We ci­ti­zens must talk to one an­other about a re­place­ment for the Carter for­mula

Stabroek News - - LETTERS -

Dear Ed­i­tor, Char­ran­das Per­saud, At­tor­ney-at-law, in his let­ter and ACDA, the Pan African Group (Guyana) Branch, the All African Guyanese As­so­ci­a­tion and Con­cerned Ci­ti­zens in the Di­as­pora in their let­ter, have given spir­ited and elo­quent sup­port for His Ex­cel­lency David Arthur Granger, Pres­i­dent of Guyana, in his ap­point­ment of re­tired Jus­tice Pat­ter­son as the head of GE­COM.

With all due re­spect, I find I can­not agree with Mr Per­saud’s ex­pla­na­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion. A Con­sti­tu­tion is not sim­ply the text that is in front of us. Our Con­sti­tu­tion con­sists of the text plus the le­gal prin­ci­ples that de­ter­mine how power is ex­er­cised. In my view our Pres­i­dent has acted in­con­sis­tently with the Con­sti­tu­tion. How­ever the Court will judge and the Court’s opin­ion is law which has to be obeyed.

I also can­not agree with the ap­proach taken in the let­ter from ACDA and the other or­gan­i­sa­tions. The let­ter presents what is a le­gal ques­tion on the Con­sti­tu­tion as if it is a dis­agree­ment be­tween two races. Free­dom of ex­pres­sion is a fun­da­men­tal right un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion and I would de­fend their right to speak. Nev­er­the­less I be­lieve the let­ter is di­vi­sive and ill-ad­vised. For ex­am­ple it says that, “In­di­ans do not want to be ruled by an African leader.” I ac­cept that the let­ter writ­ers gen­uinely hold this view but, (leav­ing aside for now the fact that no­body wants to be ‘ruled’) this is a silly state­ment. Did the writ­ers in­ter­view ev­ery In­dian in Guyana? Or ask a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple?

It is ir­rel­e­vant whether our elected head of state is African, In­dian, Amerindian, mixed or any­thing else. What mat­ters is that he has acted in a way that has raised gen­uine doubt about the le­gal­ity of his ac­tions. He is not unique. Pres­i­dents around the globe do this from time to time.

The in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Guyana’s Con­sti­tu­tion is a mat­ter of na­tional in­ter­est. It touches us all. It tran­scends race. It tran­scends party pol­i­tics. For those rea­sons, I also think it is un­for­tu­nate that the le­gal case has been brought by a mem­ber of a po­lit­i­cal party. It gives the im­pres­sion of a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated chal­lenge. Per­haps it would have been wiser to wait a lit­tle longer and give civil so­ci­ety more op­por­tu­nity to go to court in the pub­lic in­ter­est and thereby defuse some of the ten­sion and in­se­cu­rity.

Per­haps our prob­lems arise be­cause our elec­toral sys­tem is dom­i­nated by the in­ter­ests of two po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The ‘Carter for­mula’ en­trenches this dom­i­na­tion. I am not crit­i­cis­ing Mr Carter. He was here at a crit­i­cal time. He brought his own lived ex­pe­ri­ence of a coun­try deeply di­vided by par­ti­san pol­i­tics and by race. But the ‘Carter for­mula’ is no longer a con­struc­tive way for­ward. There are bet­ter mod­els. We ci­ti­zens must talk to one an­other about a re­place­ment. I would like to start by sug­gest­ing

that nei­ther the Pres­i­dent nor the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion should have any say over who is ap­pointed as a mem­ber of GE­COM. All seven com­mis­sion­ers must be, and must be seen to be, im­par­tial and loyal to Guyana, not to any po­lit­i­cal party.

We must also col­lec­tively rid our­selves of an­other le­gacy of Amer­i­can intervention in Guyana – the de­struc­tive and un­in­tel­li­gent habit of in­ter­pret­ing ev­ery­thing through race. This mind­set was sig­nif­i­cantly formed fol­low­ing the race ri­ots of the 1960’s which were sup­ported by the CIA and in­tended by the Amer­i­can Gov­ern­ment to oust Cheddi Ja­gan, our demo­crat­i­cally elected premier. Per­haps, be­fore he pro­nounces on the rule of law, the Amer­i­can Am­bas­sador should apol­o­gise for the United States’ egre­gious and il­le­gal con­duct and the long-term harm in­flicted on our so­ci­ety.

To­day, we have wildly dif­fer­ing views about the Con­sti­tu­tion and the ap­point­ment of re­tired Jus­tice Pat­ter­son. Here is ma­te­rial for a rich and lively dis­cus­sion on the roads, in the mar­kets, at the bus park, on the sea-wall, ev­ery­where that we meet and talk. Of course, the strength of a view is some­times in­versely pro­por­tion­ate to its va­lid­ity. But we can try to find the com­mon ground. And we can dis­agree on the rest with sen­si­tiv­ity, good hu­mour and mu­tual re­spect. Yours faith­fully, Melinda Janki

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