An attack on constitutionalism

Article 226 (1) of the Constitution states, “save as otherwise provided in this Constitution, in the exercise of its functions under this Constitution, a Commission (service commissions) shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”

The language is spare and straightforward. Therefore, the directive issued by Minister of State Joseph Harmon on June 26 to the Police Service Commission (PSC) in the name of President Granger for the halting of the police promotions process must be condemned as an attack on constitutionalism.

It is unfortunate that the Chairman of the PSC, Omesh Satyanand, despite recognising the unconstitutional nature of the directive by the President, is prepared to put the promotions process on hold.

Given President Granger’s flawed reading of the constitutional provisions relating to the appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, his unconscionable delay in acting upon the recommendations of the Judicial Service Commission and the May 2015 attempt by Minister Simona Broomes to issue an instruction to the Public Service Commission, which was later ruled ultra vires by the High Court, a pattern of highly worrying behaviour has emerged.

It is clear that when it suits the President and the government to ignore constitutional precepts -in this case the vital insulating of service commissions – it is prepared to do so. Two and a half years into its term in office, this tendency is rife with jeopardies to constitutional rule and the rule of law. It also adds to the unpleasant legend of the PNC’s undemocratic rule of the 70s and 80s, the flying of the colours of the party over the Guyana Court of Appeal and the entrenching of paramountcy of the party as enshrined in the Sophia Declaration.

When APNU – of which the PNCR is the essence – formed an alliance with the AFC for the purposes of the 2015 general elections, the major expectation among swing voters and those who didn’t traditionally vote for the PNCR was that the AFC was going to be the balancer,  the counterforce to any excesses that might arise if the coalition were to enter office. The expectations of the AFC were apparently too high and they have flattered to deceive. They have turned a Nelson’s eye to serious transgressions like the instruction to the PSC and the shambolic handling of the GECOM nominations.

No explanation provided by President Granger or Minister Harmon can justify the demarche on the PSC. The Ministry of the Presidency reported the President as saying on August 16 that there have been many legitimate complaints by members of the PSC and aggrieved police officers of abuse and malpractice in the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and it is for this reason that he had asked for the promotion of police officers to be delayed.

“We are investigating the complaints, which have been made to us and we have asked the Police Service Commission to simply delay so that we can answer those queries and once those queries are satisfactorily answered we will proceed. It’s no intention on my part to impede the work of the Commission,” the President 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,” the President added.

In one fell swoop, President Granger has proceeded to undermine the constitutionally protected work of the PSC,  the functions of the Police Com-missioner and the hierarchical operation of the police force, the police force’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the Police Complaints Authority. These are the persons and institutions entrusted by law and convention with addressing the matters cited by the President such as complaints by members of the PSC – which reeks of an attempt from within to hobble the work of this service commission – and abuse and malpractice in the GPF. Neither the President nor the Ministry of the Presidency has locus standi in these matters.

On August 18, Minister of State, Harmon made matters worse. He told a post-Cabinet press conference that reports reaching the president indicated that the entire superstructure of the police force was likely to be affected by some action which was taking place and in the interest of the public he thought it best to ask the commission to put a temporary hold on promotions until such time that he is able to clarify the pending issues.

“The security of the state is the responsibility of the government and the president is the person who is ultimately responsible and anything which seeks to damage the fabric of our security forces is a matter which His Excellency takes very seriously,” he said, while adding that such damage will affect the security of the citizenry.

“If it has to do with the police… the GDF… the fire service or any of these forces which have a direct impact on the security of the state or the defence of our sovereignty, I want to give this assurance: that this is a matter which is taken very seriously and the president does not act capriciously as some persons want to feel that okay he didn’t follow the law and this is unconstitutional. The president acts after clear and deliberate consultations with the heads of his services,” Minister Harmon also said.

Such dire language leads one to wonder about the stewardship of the security sector by the President, the Defence Board, the National Security Council and Minister of Public Security, Ramjattan. How after nearly 30 months in office, with supposedly a magisterial grasp of security issues and full control of the Police Force, could the Police Force potentially be affected to the extent that the President must intervene? What has suddenly gone awry in the promotions process? One hopes that there won’t have to be a Commission of Inquiry as this sounds far more serious than Mr Gillard’s allegations about a plot against the President. Or is it simply a matter of the Presidency being determined to thwart the process enshrined in the constitution and by law? Whichever way, President Granger and his government must not believe that they can ride roughshod over the constitution. A stand must be taken by all those committed to constitutional order.

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