Constitutions and laws are made for citizens and not just for lawyers

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to M Maxwell’s letter ‘The constitution is illegal,’ SN, November 25. From the outset let it be known that constitutions and laws are made for the citizens and their societies and not only for lawyers. As a citizen, local and international, there shall be no forfeiting of my right to speak to matters of the constitution, laws, universal declarations and principles, international conventions and charters. Examining these instruments that set out to govern human relations it would be realised that they were conceptualised and developed by the people, their representatives and law-makers, who in many cases were not lawyers.

A fundamental tenet of democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, which by its very nature speaks to an all-encompassing involvement in decision-making. As such the law is underpinned by the intention that it can be read, interpreted and obeyed by the people whose lives it impacts on. Having said that, laws are dead at their heart unless activated by the people.

The inability of Mr Maxwell to address the substantive issues in my letters (‘An inconsistency in thinking,’ November 17 and ‘Voices in the coming days should be directed at returning sovereignty to the people,’ November 12) which were supported by evidence from the Guyana Constitution and other constitutions does not absolve him of responsibility to counter my positions with evidence-based arguments, nor does it undermine my consistent position that the constitution be respected. The excursion into whether the constitution is de facto or de jure is immaterial because it is the constitution we have, the instrument that guides this society, is being used by the courts, is what our elected officials have sworn to uphold and until replaced to which we, the people, have to conform.

Advancing constitutional respect makes political, social, economic and cultural sense if we are committed to peaceful co-existence and development because with this instrument, were we to uphold it to the letter and respect its spirit and intent, society can be rallied around a common purpose and direction. A constitution, by its very nature, is the nation’s supreme law and presents the foundation on which the society is grounded and by which it should be guided if we are committed to nationhood.

No constitution is perfect, and I have never read anywhere in our constitution where it says that it cannot be reviewed and amendments made as deemed necessary. Thus, although I continue to advance the upholding of the constitution, which also ensures the foregoing in Article 119A, and Mr Maxwell thinks, “What [Lewis) does not highlight are the blockages to constitutional reform in this de facto constitution and further, the gravity of executive interference in achieving constitutional reform”, it confirms my concern about the grave disservice being done to this society by advocates of constitutional condemnation.

My position on the constitution is informed by the need for the people to activate this instrument by holding elected officials accountable to implement every article and not cherry pick article(s) to suit their purpose. The constitution is a comprehensive document where each section complements the other, and when together applied can produce an acceptable and harmonious relationship for the people and their society. This backdrop brings into sharp focus the question of whether those who are engaged in carte blanche condemnation of this constitution understand this instrument and how it ought to work, or simply see this as an opportunity to advance self-serving positions and settle political scores.

Reasons are being found for the non-activation of the article which would see constitutional engagement and reform where necessary and also not to hold elected officials accountable for obeying and discharging their constitutional responsibilities. For on the one hand an excuse is being found not to activate Article 119A that allows for the appointment and operationalisation of the Parliamentary Constitutional Reform Committee, and on the other hand the constitution is decried or calls made for a new one. This is inconsistent, political posturing is not unique to Mr Maxwell, but let me just for reference highlight two of his letters to show how inconsistent he has been:

  1. April 2, 2013 ‘President’s failure to act on bills is contravention of constitution’ (SN). On this matter Mr Maxwell held the view that, “The President is constitutionally bound to either assent or not assent within 21 days. This shameful exercise of sitting on a bill before him without communicating his assent or non-assent is an assault on the constitution by the President. It undermines the efficacy of the constitution and the democratic underpinnings of this provision. It is tantamount to practising dictatorship by delay.”
  2. August 24, 2014 ‘Article 106 of the constitution is clear’ (SN). In this letter he states, “The concern I have is this calculated PPP campaign to discredit the constitution and the law in order to avoid the looming no-confidence vote. I am no lawyer or constitutional expert but I can read the constitution and can interpret what I read. Article 106 is straightforward and quite clear.”

The danger with running with the hare and hunting with the wolves at the same time is that you are bound to inflict bodily harm on yourself. Once media access is allowed, no one shall still my voice in the crusade for respecting the constitution, holding elected officials accountable to it, and ensuring citizens take their rightful place as society’s guardians as constitutionally required. The people of this society deserve better than condemnation of a constitution whose basic tenet vests sovereignty in them and should they apply their power, elected officials will come to their senses and treat them and the nation’s resources better.

Sovereignty, vested in the people according to this constitution allows them to exercise their rule, power, control, authority, freedom, independence, autonomy, self-government and self-determination for their own and the state’s welfare. I have chosen the side as an advocate for respect for the letter, spirit and intent of the constitution, and shall not be thwarted in the effort to ensure the people enjoy what’s rightly theirs.

 Yours faithfully,

Lincoln Lewis

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