Kaieteur News Freddie Kissoon column, Friday 24 April 2009
Guyana has one of the world’s worst constitutions
President Jagdeo told a press conference in Trinidad during the Summit of the Americas that Guyana has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. What that means no one knows since Mr. Jagdeo didn’t define the adjective, “progressive.”
This is a very nuanced term that traditionally has a socialist connotation and has a comparative function to it—progressive in relation to what? Many interpret the word to be synonymous with “modern.” Generally, when a political or judicial or constitutional system is modern, it means it has the features that are part of a modern world, meaning it offers justice, equality and freedom.
Most countries in the world have the type of constitution that is progressive in the way Mr. Jagdeo means. Haiti has a progressive constitution. If you exclude the Arab sultanates, other countries like the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Swaziland, dictatorships like North Korea, Cuba, Myanmar, Libya and a few others, a majority of States at the United Nations have “progressive” constitutions. On the question of Guyana itself, it is debatable that it is a democratic document.
Mr. Jagdeo has the habit of engaging in convenient arguments. In extolling the Guyana Constitution, he made mention of the changes to the 1980 Guyana Constitution but chose not to cite the egregious aspect of that very document. Quite a number of legal experts have condemned the authoritarian nature of the 1980 Constitution. Mr. Jagdeo stayed clear of such features.
For a brilliant examination of the nature of the 1980 treatise see the book by two former UG professors, Harold Lutchman and Rudolph James, “Law and the Political Environment, Univ. of Guyana, 1977. This is the best exposition on the authoritarian dimensions of Mr. Burnham’s blueprint of 1980. Readers will find it a fascinating journey as the authors show where one article allows for freedom while another article cancels the enforceable power of that said article. The part of the book that readers may like is the section on impeachment
The Parliament of Guyana can impeach the President for criminal conduct or should he lapse into insanity. The framers made that clear. But there is an article that says that the President, in his capacity as Head of State, can prorogue Parliament as he sees fit.
It makes you smile as you read this description because you know Mr. Burnham was a cunning politician who would have closed all the loopholes. So the situation is easy to comprehend. The President has committed a criminal act. He knows that in a week’s time, Parliament will meet to impeach him. He makes his move before Parliament can act.
Mr. Jagdeo cites the two-term limit but one wonders why he did that. Many, many countries have that cut-off point so it is old news to people around the world. But Sigmund Freud was at work when the President told the press conference he is not interested in a third term.
Why did he use the word, “interested?” Legally, Mr. Jagdeo cannot have fifteen years. The Constitution only allows for ten. So even if he is interested, he cannot seek re-election. I read the transcript of the press conference three times and nowhere did I read the President as saying that the Guyana Constitution outlaws third terms. No mention was made of the impossibility of fifteen years.
Was the President showing a Freudian preference when he used the words “not interested?” Could a candidate be interested in running for a third term when that is not legally possible?
One wonders if Mr. Jagdeo remembered what he told the press in Guyana about the Constitution when he used the word “progressive” in Trinidad. Mr. Jagdeo made it quite clear that the Constitution did not say that the Opposition Leader has to agree when the President consults him and if he withholds his assent, the President cannot go ahead and make his decision.
He was speaking about the nomination of former UG Vice Chancellor, Dr. James Rose, to head the Integrity Commission. Well not only is the Constitution of Guyana not progressive but it is farcical. All the President has to do is to call the Opposition Leader, say to him, “Dear Robert, I have James in mind to head the Race-Horsing Authority.” Robert says, “Nah, I don’t think the guy is the right choice.” The President then says: “You cannot claim that I didn’t consult you.” Next day, the appointment is made. Of course the President can intensify the farce in by-passing the Opposition Leader by making acting appointments.
We have an acting Chief Justice and acting Chancellor. Looks like the President may soon be sharing out Academy Awards.