We citizens must talk to one another about a replacement for the Carter formula

 Dear Editor,

Charrandas Persaud, Attorney-at-law, in his letter  and  ACDA, the Pan African Group (Guyana) Branch, the All African Guyanese Association  and Concerned Citizens in the Diaspora in their letter, have given spirited and eloquent support for His Excellency David Arthur Granger, President of Guyana, in his appointment of retired Justice Patterson as the head of GECOM.

With all due respect, I find I cannot agree with Mr Persaud’s explanation of the Constitution. A Constitution is not simply the text that is in front of us. Our Constitution consists of the text plus the legal principles that determine how power is exercised. In my view our President has acted inconsistently with the Constitution. However the Court will judge and the Court’s opinion is law which has to be obeyed.

I also cannot agree with the approach taken in the letter from ACDA and the other organisations. The letter presents what is a legal question on the Constitution as if it is a disagreement between two races. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right under the Constitution and I would defend their right to speak.  Nevertheless I believe the letter is divisive and ill-advised. For example it says that, “Indians do not want to be ruled by an African leader.”  I accept that the letter writers genuinely hold this view but, (leaving aside for now the fact that nobody wants to be ‘ruled’) this is a silly statement. Did the writers interview every Indian in Guyana? Or ask a representative sample?

It is irrelevant whether our elected head of state is African, Indian, Amerindian, mixed or anything else. What matters is that he has acted in a way that has raised genuine doubt about the legality of his actions. He is not unique. Presidents around the globe do this from time to time.

The interpretation of Guyana’s Constitution is a matter of national interest. It touches us all. It transcends race. It transcends party politics. For those reasons, I also think it is unfortunate that the legal case has been brought by a member of a political party. It gives the impression of a politically motivated challenge. Perhaps it would have been wiser to wait a little longer and give civil society more opportunity to go to court in the public interest and thereby defuse some of the tension and insecurity.

Perhaps our problems arise because our electoral system is dominated by the interests of two political parties. The ‘Carter formula’ entrenches this domination. I am not criticising Mr Carter. He was here at a critical time. He brought his own lived experience of a country deeply divided by partisan politics and by race. But the ‘Carter formula’ is no longer a constructive way forward.  There are better models.  We citizens must talk to one another about a replacement.  I would like to start by suggesting that neither the President nor the Leader of the Opposition should have any say over who is appointed as a member of GECOM. All seven commissioners must be, and must be seen to be, impartial and loyal to Guyana, not to any political party.

We must also collectively rid ourselves of another legacy of American intervention in Guyana – the destructive and unintelligent habit of interpreting everything through race. This mind-set was significantly formed following the race riots of the 1960’s which were supported by the CIA and intended by the American Government to oust Cheddi Jagan, our democratically elected premier.  Perhaps, before he pronounces on the rule of law, the American Ambassador should apologise for the United States’ egregious and illegal conduct and the long-term harm inflicted on our society.

Today, we have wildly differing views about the Constitution and the appointment of retired Justice Patterson.  Here is material for a rich and lively discussion on the roads, in the markets, at the bus park, on the sea-wall, everywhere that we meet and talk. Of course, the strength of a view is sometimes inversely proportionate to its validity. But we can try to find the common ground. And we can disagree on the rest with sensitivity, good humour and mutual respect.

Yours faithfully,

Melinda Janki


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