised a host of new commissions and committees but left them in the majoritarian, winner-takes-all, political framework. As a result, they are essentially Westminster parliamentary talk shops that can make little contribution to solving the political problems of a deeply ethnically divided society such as Guyana. I did not think it necessary to indicate that this is the meaningless parliamentary contraption within which the PPP has historically tried to entrap the opposition and into which Ralph, relying upon Justice Saunders’ comment, was seeking to direct Aubrey Norton.
Ralph brags about his long association with shared governance but his recommendation to Norton indicates that he does not have a sufficiently deep understanding of the difficulty this practice is intended to solve. As for many, for him it is morally desirable but not an immediate necessary intervention. Thus he goes as far as pointing to a 20 year old constitution as still being ‘ad interim’ and in a context where there does not exist a substantial public opinion to hold governments accountable, he advises Norton that the issues he would like to discuss with the President ‘can be more effectively addressed in a Parliamentary Committee and when public attention is drawn to them, you bet that the President will pay attention!’ Ralph, even if you are not, the majority of the people are aware that the president and the PPP are in an ethnic context in which they can listen to what they want to listen to without substantial political cost. Rather than lamenting and accommodating such negative positions as the ethnic elites may have, I suggest that even if it makes you appear somewhat obsessed, you try to change them.
At least I once had a ‘fine intellect’!