April 27, 2017

Toronto-based Guyanese doctor awarded Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal

Dr. Narendra Singh (left) receiving congratulations from Governor General David Johnston following the Meritorious Service Decoration presentation (CNW Group/Humber River Hospital)

Dr. Narendra Singh (left) receiving congratulations from Governor General David Johnston following the Meritorious Service Decoration presentation (CNW Group/Humber River Hospital)

Toronto-based Guyanese Dr Narendra Singh, Humber River Hospital’s Chief of Staff, was on  March 9, awarded Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal (Civil Division) by Governor General of Canada, David Johnston.

According to a press release from Canada NewsWire, Hospital President & CEO Barb Collins congratulated Singh, noting “we are all proud of the amazing work Dr Singh, and many of his colleagues at Humber, do, not just in our hospital every day but beyond into the local and global communities. In Dr Singh’s case, his leadership has seen the neonatal and infant mortality in his birth country of Guyana drop dramatically, saving the lives of hundreds of babies every year.”

“I’m honoured to share this with them: this is a true team effort from people determined to make a difference for these kids. I also want to thank my colleagues at Humber River Hospital for their support and encouragement at every step,” the release quoted Singh as saying as he thanked his partners in Guyana Help the Kids.

The Toronto-based paediatrician founded Guyana Help the Kids [www. guyanahelpthekids.com] in 2009 to address neonatal and infant mortality rates in his country of birth.  He raised funds to procure essential equipment, then went on to establish a residency programme in collaboration with Canadian universities to train Guyanese paediatricians and nurses.


Cabinet’s role should be removed completely from procurement process

Dear Editor,

Once more, the situation with the setting up of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) and its functioning has come to the fore and is prominent in the news. Since the author had quite a bit to do with this, it is therefore important to once more set the record straight.

When the PPP/C government placed the PPC Bill before the National Assembly, the ‘no objection’ role of Cabinet was part of that Bill. The then opposition railed against this, and suggested strongly that Cabinet’s role be removed. It was on the floor that this was done. The then Attorney General, Doodnauth Singh, Khemraj Ramjattan and lawyers from the Opposition, including Winston Murray, had a sidebar and removed the role of Cabinet.

Therefore, the intention of the framers should not be in doubt.

I also recall that when the PPP/C moved in the National Assembly to establish that body, it was hindered by the then opposition, which tried to manipulate the process to get majority representation on the Board. At one stage, they even demanded to have the chairmanship of the PPC.

At the level of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), where these manoeuvres were taking place, the PPP/C was having none of that.

The PNC/R stuck to its position, refusing to compromise; and that prevented the setting up of the PPC.

After the 2011 elections, the issue was raised again. This time, the joint opposition had a one-seat majority in the National Assembly. They were demanding that the PPC be established, and this time their bargaining position had improved. They appeared not to want any recommendation from the PPP/C.

They used their one-seat majority in the Assembly to frustrate all of the then government’s developmental projects: They railed against the Marriott Hotel; they frustrated the beginning of the Amaila Falls Hydro Project; they voted in the National Assembly to cut the budget of the Ministry of Works, stymieing the establishment of new airstrips in the interior; and they even voted against the establishment of a Specialty Hospital, which was aimed at advancing our health services by leaps and bounds.

The APNU/AFC was not only being anti-developmental, but also deliberately putting our country in harm’s way; they seemed to have wanted to make the economy grind to a halt. Their refusal to pass the Anti-Money Laundering Bill was aimed at damaging the financial sector and the economy as a whole. Further, the APNU/AFC members of the National Assembly voted against the Amendments to the Environmental Tax Act, which would have allowed a level playing field for local and regional companies. This was fulfilling Guyana’s commitment to CARICOM. That would have settled the case brought by the Rudisa Company, which claimed that the tax was discriminatory.

This anti-nationalist act by the APNU/AFC cost our country more than one billion dollars.

Even in such hostile circumstances, the PPP/C Administration tried to make compromises in relation to enacting the PPC. It was proposed that we establish the PPC but, however, allow cabinet to retain its ‘no objection.’ This was proposed because of the hostile attitude of the APNU/AFC towards the government’s projects.

