Constitutional symposium panellists should understand the Constitution before speaking on it
Dear Editor, Reference is being made to the symposium held by the University of Guyana Tain campus that dealt with the Guyana Constitution, which thankfully continues to receive attention by Stabroek News, as it aids further conversations, knowledge and awareness of this instrument as some clamour for reform. Attention is being drawn to statements made by key presenters as referred to hereunder:
1. Ms Jean La Rose, who represents the interests of the Amerindian community, reportedly advised the symposium the Constitution needs reform given its alleged failure to acknowledge the importance of land to this community. The Constitution declares all citizens equal under the law (Article 149D), insulates all Guyanese from discrimination on the grounds of race (Article 149); expressly addresses the rights of the indigenous peoples (Article 149G), protects every citizen’s right not to be deprived of property (Article 142), and enshrines the Indigenous Peoples’ Commission (Articles 212S; 212T).
Under all the stated articles what Ms La Rose seeks can be addressed and therefore nullifies the contention for constitutional reform to address her concern. Such concern is already addressed and safeguarded in the Constitution under “Fundamental Rights and Freedoms” (Title 1). What is needed is legislation to give meaning to these rights and freedoms which is a responsibility of the National Assembly and should see advocacy from the people to bring I about.
2. Terrence Campbell, who was the speaker representing the group, Reform, Inspire, Sustain and Educate (RISE) reportedly called for constitutional reform to bring about a constituency based system which from his perspective can bring more accountability to governance. This organisation is hereby advised to refer to Article 160 which speaks to the electoral system and the authority of Parliament to make laws responsive to the people’s desire. The Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1:03 addresses the format under which our elections are conducted. This again does not make the case for constitutional reform, given that RISE’s interest can be addressed in the Act, and this group may find it beneficial to engage the political parties in the National Assembly to examine its desire.
Accountability in the political system does not rely on constitutional reform. Accountability will never be achieved even with the most perfect of constitutions, in the absence of the will and commitment by society to
hold persons (elected and appointed) accountable. RISE is therefore encouraged to add its voice to the few who are prosecuting such interest.
While I applaud the symposium held by the Tain campus, like the symposium held by the Carter Center earlier this year, panellists seem not to be mindful of the importance of being equipped with knowledge and understanding of the Constitution before speaking on the issues they are raising. This is a troubling feature and makes it more urgent for public education so the Constitution is understood before proceeding to reform. Article 119A in the Constitution facilitates such a process through a Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform and this body must do its work and citizens must ensure this. Yours faithfully, Lincoln Lewis