With respect to the appointment of Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards to act as Chief Justice there seems to be a continuation of the clouded role and responsibilities of both the President and the Leader of the Opposition. The Guyana Constitution expressly states there shall be meaningful consultation between the President and Leader of the Opposition on specified matters. This is one such instance. Meaningful consultation does not mean that the President will present a name and the Leader of Opposition either accepts or rejects.
Meaningful consultation in essence means that the parties shall discuss and deliberate the issues, where name(s) shall be floated by both sides, and a decision arrived at. In this case the President turned up and floated his name and the Leader of the Opposition, conscious of the issue that was to have been discussed at the meeting came ill prepared, raising matters that are peripheral to the issue. This fiasco speaks to a lack of understanding for the instrument that guides governance.
The constitution, which guides the conduct of our political decision-makers, has been treated with disdain over the years. The 1980 constitution had within it the post of a Minority Leader, who by virtue of the role is a constitutional office within the executive. The hatred for this constitution because it was conceptualised and developed under the administration of Forbes Burnham saw a changing of the name from Minority Leader to that of Leader of the Opposition.
The Minority Leader by spirit and intent is to work with the majority leader who is the president in the interest of the collective and nation. In changing the name to Leader of the Opposition it opens the possibility for the interpretation that the role is primarily to oppose what the President does. But it needs to be reinforced that according to the constitution the Leader of the Opposition remains a member of the Executive.
The role of the Leader of the Opposition/Minority Leader is to sensibly propose, support and oppose where and when necessary. This office has equal day-to-day responsibility for the administration/management of the state and the holder is supported by a shadow cabinet. In that this role carries the spirit and intent of executive responsibility, the society must demand political maturity in the conduct of the office holder.
Note needs also to be taken of the structure of our National Assembly. The presence of a government side and opposition side, even though the members of parliament are elected through national top-up and constituency (Region/geographic) processes, means the polarisation continues.
This nation should examine the utility of a seating arrangement in the National Assembly that would allow the geographic MPs to work together in developing programmes and checking and balancing each other in addressing their constituencies’ needs.
As Bharrat Jagdeo cries foul, Justice Cummings-Edwards must be congratulated for her contributions to public service. But Mr Jagdeo must be reminded that he lacks the moral authority to question the appointment when he chose not to appoint Justice Claudette Singh. While politics is not about one-upmanship but about people and societal development, the instruments that guide our conduct must be used appropriately in bringing about a new culture. Our society must achieve political growth.