September 27, 2016

Democracy being undermined

Dear Editor,
Modern democratic societies are based on the independence of the three major institutions in society – The Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government.
These institutions are all very important because they act as checks and balances in the system and are a safeguard against excessiveness.
By the way, those who always talk about doing away with the Westminster system should note that this is at the heart of the system. This is the system that is used in most countries of the world, with some modification.
Under the PPP/Civic administration, the independence of these fundamental institutions was strictly adhered to. The PPP/C never attempted to subvert any of these institutions.
That is why Guyanese across the political divide were proud to say that our country was one of the freest in the world.
It should be recalled that that was a practical revolution because the government before the PPP/C was a dictatorship.
One of the features of that dictatorship was the control by the PNC of all of the State institutions mentioned above. The PNC’s flag was flown at the Court of Appeal, which was then the country’s final court.
Since the PPP/C was forced out of office in 2015 by very questionable elections, we are witnessing the fast deterioration of the democracy we once enjoyed.
Much was written before on some of these issues. These writings have highlighted the racial and political discrimination in the dismissals of Indo-Guyanese and Amerindians from the public service and the same policy is exercised when government employees are hired. This, of course, already has a negative effect on the professionalism of the public service.
Commentators have spoken about the National Assembly being subverted and transformed into a rubber stamp; some persons who have been closely following the activities thus far of the Assembly have noted the partisan role the Speaker has adopted on numerous issues.
The judiciary, which stood out as far as its independence was concerned, seems now to be buckling under to be influenced by the dictatorial acts of the current regime.
Ashton Chase, a Senior Counsel, and an elder statesman in our country, once wrote that Burnham not only got his desired outcome from the operations of the judiciary, but that the paramountcy of the PNC was so entrenched that judges anticipated what the PNC/Burnham wanted, and delivered it to him.
Last week, the Court of Appeal ordered a stay of execution on the ruling of retired Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang, who had declared that Winston Felix and Keith Scott unconstitutionally occupied seats in the parliament.
This was a strange decision to say the least. Justice Chang did not direct the Speaker or the National Assembly; he simply declared that these two gentlemen were not properly allocated seats since they could not be described as technocrats, having been named on the APNU list of candidates. He relied on the National Assembly to take corrective action; therefore, there was no decision to stay the execution.
This ruling came after the Attorney General made a public statement that he would see that the two ‘squatters’ in the Assembly be returned.
The second surprise ruling of the Appeal Court was on the issue of the powers of the National Assembly to cut the budget. Justice Chang had ruled that the powers of the National Assembly in relation to the budget was to approve or disapprove the national budget, but it had no power to adjust, cut or increase it and that a power to approve or disapprove does not and cannot include a power to act or reduce the budget.
This is consistent with many positions of Parliaments the world over.
Indeed, Parliaments that have the power to adjust, cut or increase the budget is expressly, constitutionally authorised to do so since.
This ruling must make us sit up and take notice.
Immediately after these two rulings were handed down, we noted another appeal to a previous ruling made by the (now retired) Chief Justice in relation to the elections petition that was brought by the PPP.
This appeal was made by GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer.
If GECOM is so confident that the 2015 elections were free and fair, one would have thought that they would have jumped at the opportunity to prove this by opening the ballot boxes that were at the centre of the controversy.
This was done in 1997 when a forensic audit was done on the results of that election and it was declared that not a single fraudulent ballot was found. Why are they trying to stop the PPP in its efforts to have the Court determine whether the elections were free and fair?
They should be helping, not frustrating the process. It will be interesting to see how the Court of Appeal handles this matter.
Only time will tell.

Donald Ramotar

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