The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) had its annual general meeting on Wednesday last and elected a new Bar Council, the name of its executive. The large turn-out of lawyers at the meeting was a positive indication of reviving interest. The nominees for office, clearly identified beforehand, were unanimously elected, underlining the unity which prevailed and which was expected to continue.
For the first time in many years a senior lawyer, the distinguished Robin Stoby, Senior Counsel, the Secretary of the GBA in the 1980s, agreed to serve and was elected as First Vice President. It was a generous commitment of time by Mr. Stoby, as well as by Mr. Rajendra Poonai, a leading lawyer with decades of practicing experience, who was elected to the Bar Council, to an executive comprising the younger generation of lawyers, although most of them have had more than ten years of practice. The dominance of ‘youth’ in the Bar Council, who have wisely sought out the guidance of the ‘seniors,’ appear to have now set the stage for the rejuvenation of the GBA.
One of the reasons behind public executions in the past and at present was and is to demonstrate the power of the State so that citizens would be duly intimidated. Public executions have largely disappeared. The growth of democracy has forced the development of more sophisticated methods of state intimidation, even though the gory spectacle remains in a few countries with significant democratic deficits and is pursued b a few terrorist groups, particularly ISIS.
The State machinery, particularly its enforcement arms, are theoretically and practically the major instruments of State control and enforcement. A more insidious form of State intimidation and oppression is the use of the press. Guyana has experienced starting from the late 1960s, the use of the privately owned press to inflame passions against the PPP Government, to misreport the news, to distort the truth and to encourage violence. The privately owned press was one of the main instruments in the struggle against the PPP Government. I am not familiar with the history of the press before this period. But I am sure it did its utmost to support the colonial authorities to intimidate persons and organisations who resisted the powers of the State, in particular the organized and unorganized workers’ movements.
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.
It should be of some significance to Christians that God’s message was not in “a raging whirlwind or a devouring fire” (Phillip Yancey quoted by Peter Wehner, NY Times 24/12/16). His messenger on earth was an ordinary man who was born in difficult circumstances, even with a hint of scandal, in a manger, after his family could not be accommodated in the inn. He spent a part of his childhood as a refugee, as so many thousands of children and adults are forced to do today, grew up into a worker, a carpenter, and died in his 30s at a time when the lifespan could not have been much higher. Some who do not subscribe to the view that he was the son of God, described him as an itinerant preacher, undistinguished from many others at that time, whose story took on greater proportions after he died.
But Jesus was different. He did not merely preach. He led by example. He was a friend of the poor and felt that they had a greater advantage in being admitted to heaven that the rich. “Blessed are you the poor for yours is the Kingdom of God,” he said. Jesus told the rich man who wanted to inherit eternal life to “go sell all your possessions and give your money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” Most of his followers, including women, who were accorded an equal status as men despite the patriarchal society which they inhabited, were ordinary people. Many of the men, including Peter, were fishermen. There is no evidence that Mary, who witnessed Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, was anything more than of ordinary status. Her allegedly, prior, sinful character seems to have been a later invention.
Since it became known that Dr. Steve Surujballi will be retiring shortly as Chairman of the Elections Commission, popularly known by the acronym, GECOM, there has been a flurry of activity in connection with the appointment of a new Chair. The Opposition has written to Minister Joe Harmon. The Leader of the Opposition announced that he would be engaging in wide consultations, which is a positive step since some of the bodies he mentioned have been critics of the PPP from time to time. Mr. Harmon indicated that the President has written the Leader of the Opposition and has triggering the process.
The process by which the Chair is appointed is provided for by the Constitution. In 1991 Dr. Cheddi Jagan, then Leader of the Opposition PPP, refused to accept the continuation in office of Chairman of GECOM, Sir Harry Bollers. President Carter persuaded President Hoyte to retire Chief Justice Bollers and asked Dr. Jagan for six names, which would be acceptable to President Hoyte, from whom he would choose one to be the new Chair. Among the persons searching for names were myself and Miles Fitzpatrick.