Neutral third party needed for meaningful constitutional reform

first_imgDear Editor,Constitutional reform in Guyana is not likely to happen anytime soon and if it does, it will not be anything substantial. One night in 2012 after my TV programme at Channel 9, I was invited by a group of PNC stalwarts to have a drink at the shop across the road from the TV station. (I drank Vita Malts). The conversation revolved around the 1980 (Burnham) Constitution. The general consensus that night from the PNCites was that nothing was wrong with the Constitution but rather, those who were managing the Constitution. PPP was in power at the time.Those calling for constitutional reform need to understand the powers vested in the purveyors of the Constitution at any given time. The Guyana Constitution is unlike any other constitution. \Not even the international, developed countries have such an autocratically constructed constitution. Our Constitution is so flawed, that the only time any of the politicians have any problems with it is when they are not in power. The Constitution is designed to benefit the Administration in power. When those PNC comrades told me that nothing was wrong with the constitution, they were very critical of how the PPP was using it.It would be just a couple years after that conversation that President Donald Ramotar would find a clause in the (Burnham) Constitution that allowed him to sidestep a No-Confidence Motion and prorogue the Parliament. His gamble did not pay off and he lost power. Now the custodians of the Constitution are largely the students and underlings of the author of the Constitution. And to many of these people, ‘Fat Boy’ was a god. The spoken and unspoken position of these Burnhamites is that you do not tamper with the writings of a god.One can then imagine the herculean bravery that would have to be summoned for one Burnhamite to suggest to the other Burnhamites that the ‘word of god’ needed to be adjusted. First he’d be ignored. Then he’d be laughed at. Then he’d be fought tooth and nail. Then he’ll lose.Has anyone ever hear a PNCite articulate any inconsistency of any of the Kabaka’s policies? It will not happen. Try as you might, using any amount of logical and intelligent formula, you will not get a Burnhamite to acquiesce to any failed policies of President Burnham. You would faster get President Jagdeo to release his financial statements than get a student of Burnham to find a single fault in his administrative behaviours.And for that single reason, no PNC insider – no matter how high up the pecking order – would dare initiate a discussion suggesting an amendment to the (Burnham) Constitution. Such an admission emanating from anyone under the shade of the Palm Tree would amount to blasphemy, disrespect or even sacrilege.It was this constitution that kept the PNC in power for 28 long years and it is this self-same constitution that kept the PPP in power for 23 long years. Now the PNC (largely) are back in the saddle. Why would any autocratic-leaning leader, from any party, in his or her right mind, tamper with such a substantial document? Why weaken the powers that are legally available to you, when you don’t have to?If the AFC had remained objective and independent, the next big thing in the scope of things, after the fall of the PPP, would have been constitutional reform. One would remember that this was the AFC’s clarion cry when they were independent and free. Now that they have merged with the APNU with big brother PNC running the show, they have either gotten quiet on the issue, or someone is shouting other things a lot louder than they are calling for this needed reform. We hear Nigel Hughes shouting for change, but sometimes your voice fails when you alone are doing the shouting.One would also note that the PPP is very silent on the issue of constitutional reform. That is because they have studied and internalised the (Burnham) Constitution and had laid very comfortably on it for 23 years. They knew it so well that when the Burnhamites thought they had brought down the PPP Government with their AFC-sponsored No Confidence Motion, the PPP whipped out a prorogual clause that send shivers down the collective spines of the PNCites. I bet that the PPP is au fait with quite a lot more manoeuvres that are hidden between the lines of that (Burnham) Constitution. So don’t expect any hurray from them on constitutional reform. Rather, they would love to get their hands back on that self-same Constitution and govern with it ‘as is’.Therefore, any reform to the Constitution will be long in coming and if it does come, it will be only negligible. The presidential executive powers will not be reduced.The presidential non-subjectability to the courts will remain. The provision that prohibits the coalition of political parties, after an election, will stay. After all, these are the juicy parts of the Constitution, which allow for the complete domination of one party over the other and which sanction the inexcusable behaviour of the President, whenever he or she feels like.That is why folks were excited about the AFC when they started making those logical arguments about constitutional reform. That is why they were awarded seats in Parliament. The masses saw light in what they were proposing. They would have been the ones to pressure the bigger, power-hungry parties to make these commonsensical adjustments to this archaic, autocratic, oppressive document. But alas, the AFC has frizzled and has now become silent on this matter.Editor, I wonder if it is not time for another independent party to follow where the AFC was leading? Maybe it’s time for a third party to enter the stage and pledge to never merge with any of the larger parties.A third party would be able to hold the Parliament accountable to the Guyanese people and have them institute changes to the Constitution that we all know are reasonable and needed. I believe that only when there is a third party, Guyanese will see any substantial reform made to the (Burnham) Constitution.Yours faithfully,Pastor WendellJeffreylast_img read more