Ramcharan urges renewed focus on constitutional reforms

Dr Bertie Ramcharan says it is important for any country to implement agreed constitutional changes and he believes that Guyana needs to focus on reforms, while implementing current provisions.

“We need a combination of the two quite frankly,” he said on Friday last, during a public lecture hosted by the “Facing the Future” civil society initiative. Dr Ramcharan joined a panel at the forum, which featured Dr Yash Ghai, the former Chair of the Kenya Constitutional Commission.

Dr Ramcharan, in taking questions from the audience, shared his experience of meeting with young Guyanese within the past week and according to him, there is a need for the intellectual community here to come up with policies on issues such as a modernised Guyanese identity and vision, and a modernised statement of principles.

Young people feel they should be working to deepen the Guyanese identity and they support a review of how this country’s history is taught, Dr Ramcharan observed. “They have also said to me that whoever is President in this country decides everything, it doesn’t matter who the minister is,” he said, while noting that this raises the issue of accountability in government.

Guyanese youths are concerned about a string of issues, he said, but emphasised that the majority are also optimistic about the future.

Dr Ramcharan, a former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and a constitutional lawyer, was questioned about conflicts in the society here and possible solutions to the problem.

He argued that a society should have a national protection system in place, while adding that the consensus to govern in a society is very relevant to the prevention of conflict.

In explaining an ideal strategy for the prevention of conflict, he suggested that a society must articulate a vision of unity that embraces everyone. He also asserted the rights of individuals and groups must be entrenched in the society and that the implementation of those rights should be vigorously monitored. Societies must have institutions that are watching over the implementation of rights and are particularly watching over “expressions of grievances in a society,” Dr Ramcharan noted.

He recalled that former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, in a recent report on Conflict Prevention, advocated that every society should have in place a national prevention system.

“In situations like Guyana, we would need to ask whether we have an effective national protection system and does it have elements of protection,” he continued, while adding that based on widespread perception, law enforcement does not seem to have any goals as to how to deal with disturbances.

Further, Ramcharan said governmental and economic policies are perceived by different communities in this country as having adverse effects.

Based on his interactions with stakeholders in various communities, he said this perception is out there. Prior to the interactive segment at the forum, Dr Ghai warned against the state’s coercive powers and its dominance of civil society while emphasising that “civil society needs to be more alert of power.” He used his native Kenya to speak about ethnic and political issues while pointing to the power-hungry politicians who play on ethnic sentiments to “capture the state.”

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