Govt’s approach to constitution ‘deeply troubling’ – Ramkarran

Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran SC has described the government’s approach to the constitution as “deeply troubling”.

In his column in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, Ramkarran adopted and quoted the views expressed by trade unionist Lincoln Lewis in the Guyana Chronicle two Sundays ago.

He noted that Lewis said: “We are facing a very serious situation and what I am about to say is intended to right a ship, veering wildly off course and posing dire implications for the rule of law, the legitimacy of the executive, and protecting the well-being of the society.” He pointed out that  Lewis cited the following instances where the authority of the executive and limits of the President have been exceeded: 1. The termination of leases in the MMA agricultural scheme; 2. (Mis)Interpretation of criteria for Gecom chair; 3. The termination of Red House lease; 4. Seeking to possess the property of Clarissa Riehl; 5. Instructions given to the Police Service Commission (PSC) not to act on a list for promotions. Ramkarran said that while Lewis did not explicitly say so, his conclusion is that the court rulings suggest that the constitution is being violated.

Ramkarran noted that in the face of criticism over its directive to the PSC to halt the police promotions process, “the government, instead of withdrawing the offending instructions to the PSC, doubled down and gave excuses for its unlawful conduct”. He noted that  President David Granger has said: “We are not trying to trample on the constitutional rights of the Commission but damage can be done if persons, who are not fit and proper, make decisions, which are injurious to public security.

We want the constitutional Commission to function efficiently but at the same time we want to make sure that the public can depend on the decisions that come out of that Commission being in the best interest of the nation.”

In other words, Ramkarran said the government does not want the PSC to select some of the persons put forward. Although the government can properly place the evidence of unfitness of persons recommended to the PSC and ask it to reconsider, Ramkarran said that it appears more comfortable in violating the constitution by giving instructions.

Ramkarran said that apart from maintaining professionalism, the drafters of the constitution recognized  that a professional, and not a politically aligned, police force is related to the human rights and civil liberties of citizens. Describing such rights, Ramkarran noted that Chancellor Keith Massiah said in Attorney General v Mohamed Alli (1987) that: “These rights are basal to all civilized societies and derive from mankind’s instinctive desire for freedom and his corresponding hatred for all forms of tyrannical and unjustifiable restraints.”

Said Ramkarran: “Guyana had already experienced the subversion of the Guyana Constitution starting with the defanging of the Elections Commission in 1968, prior to the elections of that year. I personally experienced it when I served on a toothless Elections Commission in the elections year of 1973.

The list of ‘tyrannical and unjustifiable res-traints’ grew long and sordid from 1968 to 1992. This attempt to defang another constitutional body by directives, after several attempted constitutional violations have been rejected by the courts, should not be allowed to succeed. The government can lift its deeply troubling approach to the Constitution by withdrawing the offending letter to the PSC before the court once again embarrasses it by inevitably ordering it to do so”.

 

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