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The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Aubrey Norton, is quite correct not to meet or have any official discussions with the president or anyone if proper information and good reasoning is not provided. Consultations are considered useful because in political management they can reduce the impact of what one writer called the ‘silo mentality’. Multiple viewpoints usually produce better decisions and, quite apart from the public education exposure, stakeholders are given the opportunity be a part of the process, particularly when important and controversial issues are at stake. Consultations are a most minimal form of power-sharing, particularly now when it is required that reasons are given and that reasons that are thought to be unsound can be challenged in court.
There was a time when consultations in Guyana and the world over were mere tokens: just a means for the more authoritative party to fulfill legal or customary obligations. Rumor has it that when Prime Minister Forbes Burnham was legally required to consult with the Opposition Leader Cheddi Jagan he would merely call, have an insubstantial chat and that was the end of the matter. Those days are long gone. In a case I had with the Guyana Medical Association (GMA) as minister of health in about 2000, there was opposition to my legally institutionalizing the appointment of non-medical persons to the Medical Council of Guyana, as had become commonplace worldwide. In that case, for the first time in Guyana, Chief Justice Desiree Bernard ruled against me on the grounds that I had not given good reasons for my decision. I subsequently did so and the rest is history. More recently, in the case involving the appointment of Justice Patterson as the chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George ruled that President Granger should given reasons for his decision. So far as I am aware, he never did, but in any case Justice Patterson’s appointment was quashed by the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Two decades ago, the framers of Guyana’s 2001 Constitution envisaged a consistently modernizing consultation process, and the process has become much more globally inclusive since then. Generally and briefly, the Consultation Institute’s Consultation Charter 2021 claims that for ‘consultation to yield its true benefits and to assist in the process of evidence based decision-making, it needs to take account of seven Best Practice principles. … We believe that …. seven principles apply to almost every consultation exercise.’
These are as follows: 1. The consultor must be willing to listen and to be influenced by the process. ‘If the decisions subject to consultation have already been taken, it is a waste of consultees’ time and a fraud.’ 2. All those with a justifiable right to participate should be made aware of the exercise. 3. Consultees must be able to have reasonable access to the exercise and special needs ‘seldom heard’ groups and others must be catered for. 4. The principle of transparency requires that stakeholder invitation lists and, with the consent of participants, responses be published. Consultees rightly expect explanations for decisions taken following a consultation. 5. For consultation to succeed, and to encourage a measure of trust between the parties, it is important to provide for reasonable disclosure of relevant information. Consultors are under a duty to disclose information which could materially influence the nature and extend of consultees’ responses. Consultees are also under a duty to disclose certain information. 6. Information and viewpoints gathered through consultation exercises have to be collated and assessed, and this task must be undertaken promptly and objectively. In general, decision-makers should not normally be personally involved with primary analysis and interpretation of consultation data. 7. Participants in a consultation exercise have a proper expectation that they will see both the output and the outcome of the process. The assumption should be that publication in a form accessible to the consultee would follow within a reasonable time. Where no publication is intended, it is the duty of the consultor to disclose this when initially inviting stakeholders or the public to participate.
Even at the minimal level of consultation, the PPP wants to dominate and if Mr. Norton’s approach to challenging that party has one weakness it is the dominant position the dilatory and limited court system appears to have in his overall strategy. For instance, in relation to what his party considers the illegal appointments the government has made, after months and maybe years, all the courts will be able to do is possibly chide the appointers and rescind the appointments.
Democratic theory is rooted in the fact that the citizenry can resort to non-violet methods to gain redress, and the Albert Einstein Institution has outlined some 198 approaches. Traditionally, the PNC has mainly resorted to various forms of street protests and although all possibilities should remain on the table, one needs to plan bearing in mind the location of one’s constituencies. The PPP has won many significant battles without street protests. What the opposition needs is a varied and flexible national, regional and international mobilisation strategy with clear goals and broad approaches.