A new day for inclusionary democracy

(An edited address by AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes at the AFC’s recent delegates conference)

Article 13 of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana mandates “The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increased opportunities for the participation of citizens and the 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”.

Article 50 Constitution boldly proclaims

“ The Supreme organs of democratic power in Guyana shall be

20141204AFClogoThe Parliament

(ii) the President and

(iii) the Cabinet”.

At first blush one may well draw the conclusion that the three organs of democratic power are separate and equal.

The very next article in the Constitution Article 51 begins the unmasking of the true architecture behind the distribution of power.

Article 51 is located in a different chapter under the heading Parliament.  Composition of Parliament states, “There shall be a Parliament of Guyana, which shall consist of the PRESIDENT and the National Assembly”. Second appearance of the ubiquitous “democratic” President.

The second “organ of democratic power” the Presidency  is vested with “supreme executive authority” by virtue of the provisions of Article 89 of the Constitution.

The third and final “organ”, the cabinet, is constituted as follows  in Article 106, “There shall be a Cabinet for Guyana, which shall consist of the President, the Prime Minister, the vice presidents and such other Ministers as may be appointed by the President. The power to appoint is coupled with the power to terminate which is located in Article 1823 3(b) which provides “The office of Minister shall become vacant  if the President so directs.”

The icing on the cake is located in Article 99 which does not vest executive authority in the Cabinet but in the President. It provides  “The executive authority shall be vested in the President…”

In a word of the three supreme organs of democratic power in Guyana, the President constitutes two and a half parts namely the one half of the Parliament, the complete Presidency and the complete power to identify, constitute,  appoint and remove the Cabinet.

The above position was recently judicially confirmed by a ruling of the Chief Justice in a matter brought by Jacob Rambarran seeking constitutional redress against the manner of the allocation of the national frequencies.

The Chief Justice ruled “The President in whom all executive authority resides is the supreme organ of democratic power and also a component of parliament. The National Assembly not being the supreme organ of democratic power, cannot exercise democratic power superior to the President or parliament of which the President is a component.”

No self respecting democratic state should locate its “supreme organs of democratic power” in the Presidency.

But hold on it gets worse.

If as Article 13 has mandated that the principal objective of the political system is to establish “an inclusionary democracy” then the manifestation of inclusionary democracy is a mirage as Article 50 locates democratic power effectively in the hands of the President complemented by complete and absolute immunity in the exercise of the powers vested in the supreme organs of “democratic power”.

In a word there is no “inclusionary democracy in” the Supreme democratic organs of the State.

We believe that the principles set out in Article 13 should apply to the composition of the cabinet so that in this organ “inclusionary democracy” is reflected.

The organs of democratic power should consist of the National Assembly and the Presidency with the Presidency being the minor of the two organs.

In  the event that a new constitution identifies and locates the “organs of democratic power” in the National Assembly and the Presidency  then the election of the President shall be effected directly by the people and not by virtue of being head of any party as exists at present.

Under the current arrangements, the President is elected by virtue of being the Presidential Candidate stated on the list of candidates  which he/ she heads.  This arrangement fuses the election of a party to the National Assembly with the election of the candidate for President. This removes from the electorate the opportunity of voting for directly for the President but confirms them to the choice of a political party headed by a specific candidate.

The divided, disparate political and cultural history of Guyana requires the identification of leadership which is based on consensus rather than plurality.

The President must be able to secure a majority of the votes cast. This may require a run off between various candidates until a president is elected by a majority of the votes cast in a Presidential elections.

This may initially seem protracted and expensive but given our divisive history the alternative will continue to promote the insularity.

The office of the Prime Minister should be candidate who secures the second highest votes in the Presidential election.

The powers of Prime Minister must be increased and not confined to mere leadership of the Government’s business in the National Assembly.

The composition of the cabinet should broadly reflect the votes cast at national elections for various parties.

The members of Cabinet should only be appointed subject to the approval of the national assembly

A new constitution should envision a cabinet which includes  key appointments from the specifically qualified nominees from the political parties in proportion to the votes secured at the National Election.

The key cabinet posts of Minister of Finance, Attorney General, National Security and Home Affairs and Minister of Education with deputy ministerial positions   shall be alternatively identified and appointed by the President and the Prime Minister.

The Immunities of the President.

The immunities of the President as set out Article 182 of the Constitution must be reduced.

The President should be liable civilly and criminally liable for any infractions of the laws of the Country conducted during the term of his office. These proceedings however should not be instituted while he or she occupies the office of President. The same shall apply to the office of Prime Minister.