SARA – A BOLD AND VITAL INSTRUMENT

The State Asset Recovery Bill (“Bill”) was passed in the National Assembly on Friday last after a robust debate. It is a bold and vital instrument in the anti-corruption effort, although modern anti-corruption legislation still remains to be addressed. When I wrote in 2012 that the PPP Governments had made efforts to curb corruption, but that by then it had become pervasive and further steps needed to be taken, it was legislation such as this that I had in mind. One of the triggers for my article was the many inquiries made of me for at least two years before my term as Speaker ended in 2010 as to whether AML/CFT legislation was pending. I knew that there was a requirement from CFATF that such legislation be passed but it was only when sanctions were threatened after the 2011 elections that the legislation was finally tabled by the last Government.

Political considerations were mainly responsible for the then combined APNU and AFC Opposition to oppose the AML/CFT Bill, just as political considerations are now mainly responsible for the current Opposition opposing the Bill.

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CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM – WHERE DOES APNU-AFC STAND?

Two Fridays ago a seminar on Constitutional Reform the Process, was held at the University of Guyana. The event, which was well attended, was organized by the Carter Centre and facilitated by the British High Commission. The PPP and a cross-section of civil society were represented, but conspicuously absent was any APNU or AFC party or Government representatives. The discourse focused on why there should be constitutional reform and the process by which it should be undertaken. The event was not intended to have a formal conclusion but to have Guyanese ownership.

Many ills of the society that needed redress were identified. There were concerns that elected officials were interfering in the democratic right to protest, of political intermeddling in Amerindian affairs, of the need for equity in the society, of implementing the existing provisions of the Constitution, of educating young people about the issues, and everything in between. The debate around the issues raised was lively and energetic. The fact that the audience remained attentive and engaged throughout the three-hour event suggested that there is much interest in constitutional reform and scope for more debate.

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DRAMA IN COURT

The Guyana Chronicle, which obtained Justice Franklin Holder’s letter to the Chancellor (ag), the Hon. Yonette Cummings-Edwards, complaining about the conduct of the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, the Hon. Basil Williams, during the hearing of a matter in Court on March 23, tried its best to obfuscate. The letter has now been published and Justice Holder’s searing comments are in the public domain.

This less than professional reporting by the Guyana Chronicle was probably the reason why the Judge’s letter found its way to other sections of the media. The Judge described Mr. Williams’s conduct as ‘despicable’ and ‘contemptuous.’ The Judge said, quoting his letter from the Stabroek News: “I am not prepared to sit and hear Mr. Williams as an attorney-at-law in any matter whatsoever, unless he makes a genuine and meaningful apology to my satisfaction, in open court, both to me and to members of the Bar since they too were scandalized by his despicable conduct.” The Guyana Chronicle, which claimed to have had the Judge’s letter, reported none of this.

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IMPROVING ACCESS TO JUSTICE

The judiciary is one of the three branches of Government. It is a vital component of our democratic system and for this reason needs to function with a high degree of proficiency. Even though most citizens go through their lives without having to invoke the assistance of the judiciary to protect or defend their rights against other citizens or the State, nevertheless the judiciary is a bulwark against the violation of those rights. Citizens need to be assured that there is a fair and impartial judiciary that can deliver justice in a timely manner in the even that they need to call on its protection.

In the business community, commercial disputes arise frequently, although, like the general population, most go through their business without ever having to revert to the judiciary to solve disputes. A judicial system that can rapidly resolve commercial disputes is necessary not only to keep business activity turning over but to sustain confidence in the business community, both local and foreign, to invest or continue to invest in Guyana.

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THE POWER OF PUBLIC OPINION

The campaign against the unilateral and undemocratic imposition of parking meters in Georgetown is at last bearing fruit. The Government has been persuaded to intervene and had asked the City Council to suspend the operation of the contract until a renegotiation of its terms can be effected. At a time when the Government has been taking criticism for being indecisive, it has shown commendable resolve in this matter, even though a bit late.

The campaign against the parking metes was sustained by the outrage of citizens at the exorbitant charges imposed. These charges are simply not affordable by most of the people who are employed in Georgetown and travel to work in their motor cars. The same case that has been made by teachers at Bishops High and staffers at the Bank of Guyana, who were given free parking by Smart City Solutions (SCS), applies to most others.

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