Attacking the Constitution rather than enforcing it has us in this mess today

Dear Editor,

People’s rights and the rule of law are not footballs for politicians to be kicking around, and it is for this reason I shall stay the course in the debate on the Guyana Constitution to make sure people respect this instrument, and do what is right by enacting laws to make real the structures that are currently in place. Henry Jeffrey and Clement Rohee voted for the amendments in the constitution that emanated from the 1999 Constitutional Reform Commission and I shall not allow any one of the two to mislead the society.

Dr Jeffrey is talking about constitutional changes while Mr Rohee in responding to my letter is seeking to mislead this nation that the PPP/C government has a record of achievement in inclusionary democracy (‘Rohee has ignored the steps…’ July 5). Mr Rohee needs to understand that this discussion is about facts and truths and if he could not highlight one achievement to prove the PPP/C’s record how does he expect any one in the society to find it?

For Dr Jeffrey, I understand clearly what he is saying (SN, June 26; ‘Social structure does not equate to the Constitution’ SN, July 7). What is clearer from his writings on the subject is that when he cast his votes to amend the 1980 constitution, he didn’t understand Guyana is a Republic and what the constitution is for.  A constitution is made for the society, not the society for a constitution, which means that societal behaviours are taken on board.  One of the amendments put in place was “inclusionary democracy” that has seen no bill from Jeffrey, Rohee or their colleagues brought to the Parliament to give meaning to this declaration of intent.

The preamble in the Constitution acknowledges our racial diversity and the conflicts that can flow therefrom. Article 13 expressly states, “The principal objective of the system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being.”

If the politicians care about improving race relations, be respectful of voting patterns, have groups involved in the governance of this country, and create an enabling environment for every person or group to have a fair share of the nation’s pie, they would have set about moving to implement laws to give meaning to Article 13.  Instead the people are being held hostage by politicians’ failure to act positively in making real what the Constitution adumbrated.

A look at the parties’ manifestos, pronouncements from political representatives, some opinion shapers, and those who cannot get past their personal animosity for Forbes Burnham, some of the things they say are needed in the constitution are already there. This is another clear indication of not having read the constitution or a failure to understand it.

For instance, the talks about the devolution of power exist before our eyes in Chapter 7 of the Constitution, but the masses continue to be deprived of what’s due to them. Outside of the Bill tabled by PNC MP Jeffrey Thomas in the 1990s to give meaning to regional and local government, no other has been brought since, nor has this Bill been revisited. This fact and truth shall be repeated as a proven indictment of the politicians and the exposure of their ineptitude.

The PPP/C governed the longest under the Constitution, but what society saw was a trampling of the instrument. Outside of a few who stood up to the violations, many found excuses and sought cover by claiming the Constitution is bad and they will move to fix it, even after a lengthy process that brought amendments which were unanimously supported in the Parliament.  Many of the amendments await laws to be put in place to give meaning to them, and if this is not being done how can the people expect future amendments and changes will see action.

The proponents for constitutional reform do not understand that there is a difference between a constitution and the legislation that flows from it. The constitution is the declaration of intent and legislation operationalises the intent.  The failure to differentiate, contempt for and ignorance of the instrument, laziness to prepare Bills, and the sexiness of attacking it rather than enforcing it have us in this mess today. The people’s development must no longer be held hostage to these despicable behaviours.

Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis

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