The year 2017, will be remembered as a year of broken promises and some of the most egregious violations of the Constitution and the rule of law.
In the month of January, the nation was treated with a media blitz by the Attorney General signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with two unknown academic entities for the establishment of a local law school in Guyana. Even a name was assigned to this venture – ‘The JOF Haynes Law School’, after one of the finest legal minds produced by Guyana. The nation would recall that in 1995, the Cheddi Jagan administration was granted permission by the Council of Legal Education of the West Indies (CLE) to establish a local law school. This project, however, was abandoned the following year when the CLE, the University of Guyana and the University of the West Indies entered into a collaborative agreement through which the top 25 graduates of the LLB programme were guaranteed entry in to the Hugh Wooding Law School. This agreement was continuously renewed under the PPP administration.
When the Attorney General made the public announcement of a local law school in January 2017, I disclosed publicly that while the PPP is not opposed to such a venture, permission must first be obtained from the CLE and that no such permission had been obtained. I also publicly questioned the academic integrity of the two institutions with which the government entered into this MOU. To my queries, the Attorney General boldly told the press that he sought and obtained permission of the CLE to establish a local law school in Guyana and that same will be up and running in 2018. By December 2017, the Attorney General was forced to disclose that he never received permission from the CLE. In short, there will be no local law school in 2018. Our poor law students were taken on a ride of deception by the Attorney General. As usual, he conjured up a conspiracy, blaming a number of persons, excepting himself, for this failed venture.
We were told that in the year 2017, a Law Reform Commission would be established. Forty million dollars was budgeted for it in the 2016 budget of the Ministry of Legal Affairs. To date no such Commission has been established. No one has been able to account for this money. More money has been budgeted for the establishment of this Commission in the 2018 budget.
We were promised that a slew of coroners would be appointed in the year 2017. Not a single coroner was appointed, although the Coroners Act was amended to facilitate these appointments. The nation was promised that the errors in the Laws of Guyana would be corrected in the year 2017. This turned out to be another failed promise.
The year 2017, also saw the continued emasculation of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the Director of Public Prosecutions office (DPP). These two organizations are constitutionally and statutorily charged with the responsibilities of investigating and detecting crimes and the prosecution of criminal offences. Armed with $100M from the Treasury, the Attorney General hired special prosecutors to prosecute offences investigated by the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU), an organization funded from the budget of the Ministry of the Presidency and whose officers take political directions from various functionaries of the government. These special prosecutors are issued with a fiat by the DPP, which says that they are retained at no cost to the state, but in fact are bankrolled to the tune of $100M paid from the Attorney General’s budget. These prosecutors are all handpicked and are closely connected to this government. Two occupy the former law office of the Attorney General on South Road; one occupies the former law office of another minister of government; one is the brother of a minister and the other was on the APNU List of Candidates for the 2015 elections. For the year 2018, the Attorney General has budgeted over $250M to pay lawyers whom he plans to retain in that year.
The year 2017 also saw the government hounding out of office, Carvil Duncan, the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, a member of the Police Service Commission and a member of the Judicial Service Commission. Mr Duncan was invited to the Ministry of the Presidency where he was offered a package to resign, with the President allegedly saying to him “I do not want blood on my carpet”. When Mr Duncan refused, a Tribunal was established with the design of removing him from office. The legality of this tribunal was challenged in the court. The Judge who was hearing this matter was abused and intimidated by the Attorney General in open court.
The year 2017 also saw poor rice farmers from Region 5 successfully challenging the unconstitutional revocation of their 50-year-old leases for rice lands. It is also this year that the President instructed Minister Joseph Harmon to direct the Police Service Commission to halt the promotion of police officers. Again, the constitutional jurisdiction of the High Court had to be invoked to declare these directions unconstitutional. This year also witnessed repeated acts of rampant discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and politics. Dozens of qualified professional sons and daughters of this land were unlawfully dismissed in a manner designed to disgrace, humiliate and tarnish their professional reputation and standing.
Another vulgar violation of the Constitution took place when the Commissioner of Police was suspended by the Minister of Public Security in clear violation of Article 225 of the Constitution. It was also in 2017, that the nation learnt that the government received an US$18M signing bonus from ExxonMobil, which it stashed in a secret account in the central bank instead of depositing same in the Consolidated Fund as is required by Article 216 of the Constitution. The year 2017, will conclude with Guyana being no closer to constitutional reform, a promise that the coalition government promised to deliver within its first 100 days in office.
This year, the nation also witnessed an unprecedented and repeated abuse of the Procurement Act, where a singular purchase of over $605M of pharmaceuticals was undertaken upon the direction of a Minister of Health to a handpicked supplier. The year 2017 will also end without the promised termination of the lease of a house in Charlestown, for which the government is paying $14M per month to one of its cronies. The lease contract says that the property is being rented as an office, but the government says it is storing pharmaceuticals and medical supplies at the premises.
As in preceding years, the Minister of Finance cut the budgetary requests of almost every single constitutional agency, while the government continues to pay lip service to financial and functional autonomy, which these agencies are guaranteed under the Constitution. The judiciary’s capital budget was cut by over two thirds, rendering it impossible for the judiciary to carry out most of its capital programme.
Perhaps the mother of all constitutional violations was the President’s unilateral appointment of an 84-year-old retired judge as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom). This scandalous appointment came after the President rejected 18 respectable and outstanding Guyanese, whose names were submitted to him by the Leader of the Opposition, who received those names through a consultative process involving almost every important stakeholder organization in this country. The gentleman who was eventually appointed claimed that he was the Chief Justice of Grenada. The President disclosed to the press that he appointed him because he was the Chief Justice of Grenada. To date, not an iota of evidence has been produced that this gentleman was ever appointed the Chief Justice of Grenada. In fact, the evidence which has been unearthed established that he had only acted in the position for a short period of time. The matter is now engaging the attention of the court.
The year 2017 is ending with another major constitutional scandal brewing. The President is actively recruiting a person for the position of Chancellor of the Judiciary but has not seen it fit to engage the Leader of the Opposition, whose agreement is constitutionally required, before such appointment can be lawfully made. Indeed, the press has already identified a candidate who seems to enjoy the President’s confidence. Having regard to his track record on these matters, one cannot discount some warped and twisted interpretation being placed on the Constitution through which the President persuades himself that he is empowered to make such an appointment, unilaterally.
Only time will tell.
Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP