The Constitution must be adhered to, not reformed

Dear Editor,

Almost all the political commentators who dominate our press today, speak of the need for constitutional reform(s). This call for constitutional reform is not a new one – it has been happening for the longest while.  It can be recalled that even when the constitutional reform process of 1997-2001 produced significant changes to the Constitution, before the ink was dry, calls went up for ‘constitutional reforms’.

Many even go so far as to say that we should scrap the Westminster system, or those parts that we have embraced. I get the impression that it has become a slogan and many who make that call do not appreciate the essence of the Westminster system. While the demands and calls are numerous, they are all short of concrete proposals. What reforms are really needed? Hardly anything is put forward.

Only last week, on April 14, 2019, Dr David Hinds again raised the issue in a pretty long article in the Kaieteur News. Despite the length of the piece, he was short on real proposals.  One such general statement made was, “The current political impasse is partly the result of the failure to push forward with constitutional reforms…” He omits to say how that is so.

In fact, the statement is absolutely wrong and misleading. The current political impasse is due to the fact that the PNC led APNU+AFC regime is violating the Constitution. They are refusing to govern in accordance with the Constitution.  A clear case is the nonsense of not accepting 33 as being the majority of 65. In fact, let us not forget that this ‘no confidence’ emerged from the last open and consultative constitutional amendment reform process that saw the insertion of the resignation of Cabinet and the holding of elections if there is a defeat in a vote of confidence.

Another example of constitutional violation is the clear case of the President’s single-handed appointment of the Chairman of the Elections Commission. And another example is the recent changes in the procurement processes – these all point to this government ignoring the Constitution and relevant laws.

Another statement that Dr Hinds made, which is totally wrong, is; ‘…A Constitution that emerged to enable the consolidation of a commandist state cannot be the same one for a movement away from such a state.” I can only assume that the Constitution that he refers to is the current Constitution – be reminded that this Constitution emerged from the work done between 1997 and 2001.

What he has implied is that the broad-based committee that was set-up, chaired by Ralph Ramkarran, with Haslyn Parris as Secretary, and included Rupert Roopnarine, Miles Fitzpatrick, and a host of other prominent Guyanese, that went throughout this country taking evidence, were all engaged in an exercise to consolidate ‘a commandist state’.

That is not only patently false but an insult to the work done by this committee.

In fact, far more than 200 changes were made to the 1980 Constitution, all of which took powers from the Presidency and placed them in the National Assembly.  How did this serve in the ‘consolidation of a commandist state’ as Dr Hinds states? It is just not so.

Those who call for constitutional reform create the false impression that once you have a good Constitution, the economy would boom. Hinds put this belief in the following way, ‘…the proof of an effective Constitution is its ability to guarantee political and social stability”.

The best Constitution, if it is not respected, if it is violated daily, cannot do the things that Dr Hinds speak about. If the government is not adhering to the laws, then we cannot blame the Constitution for not delivering. Moreover, even if a government is following the Constitution and it reaches the requirements of Hinds, if its economic policies are bad and create poverty, then no Constitution would guarantee ‘social stability’ as he states.

The WPA, in particular, but others also, used to say that Burnham was made a dictator by the 1980 Constitution; (by the way Burnham himself used to speak of abandoning the Westminster system).

That too is not true.

The PNC became dictatorial long before the 1980 Constitution was adopted. In fact, it was under the Westminster Constitution that Burnham became dictatorial. Some political commentators believe that the dictatorship began at the time the first elections were massively rigged in 1968; others put it in 1973 when the army was used to seize the ballot boxes and change the votes. The point is, at those times, we had the Westminster Constitution.

Another fallacy that is consistently perpetrated is the blaming of the PNC and PPP equally for the violation of the Constitution. The record would show that to be untrue.

The PPP/C took office in 1992 with the 1980 Constitution in place. However, no one can reasonably accuse the PPP/C government of ever being dictatorial. At no time in the 23 years did the PPP consciously violated our Constitution. The PPP/C respected the separation of powers and never tried to subvert the Judiciary or the National Assembly.

The point to make here is that a good Constitution is important, but just as important is to have people who are committed democrats willing  to live by the rule of law and treat the Constitution with respect, to know it. This is the issue that the likes of Hinds avoid. Yet it is very vital.

As far back as October 1965, Cheddi Jagan wrote, ‘…Constitutional instruments can become meaningless unless there is a will to honour them…”  Those words are true now as when he wrote them 54 years ago.

The main issue today is to govern according to the Constitution; respect the Rule of Law. We have to do so first of all.  Only when we are practicing good governance and allowing the Constitution to work would we be able to identify areas for constitutional reforms. In the meantime, all the calls are without any substance.

Yours faithfully,

Donald Ramotar

Former President

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