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.
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.
The PPP unanimously decided in about 1994/5 to propose to the Select Committee on Constitutional Reform established by the Sixth Parliament (1992-1997) that a president should serve only two terms. I led the delegation, which included former President Donald Ramotar, and presented the PPP’s position.
The PPP presented the same position to the Constitutional Reform Commission (1999-2000), which I chaired. Its delegation was led by former President Donald Ramotar, then General Secretary. The two-term presidential limit, supported by the PNCR, was adopted by the Constitution Reform Commission and formed part of its recommendations. Article 90(3) of the Constitution was duly amended by Act No. 17 of 2001, unanimously passed in the National Assembly, to limit the presidential terms to two.
Public rage in Georgetown continues to grow and expand as last Thursday’s massive demonstration shows, even as the Government has finally been forced to intervene in the parking meter fiasco. But it is too little too late. Boat gone a’ fall. The demand is now for the rescinding of the flawed agreement between the City Council and SCS.
The Government faltered when it allowed the City Council to proceed with the parking meter secret project, with charges that were outrageously high – 37 percent of the average monthly salary in Guyana as compared with a high of 13 percent of the monthly salary in the US. After the meeting between the Government and the City Council, the Government did not call for the release of the secret agreement. That is a telling omission.