We need constitutional education.
Having read Mike Persaud’s letter, ‘We need a return to a Westminster model constitution’ (SN, September 28), there are some germane issues that cannot be ignored.
- Where the call for a return to a constitution that would “have a president with limited powers and subject to the rule of law” is concerned, ‘limited powers’ requires furthering contextualising given that Guyana is a sovereign nation and not subject to the Crown or any other external power. As it is the present Constitution subjects the president to the rule of law.
Presently circulating in the public domain are the oral and written rulings of acting Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire on the interpretation of the qualifying criteria to be considered for the Gecom chairmanship (Article 161). The court was asked to adjudicate on this matter given conflicting opinions by President Granger and others. Were the President above the rule of law, Madame Chief Justice would have thrown out the case and said whatever the office holder does is right and that person’s action is immune from legal interpretation and accountability.
The Gecom ruling also puts context to Article 182 ‘Immunities of the President’ where the society has been misled into thinking the office holder can do whatever he or she wants unrestrained by laws, time-honoured principles and ethical practices. The Gecom evidence, in addition to previous similar rulings, by now should have nullified the argument that the president is above the rule of law, yet this misperception or piece of propaganda continues to hold sway.
2.Mr Persaud said, “We need a constitution to strengthen the independence of state institutions – the judiciary, Elections Commission, etc.” The debate on the composition of the commissioners can be argued, but the body of itself is independent and operates within the confine of the Constitution and any Act of Parliament (Article 162).
Regarding the judicature, Article 122A expressly addresses its independence. Accordingly, at “(1) All courts and all persons presiding over the courts shall exercise their function independently of the control and direction of any other person or authority; and shall be free and independent from political, executive and any other form of direction and control.” This is as clear as it can get, most notably so with the use of ‘shall’ as qualifier of the independence of this branch.
To the David Granger/Moses Nagamotoo government’s credit, the move to provide the judiciary with economic independence in the National Budget is a progressive stance in terms of Article 122A (2) that reinforces its autonomy and addresses its funding and management.
- It’s Mr Persaud’s view there is need for a constitution to provide for “impeachment” of the president. This very request does not require a new constitution for it already exists in the present constitution. Article 94 ‘Removal of President for violation of Constitution or gross misconduct’ satisfies the desire to impeach the office holder if and when necessary.
We need constitutional education like yesterday, and at the risk of being seen as belabouring the point, this society is not being served where absence of knowledge, education and enforcement of the Constitution are driving the discussions for reform or a new constitution. The desire to pursue blindly will get us all into deeper trouble.