Let me start by commending Ruel Johnson and others for bringing to the attention of the public via the media -social and mainstream- the offending clause ensconced in the Cybercrime Bill 2016. This level of militancy reinforces the importance of ensuring politicians, on both sides, govern in the interest of the people. Such governance also includes the safeguarding of our civil liberties.
Yesterday, Anil Nandlall, PPP/C shadow minister of legal affairs, rather than accept he dropped the ball as member of the Select Committee in the National Assembly tasked with the responsibility to examine the Bill; wants to lay blame only at the door of the government. Refer to Stabroek News’ article `Nandlall slams sedition clause in Cybercrime Bill –says it has to go’ (30th April 2018). Had he, in the first instance, done the job we are paying him for he would have recognised the concerns he now expresses. Society must also wonder how many more of these instances exist and will likely crop up. After-the-fact condemnation continues to mark the tendency for inept and narrow-minded political mileage being pursued in the management of the people’s business.
Society must not accept Nandlall’s claim “that the sittings of that Committee conflicted with [his] rigorous Court schedule.” Society must accept nothing less than optimum vigilance in the discharge of the people’s business from the elected leaders. A matter as serious as our security he should have availed himself in the Committee to meaningfully participate and bring the concerns to society or express regrets for such failing, not jump up now and claim offence when he abrogated his responsibility in the first instance. Excuses of being too busy to do the people’s work in the Assembly on the claim of a Court schedule is a non-excuse.
Minster of State Joseph Harmon’s response to the clause is equally troubling. National security has to respect civil liberties and be built on such. You cannot, in any way, compromise people’s fundamental rights and freedoms in the making of any law on the pretext that that law is to ensure security, for it foremost has to respect and ensure the people’s involvement in making it possible. When you seek to stifle and circumscribe the role of the people on the pretext of ensuring security in fact what is being pursued is the undermining of the said security.
The offending clause must be looked at through the lens of liberties. While Harmon is evidently looking at the serious concerns through military lens he must be reminded national security is all encompassing and governance is built and sustained on civil principles. This is even more underscored if it could be appreciated why the position of Commander-in-Chief in western societies is civilian not military. This is not by accident. It is deliberate to ensure the civil values, ideals, freedoms and rights of the people and their society prevail in any decision impacting on governance and their well-being.
Government and Opposition must return to the drawing board and address the concerns and fears of the people by ensuring that their constitutionally guaranteed and protected rights and freedoms are secured. They are many persons in this society, equipped with the requisite skills that can aid the development of a Cybercrime Bill that would meet such standards. Among these persons are Keith Massiah SC and Bryn Pollard SC, et al.
In closing, society needs more Johnsons and vigilant media, for it is the people who will ensure government functions in the interest of the people.