Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

Updates!

Receive email notices when a commentary is uploaded. Join our mailing list.

E-Mail Address:

View Article

Constitution
(Aired 14 June 2002)

   the constitution of a nation, defines the fundamental laws of that county, in it are enshrined the basic rights of its citizens, and clearly defines what role the parliament, the executive and the presidential powers [if there is one] will be, it is drafted in such a way, as was the case in the United states for example, where there are enough checks and balances so that it ensures that none of the branches of government can dominate the other. Constitutions also spell out the freedoms and liberties to be enjoyed by its citizens. The Americans have even distilled their constitution and have produced a document which they call their bill of rights. Does any significant amount of Guyanese know what their constitutional rights are? The short answer is NO!

    In drafting the US constitution 214 years ago the authors sought a fundamental change from earlier democratic notions in two important ways, first they put the constitution above legislative power, indeed above all government powers the constitution particularly the supremacy clause of article 4, establishes the rule of law, the idea being that the government itself, including the president and congress, must abide by the law.   

    The American framers rejected the basic assumption held by many democratic theorists of the time, that true democracy was possible only in tiny territories with small homogenous populations. The brilliant Madison who became the fourth president of the US, argued that democracy could flourish in large territories with sizable populations and a diversity of interests, but that it MUST be drafted in such a way, that it would block the ambitions of any citizen to control the government, and that individual interests and liberties could be most effectively protected in a system of representative government that was open to the voices of ALL. Open to the voices of ALL ladies and gentlemen, is our constitution functioning in a manner where the voices of ALL individuals are heard? The answer is NO.

   The answer is no, because our constitution allows the executive branch of government to control the other two sections of the government the parliament and the rule of law itself.

    So in Guyana, using the strictest interpretation possible there is no democracy, it is a dictatorship.

   The 1980 constitution which was drafted for a country on the path to socialism, guarantees this control of the legislative and judicial parts of the government, since it made the powers of the executive president and the executive greater, out of all proportion, to the legislative and the rule of law. 

    But why do we still have this 1980 constitution?  History has now established that the 1978 referendum was rigged as were all elections during that period, we can't have a constitution which is based in illegality but when the PPP came into power in 1992 notwithstanding Dr. Jagan's numerous objections to the enormous powers this 1980 constitution conferred on the executive president Forbes Burnham, he did nothing to change it, and he could have, a simple vote in parliament declaring the 1978 referendum fraudulent would have discharged the 1980 constitution and we could have reverted to the independence constitution the British left us with, and make modifications to that 1966 constitution to suit our new found democracy, it is working in Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica which are progressing far better than we are democratically. Let whoever wanted to object go to courts and prove that the 1978 referendum was not rigged. They would have a sweet time doing that.

    Dr. Jagan did not do so, even though he was told that he can, because he enjoyed the executive powers conferred on him by this constitution and by accepting it on behalf of his supporters, he ratified it and made it legal.   

     So what are we left with? We are left with an executive government which to all intents and purposes controls the legislature and the legal system. Ladies and gentlemen judges in this country cannot hope for advancement unless they pander to the executive, since it is the executive that sets their salaries, their conditions of employment, their promotions etc. inevitably therefore quite a few of our judges are not discharging the rule of law fairly, since they perceive that it can affect their future. As far as the parliament is concerned Fifty one percent of the poll in an election or 33 seats in parliament gives total control of the legislature, so in this country an opposition is irrelevant, especially since those 33 seats are completely controlled by the executive in power, since not ONE PPP member of parliament will ever vote against anything that the PPP tables in Parliament, because they are selected by the executive and sign their resignation before sitting in the parliament, it is a recipe for disaster and it has lead to disaster in this country.

    Now remember that the US constitution and all the other constitutions I have looked at, to do this comment are based on the importance of the rule of law to which everyone must abide. And that no one section of the three  branches of government the executive, the legislative or the rule of law, must ever be controlled by any of the others. It is very important, and it is very specific.

    The public is aware that I have a constitutional matter before the courts which seeks to break the government's monopoly in radio, the government by awarding themselves a monopoly in radio have infringed my right to freedom of expression and they have also infringed those rights in all of the population in this country, since in a plural society it is a fundamental human rights violation to our freedom of speech not to have a plurality of means of communicating our thoughts and ideas to the public. So one radio station controlled by the government is I believe discriminatory and unconstitutional.

    Ladies and gentlemen constitutional matters must take precedence over all other legal matters, since the fundamental rights of an individual are being trampled upon by someone,,,,, and by not hearing these matters expeditiously the legal system is itself trampling on those constitutional rights.

   Our chief justice apparently does not understand this simple precept of the law but he must, since he may find himself in front of his own court for violating the constitutional rights of some citizen, by not setting their matter for hearing in an urgent and expeditious manner.  

    There are apparently over 30 constitutional matters pending in our courts being pushed from pillar to post for upwards of 2 to 4 years. The elections petition matter took nearly 3 years to be heard and resolved; it should have taken three months since the country remained in suspended animation for three years awaiting the resolution of this important matter.

      Finally ladies and gentlemen, the PPP yielding some of these enormous powers entrenched in the executive branch of government in a meaningful process of dialog, is not weakness or a betrayal of their constituents, it is a political and democratic necessity, which should be addressed urgently or the madness will continue. Why did the PNC do nothing to change all of this? well the leadership of the PPP in opposition allowed it and did not protest enough, or no one was listening until Mr. Carter came on the scene, neither to my shame did any of us, but the Indo Guyanese had huge economical power so the political power enjoyed by the afro Guyanese made a balance in the society, now that the indo Guyanese have both economical and political power and the executive is flaunting it with mismanagement, corruption and exclusion of their afro Guyanese brothers, it is a different story altogether, and highlights the shortcomings and the danger in our system of Governance. 

    Remember President Madison's famous words "for there to be a true democracy, there must be a system of representative Government that is open to the voices of ALL"