Jumbie Umbrella and Bush Tea

The covid-19 pandemic is one of the most serious outbreaks of an infectious disease the world has ever seen. There have been 219 million cases and 4.55 million deaths worldwide. The infection is raging in most parts of the world. The headline is therefore not meant to be facetious. It is deadly serious because supposedly serious people are treating the pandemic as a joke. A member of one of the highest bodies in the land, the National Assembly, elected by the people of Guyana to make laws and otherwise look out for their interests, has pronounced that bush medicine cures covid-19.

In this era of disease and death, and serious vaccine hesitancy in Region 10, Mr. Jermaine Figueira, Region 10 parliamentary representative for APNU+AFC, is reported to have told Linden residents as follows: “We have a number of Guyanese who would have contracted covid; they used other forms of remedies – local, herbal remedies – and they recovered. Bona fide testimonies of persons who were infected and they recovered….What is (sic) in those remedies? We have scientists. Can those scientists take into consideration what these people would have used and probably have the population also consider that option to protect them from covid?” (News Room 2012-09-08).

This absolute lunacy from a member of the Opposition has been allowed to stand in contradiction to the very straightforward statement of the Shadow Minister of Health, Dr. Karen Cummings who, though critical of the Government, was quoted in the same report as saying: “We in the APNU+AFC coalition continue to reiterate that vaccines provide a powerful and public health tool to prevent serious infections, hospitalisations and deaths.” Mr. Figueira’s abominable claims will have gullible Guyanese foraging for jumbie umbrella and weeds to make bush tea to cure covid.

The President and the Opposition

The President has duties and responsibilities under the Constitution which he was elected to undertake. As chief executive, head of government and commander in chief under article 89, the refusal of the Opposition to accept the results of the elections does not constitute sufficient reason to reject consultation until recognition of the Government. This is not the first time that the Opposition has taken this position and previous PPP/C administrations have not refused consultation. Among the President’s responsibilities are: securing the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition for the appointment of a Chancellor and Chief Justice; appointing a Judicial Service Commission which cannot be done without consultation with the Leader of the Opposition; appointment of other commissions which require such consultation, such as a Police Service Commission and others.

In the case of the judiciary, the absence of a Judicial Service Commission impedes the appointment of magistrates and judges to dispense justice which must be done within the constitutionally prescribed “reasonable time.” There is an urgent priority for the Court of Appeal to be brought up to strength to dispose of the backlog of cases and reduce waiting time. It has been under strength for more about fifteen years or more.

In addition to constitutional issues, there are urgent matters that require consultation with the Opposition whose support is necessary to solve problems and move Guyana forward. One of these is the growing threat of the covid 19 pandemic. The government’s mandates are more likely to be tolerated by the Opposition having regard to the far more extensive ones imposed by the US on its citizens. The President needs to protect the interests of people of Guyana, who he was elected to serve, by establishing the immediate and highest degree of consulation with the Opposition, regardless of the latter’s posture now and in the past.   

Article 13 of the Constitution and inclusive governance.

“The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens and their organizations in the management and decision-making processes of the State….” Article 13 was included in 2001 by recommendation of the Constitution Reform Commission. After the defeat of the proposals for inclusion of shared governance in the Constitution, the Commission proposed a raft of amendments to establish a structure for inclusive governance. These included seven parliamentary committees and five commissions. A secretariat was provided for. The committees and commissions were the mechanisms to achieve the objective of Article 13.

The secretarial was never established. Not all the committees and commissions were established and those that were, barely function. The Human Rights Commission was never established, nor were any efforts made to refine its composition so as make its establishment possible.

Both the APNU+AFC and PPP/C, having effectively discarded any notion of constitutional reform, have now both promised inclusive governance. But these parties promised just that when they accepted the recommendations of the Constitution Reform proposals and agreed to amend the constitution in 2000-2001. These promises, now casually repeated by both, have never been fulfilled. The establishment of a civil society group, Article 13, is therefore welcome. Maybe the first item on its agenda would be a campaign to establish an Article 13 Commission with broad authority over implementation, if yet another commission that might not function, would not be too much.    

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