In the case of the Attorney-General v Richardson, the then Attorney General, Basil Williams, challenged in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) the ruling of the Guyana Court of Appeal striking down as unconstitutional the provision of the Constitution that limited a President to two terms. During the hearing, it was revealed that the constitutional provision was one of the outcomes of a constitutional reform process starting in Guyana in 1999 and ending in 2001, when the implementation of the reforms by the National Assembly by constitutional amendments. The CCJ called for the Report.
The CCJ in its decision made reference to the Report in justifying its decision to reverse the Guyana Court of Appeal. Guyana is the only country in the English-speaking Caribbean in which the head of government (who is also the head of state) is limited to two terms. The CCJ has reviewed other constitutions and the judges are familiar with the constitutions of Caricom countries. Therefore, to characterize the view of the President of the CCJ, Adrian Saunders, the Region’s most prominent and distinguished jurist, when he praised the Guyana Constitution, as “parroting the PPP propagandistic mantra that Guyana has ‘one of the most advanced constitutions in the region’” (Henry Jeffrey: Village Voice: Future Notes: “Justice Saunders and the PPP Mantra”) is evidence of the embitterment of a once fine intellect.
Henry displays not only the passion of a late convert to ‘shared governance,’ but also the intellectual aloofness of the ‘armchair general.’ Many keen observers of the Guyana political scene support shared governance. Many of us now understand the importance of the unified 1953 PPP, and what it could have spawned. But even Walter Rodney believed that it was a flash in the pan, having regard to our competitive ethnic history. Our childhoods were influenced by 1953. We smelt the brew in 1962-4 with the talk of coalition government. I became a card-carrying convert to shared governance in 1977 with the PPP’s National Patriotic Front proposals. I have never wavered even as many PPP colleagues, once dedicated partisans to the idea in a PPP fractured by the debate in 1977, fell victim to PPP triumphalism in 1992.
A courageous effort by young leaders to whip up support for shared governance within the PNC emerged in the late 1990s. The failure of Hoyte’s strategy of street (ethnic) violence from 1992 onwards perhaps influenced his conversion in 2002 to shared governance. The APNU+AFC manifesto in 2015 closed the circle with its detailed promises of shared governance. We all thought that the Rubicon had been crossed and historic constitutional changes were imminent. But the APNU leadership stood by silently as someone or some people at the top crushed the promise. The possibility of second fiddle to a PPP orchestra leader could not be contemplated.
More recently, both Vice President Jadgeo and Opposition Leader Norton have advocated inclusive governance as the way forward for Guyana. Since we can’t ‘manufacture consent,’ without which the shared governance has no prospect of moving forward, what are we to do? Henry has an answer. Sit in the armchair, denigrate the constitutional progress that has been made so far, and direct imaginary battles towards the imaginary objective of an imaginary shared governance, as advocated by the IDB! The leaders who represent more than ninety percent of the electorate are now saying ‘no’ to shared governance. The political conditions are barren. This discovery of oil has created in the PPP the belief that it can remain in power for a very long time. That sentiment has been entrenched by what it feels is an APNU that has been weakened by its attempt to rig the elections, its anti-Indian violence and its leadership divisions. Shared governance simply has no takers. But Henry is flailing at the windmill!
What do I do ad interim? The Constitution is tailor made for inclusionary governance, now advocated by leaders representing ninety percent of the electorate. Jagdeo sees the invoking of the constitution as the PPP’s way forward. Norton sees supplication to the President, with street unrest as the threat, as APNU’s way forward. There are question marks attached to both. In the VP’s terms of office as President, only the perfunctory steps were taken to implement the constitutional innovations. The Human Rights Commission, and other reforms, remain on paper after more than twenty years. Opposition Leader Norton cannot seriously expect that street politics will succeed when a quarter century of it has failed.
During the APNU+AFC’s term of office, the Ethnic Relations Commission ruled that Vishnu Persaud, the now Chief Election Officer, had been discriminated in the rejection of his application for Deputy Head. This is a hint of how much can be achieved if the commissions and Sectoral Committees, so casually dismissed by Henry, can accomplish if they are functioning optimally and are supported broadly and fully.
Guyana needs functioning constitutional structures to enforce the rights of its citizens. Those structures exist in the Constitution but are not functioning as they should. Guyana needs a functioning constitutional structure of shared governance to protect the political rights of its citizens. The elected political representatives of the citizens do not (yet!) agree.