I wish to respond to a letter published in Stabroek News on March 22, under the caption ‘Not the rule of law,’ written by Mr Christopher Ram. This letter was a reply to mine published on March 16, in Stabroek News (‘Land amendment bill was promulgated to address a serious problem’).
My letter was very specific. It attempted to explain, for the public’s edification, the mischief which the amendment to the Title to Land (Prescription and Limitation) Act, recently passed in the Parliament, was intended to address. Mr Ram, ironically, concurs with the principle upon which this amendment was predicated, for he writes “Let me make my own position clear. I am no supporter of title by prescription – whether private or public property.” However, although Mr Ram agrees with the amendment, he uses a portion of the very last sentence of my letter which reads “Guyana is a democracy where the rule of law reigns supreme,” to enumerate a litany of ad hominem examples of perceived occurrences which, according to him, makes Guyana an undemocratic nation where the rule of law is absent.
In my humble view, the letter would have been a more germane response to mine and to the issue at hand if Mr Ram had simply manifested the reasons for his disapproval of the concept of title by prescription.
Any discourse into whether a country is a democracy or not is way beyond the scope of a letter in a newspaper. In any event, such an analysis certainly cannot be scientifically done by merely enumerating a few examples of alleged wrongdoing and perceived anomalies in a society, followed by the generalized conclusion that the rule of law is absent or that the society under review is not a democracy. For example, can it be intelligently argued that because there is an unusually high crime rate in Trinidad and Jamaica, those countries are not democracies, or that the rule of law is absent in those societies? Similarly, can it be posited that the presence of Guantanamo Bay prison, recognized as one of the most barbaric and inhuman detention centres in the modern world, as part of the penal system of the United States, renders that country undemocratic or without the rule of law? Again, have the series of laws promulgated in the United States of America after 9/11 under the guise of ‘national security’ which invade and abrogate several inalienable, constitutional and private rights of the citizenry, render the United States an undemocratic nation where the rule of law is missing? – and I can give several more examples. Certainly not.
The point is that the existence of a democracy and the presence of the rule of law in a society can never be measured by such barometers, but by an examination of the workings of the democratic institutions in the society, their level of autonomy and functional independence, the quantity and quality of individual freedoms which the people of that society enjoy, and the institutionalized mechanisms which are entrenched to ensure those rights and freedoms are not merely illusory.
In the circumstances, I will not address the various ad hominem issues raised in Mr Ram’s letter; I prefer to deal with principles and concepts. However, it has not escaped my attention that hypocrisy is ascribed to me in that letter. I invite Mr Ram to examine my brief legal career and he will discover that whenever the occasion presents itself, I have never shirked from challenging an injustice in the courts of law (and elsewhere), whether it emanates from public offices or from the private citizenry – my position in the government and in the PPP notwithstanding.
Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP