Written by PREM MISIR
Sunday, 11 April 2010 04:56
I wrote this paper just before the convening of the Ninth Parliament in 2006; lest we forget what happened, as we are now in the throes of elections.
Suddenly, people who have been in the theater of illegality for those dark 28 years, have now ‘wised up’ to their follies of yesteryears; but with a specter of insufferable confusion, limiting them to seeing everything as doom and gloom; should we not attempt to see the current constitutional play in the public interest? Or is this confusion a camouflage or some strange tactic to drive a power motive?
And now we have the usual court writs during the election phase, this time questioning the convening of Parliament; writs fully pregnant with underlying ambitions targeting backdoor entrance to political power; all done in the name of protecting the Constitution; poppycock; are these genuine acts?
Have the architects of these writs considered the orchestration that bedeviled continuous electoral registration since 2001, orchestration that led to the postponement of a possible August 4 election? How did we reach this point of constitutional haranguing and wrangling?
QUOTE: Suddenly, people who have been in the theater of illegality for those dark 28 years, have now ‘wised up’ to their follies of yesteryears; but with a specter of insufferable confusion, limiting them to seeing everything as doom and gloom; should we not attempt to see the current constitutional play in the public interest? Or is this confusion a camouflage or some strange tactic to drive a power motive?
The Government of Guyana made necessary resources available to GECOM for administering the 2006 Elections; for this year alone, the Government provided US$15 million to GECOM. Why then was it problematic to schedule Elections by August 4, 2006?
The answer may have a lot to do with this frenzy for political power engineered through unlimited political arrogance, no interest in consolidating democratic principles and nation building, no concern for the masses’ interests, a penchant for trifles, manipulative bureaucratic bungling, programmed procrastination, and ingrained political self-interests.
The PNCR questioned the 2001 Official List of Electors (OLE) database and therefore demanded house-to-house verification of the OLE of about 450,000 + some 40,000 new registrants; the electoral history from the 1990s will point to a fair validity of the 2001 OLE database (refer to my article in the Guyana Chronicle, April, 10, 2006). If, however, this database is valid, are the PNCR’s criticisms then an attempt to persistently block the growth of continuous registration? The result: postponement of elections by August 4, 2006.
However, the President dissolved Parliament on May 2, 2006, followed by an amendment to Article 61 of the Constitution in compliance with Articles 66 and 164; allowing four instead of three months for convening Parliament. Elections were held on August 28, 2006; constitutionally then, Parliament had to be reconvened by September 2, 2006, four months from the dissolution of Parliament.
PNCR Leader Mr. Robert Corbin argued in the National Assembly that Article 61 cannot be read in isolation from Article 69; and so opposed any amendment to Article 61 if Article 69 also was not amended.
The PNCR then proposed its own amendment saying that Article 61 “…shall have no effect until Article 69 of the Constitution is altered to permit one month to elapse between the date of an election of members of the National Assembly and the first sitting of the National Assembly…this amendment shall not take effect without the consent of all political parties represented in the National Assembly expressed in writing to the President.”
In proposing that all political parties have to give consent, the PNCR’s motion clearly was intended to stall the elections process, to postpone the election date, to stop the Government from having four months to convene Parliament from the date of dissolution; in fact, the PNCR’s proposal breaches the principle of majority, a precondition for good governance.
The PNCR’s proposal would have been immobile, even if only one political party withdrew consent; nothing would have happened; only electoral gridlock. If Article 69 were amended, what would the PNCR have proposed in the event of electoral gridlock? Use your political imagination.
The PPP/C won almost 55% of the votes and therefore was constitutionally empowered to constitute the Government. The President was sworn-in on September 2, 2006.
I am not aware that on this date all the Political Parties had extracted their lists of candidates and dispatched those lists to GECOM; even now there is tardiness in some parties presenting their lists. If such was the case, one can hardly argue that there is a breach to the Constitution; under these circumstances, there, indeed, has been compliance with the spirit of the Constitution.
The Cabinet was sworn-in on September 9, 2006; and then the President proclaimed August 28, 2006 as the date for convening Parliament.
The President pointed out that the PPP/C’s term in office begins on the date of the first sitting of Parliament; and that he could not wait indefinitely;
But there is a view that amendment to article 69 is necessary prior to the convening of Parliament; the Attorney General Doodnauth Singh rejects this position.
The T&T election of 2001 had a stalemate in its result of 18/18, and more than 8 months elapsed prior to the convening of that country’s Parliament; the T&T Constitution requires 6 months for the convening of Parliament from the point of its dissolution.
Guyana’s Attorney General stated that the Privy Council in London which ruled on the T&T matter "did not find that it was unconstitutional for the parliament to have been held beyond the six month period"; during the 8-month period, the Administration worked with the existing budget with no unauthorized expenditure. This is a precedence that could very well apply here, according to the AG.
This miniature constitutional difficulty facing Guyana, however, is not insurmountable. In the T&T case, the Privy Council held that “So long as Parliament is unable to function, the democratic process is emasculated and replaced by its antithesis, unacceptable government.” Soon, the Court will have to perform its function of constitutional adjudication.
But while the Court cannot amend Article 69, it has the ultimate responsibility to interpret the Constitution; with far-reaching effects well beyond Article 69; see Justice Brennan in Baker v Carr; and the Supreme Court of India in State of Rajasthan v Union of India AIR.