On Wednesday last the public was treated to a brilliant and expansive lecture by the former Chancellor (ag) of the Judiciary and now Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence at the University of Guyana, Carl Singh. The subject was “The Constitutional Guarantee of Fundamental Rights and the Citizen. The lecture, to a packed hall and attentive audience at Herdmanston House, was the third in the series “Conversation on Law and Society.” Chancellor Singh started by pointing out that while citizens may not always be cognizant of what their right are, they are certainly aware that the Constitution guarantees them, which they are often prepared to aggressively defend. He related the story of a visitor to a hospital in Georgetown who was being prevented from entering because the visiting hours had come to an end. During the argument between the visitor and the hospital staff, the visitor loudly proclaimed that it was her constitutional right to enter the hospital to visit her relative!
Chancellor Singh explored a wide range of issues, not all of which can be examined here. A few are selected.
Divided societies like Guyana suffer from a phenomenon whereby historic events which, when they occurred, gave rise to allegations of ethnic bias, never seem to go away. The West Indies Federation, which lasted from 1958 to 1962, is one such. It is an historic event which is hardly relevant to contemporary Guyana today. Yet the debate on Jagan’a attitude to the Federation rages, as if the event occurred yesterday, and not more than 50 years ago. It is contextualized to the current ethnic controversies, one of which is to seek to continually paint Jagan as a racist, or at least to allege that he was motivated by ethnic considerations. His role in the establishment of the University of Guyana has become another. But that is for another time.
An editorial in the Stabroek News of December 19, 1986, on ‘Regional Integration’ stated that ‘…others, notably Eusi Kwayana (then Sydney King) attributed Jagan’s opposition [to the Federation] to his unwillingness to be swamped in a predominantly African grouping. C.L.R. James is also reported to have made a similar assertion. In response to the Stabroek News editorial, Jagan replied as follows:
The Russian Revolution, referred to as the ‘Great October Socialist Revolution,’ took place one hundred years ago on November 7 (October 25 on the calendar in force in Russia at the time). Although the revolution was inspired by noble ideas and ideals, mainly the elimination of exploitation and poverty and the creation of a party to represent the interests of the working class to do so, it did not survive the 20th century. China and Vietnam claim to be building ‘socialism’ with their own characteristics, while establishing capitalist economies. Once ‘progressive’ developing countries have all been ensnared by globalization and neoliberalism.
The ideas of colonial liberation were given a substantial impetus by the Russian Revolution. The defeat of fascism in 1945, the Independence of India in 1947 and the liberation of China in 1949 set the stage for the dismantling of the remainder of the British Empire. These were the major events that inspired the leaders of liberation movements all over the world, including Guyana. Along the way many of them absorbed the ideas of Marx, the theorist, and Lenin, the practitioner.
The stunning news, unprecedented in Africa’s history, broke on Friday morning that the Kenyan Supreme Court had overturned the results of the August 8 elections which the incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, 55, had won with 54 percent of the vote. The six-bench Supreme Court ruled four to two in favour of a petition by Raila Odinga, 72, running and losing for the fourth time, with 44 percent of the vote, who claimed that electronic voting results were hacked in favour of Kenyatta. New elections were ordered in 60 days.
Chief Justice David Maraga, in delivering the ruling said: “After considering the evidence, we are satisfied that the elections were not conducted in accordance with the dictates of the Constitution.” The court said that the elections commission committed “illegalities and irregularities…in the transmission of the results,” the details of which will be set out in the written judgment to be delivered in 21 days.
I adopt the sentiments of Lincoln Lewis, who writes frequently on constitutional matters. He said in last Sunday’s Chronicle: “We are facing a very serious situation and what I am about to say is intended to right a ship, veering wildly off course and posing dire implications for the rule of law, the legitimacy of the executive, and protecting the well-being of the society.” Mr. Lewis cited the following instances where the authority of the executive and limits of the President have been exceeded: 1. The termination of leases in the MMA; 2. (Mis)Interpretation of criteria for Gecom chair; 3. The termination of Red House lease; 4. Seeking to possess the property of Clarissa Riehl; 5. Instructions given to the Police Service Commission not to act on a list for promotions. While Mr. Lewis’s did not explicitly say so, his conclusion is that the court rulings suggest that the constitution is being violated.
A strong editorial in the Stabroek News of August 21 did not mince words. Additional violations were cited in extenso:”…the directive issued by Minister of State Joe Harmon on June 26 to the Police Service Commission (PSC) in the name of President Granger for the halting of the police promotions process must be condemned as an attack on constitutionalism….Given President Granger’s flawed reading of the constitutional provisions relating to the appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, his unconscionable delay in acting upon the recommendations of the Judicial Service Commission and the May 2015 attempt by Minister Simona Broomes to issue an instruction to the Public Service Commission, which was later ruled ultra vires by the High Court, a pattern of highly worrying behavior has emerged. It is clear that when it suits the President and the government to ignore constitutional precepts – in this case the vital insulating of service commissions – it is prepared to do so. Two and a half years into its term of office, this tendency is rife with jeopardies to constitutional rule and the rule of law. It also adds to the unpleasant legend of the PNC’s undemocratic rule of the 70s and 80s, the flying of colours of the party over the Guyana Court of Appeal and the entrenching of paramountcy of the party as enshrined in the Sophia Declaration.”