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.
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.
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.
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.
Guyana has had a long history of struggle for electoral democracy. We have seen at first hand the devastating impact of manipulated elections on a country’s development and the psyche of a people. As it is, it will take several generations in the future for the suspicions and accusations over elections to disappear. It is not something that Guyana needs ever again.
Beginning in 1990 there were many reforms which brought about free and fair elections in Guyana. The two most fundamental reforms were an agreed Chair of the Elections Commission and counting of the votes at the place of poll. These were, of course, supplemented by many other laws, regulations and practices that were agreed to between the two main political parties and enshrined in the Constitution or in the Representation of the People Act.