Blame is being laid on the constitution instead of on those who are supposed to enforce it

Dear Editor,

 

The GTUC views with increasing alarm attempts by forces to make the Guyana Constitution a football, thereby removing the responsibility from the government to govern in the interest of the society. Those who once said the constitution is bad are now saying it is good, while some now in desperation for change are saying it is bad. All constitutions are amended from time to time and nothing is fundamentally wrong with making aspects of the constitution more responsive to the developing needs of the society. What is wrong is the misrepresentation of those calls, the wild and reckless calls that are being made without justification and without first at least checking what the constitution says. What this in effect does is lay the blame for the social decay and mismanagement of our society on the constitution, instead of on those who are supposed to enforce it and operate within its confines. The Guyana Constitution is as good and as bad as those in power who are responsible for its application and those not in the executive who are responsible for holding them accountable. Our constitution is a document that is evolving as society evolves, and it has also undergone amendments. This is acknowledged in its Preamble wherein is stated, “As citizens…we adopt these fundamental laws and make provisions for their amendments to reflect changes in our society, inspired by our collective quest for a perfect nation….”

GTUC is further concerned that some calls for constitutional reform serve a surreptitious purpose and do not reflect a genuine concern to address and respond to the constitutional needs of the society. To some extent calling for constitutional reform has become a sexy topic, with some even calling for what already exists. For example, recent comments have been made regarding

a Bill of Rights, when Title 1 in the constitution specifically addresses the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. These 26 rights and freedoms guaranteed to every Guyanese deal with issues ranging from freedom of expression; the right to life; personal liberty; assembly, association and demonstration; protection from discrimination on the grounds of race to the right to work; pensions and gratuities; participation in the decision-making process of the state, and even equality of persons before the law, equality for women, Indigenous people’s rights, equality of status and free education.

Further, enshrined in the constitution at Title 7 are Rights Commissions, viz, Human Rights, Women and Gender Equality, Indigenous Peoples, Rights of the Child, Public Procurement, Public Service Appellate Tribunal, which mandate a secretariat and a tribunal, and some of which the government refuses to establish.

There is the ill-informed assertion that Guyana has a 17th century constitution. The USA Constitution, the base of which is 1789 is still revered not condemned, along with the framers and their intent, and where necessary ratified amendments were made as the society evolved and faced new challenges which were not envisaged at the time. When the USA Constitution was first formulated the society did not envisage the need to enshrine free exercise of religion, speech, press; right to peaceably assemble; petition for governmental redress of grievances; bear arms; citizenship; racial equality; term limits for the presidency; voting rights and other challenges, which as these emerged the society sought to address. And in a society where reportedly approximately 11,539 proposals to amend the constitution have been introduced in Congress since 1789, unratified amendments have been pending since 1789, and typically 200 amendments are proposed with each two-year term of Congress, government has not ground to halt and the same have not been used as front not to strive for good governance and hold government accountable for what is enshrined in the existing constitution. It is time for us as a nation to raise the bar on public discourse, and we all have a role to play, particularly civil society, the media, the private sector, government, political parties, commentators and analysts. It should no longer be acceptable for myths to be perpetrated as facts, taking hold in our society, creating fear and mistrust through ignorance. For in such chaos lawlessness takes root and the lawless rule supreme. Citizens are urged to go to the original source to verify information, given the proliferation of deceit and half-truths passing as facts.

Citizens must not shy away from holding persons accountable for their commentaries and must not feel these persons are beyond questioning.   GTUC calls for the enforcement of the constitution and holding those responsible for such a task accountable for its application, notwithstanding continued efforts that ought to be ongoing through the prescribed Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform for necessary review and adjustment (Article 119A). As we seek to have our constitution evolve so must our thinking and operation.

 

Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis
GTUC

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