The then opposition parties refused, and adamantly demanded that Cabinet’s role be completely removed.

Therefore, all the talk about things not being clear is just a mere roost for the APNU regime to renege on that position now.

There should be no doubt of the intent.

Cabinet’s role should be removed completely.



Donald Ramotar


Kumar’s fabrications have been exposed

Dear Editor,

The retirement of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the public announcement in this regard has occasioned another flurry about the Commission in the media. Joining that flurry was one Mr Neil Kumar, who made three assertions among others.

He asserted that: (1) “the election results were by law supposed to be verified by the Information Technology tabulation and the corresponding manual tabulation. However, none of this was done”. (2) “Guyanese must now demand that GECOM tell us how many fake SOPs were discovered. This information must come forward so that we could know the specific areas and the Presiding Officers that were involved in the rigging of the 2015 elections”; and (3) “The former Chairman and the Chief Elections Officer of the Guyana Election Commission should be held responsible for their actions in allowing fake SOPs to infiltrate the system”.

The first observation I wish to make is that whoever attempted to corrupt the system with fake Statements of Poll did so on the heels of Mr Boodhoo and the Commission’s misappropriation of a Linden Constituency seat in 2006. An Alliance For Change (AFC) seat was appropriated to the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), and Mr Boodhoo attempted to pass off a fictitious result in 2011 (he sought to allocate the one-seat majority to the PPP/C rather than to the Opposition, to which it rightfully belonged). The fake Statements of Poll in 2015 continued the corrupt trend of 2006 and 2011.

Of interest is that the now vocal Kumar and his comrades-in-arms were deafening in their silence in 2006 and 2011. That attitude defies any claim that their interest is in free and fair elections. It clearly shows that their singular concern is being declared the winner at all cost. That contention is further fortified by Kumar’s three concerns. The fact of the matter is that GECOM’s IT Division, which was fully operational in 2006 and 2011 when electoral fraud was perpetrated and attempted on the respective occasions, was shut down in 2015 when it was discovered that fake statements had found their way into the system and into the IT unit for the tabulation of the results. What nails Kumar’s fabrication is that in addition to the manual calculations, the CEO resorted to other computers for the purpose of computing the results, as required by law; and in so doing, met the legal requirement which Kumar falsely or maliciously claims was not met.

By requesting information on which Statements of Poll were faked as the basis for identifying the “specific areas and the Presiding Officers that were involved in the rigging of the 2015 elections”, it is logical to conclude that Kumar knows at which stage in the process the fakes had entered the system, although his party would have collected statements at every polling station and did not challenge any of the statements used for tabulating the results at the district counting centres; yet he concludes that they were from specific polling stations.

If the statements entered the system at the points that Kumar contended that they did, how could he accuse Surujbally and Lowenfield of actions that allowed the infiltration; which by his contention took place at polling places where neither Surujbally nor Lowenfield was present, and where neither was in direct control.

Let it be known that the discovery of fakes was done at the Central Command Centre after the statements would have been included in the tabulation of the IT unit.

Kumar has successfully spun his own web, which in turn has entrapped him and exposed his fabrications which he purports to be the truth. He, however, seems to be a stranger to the truth.

Yours truly,

Vincent Alexander




Hate speeches should have no place in Guyana

Dear Editor,

Marking the centenary of the end of the Indian indentureship programme has become a most interesting exercise and more so for the Indian Guyanese community.

Myself, Ravi Dev and Swami Aksharananda were the objects of the usual spewing of hate – originating from Freddie Kissoon’s pathology of self-hatred – in a column published on March 7, 2017.

Whether Kissoon should be given a column to direct personal attacks in the name of responsible journalism is a consideration for his publishers, the Guyana Press Association, and for the Government, which is currently engaged in a nationwide programme to build social cohesion.

At the event held at the National Cultural Centre (NCC) which attracted so much media attention the Social Cohesion Minister was present and heard our remarks, as did other Ministers of Government and heads of diplomatic missions in Guyana.

That none of these intelligent and reasoned personages raised any alarm about any of our speeches inciting uprisings or societal explosions in Guyana could be a good indicator that it was an occasion that offered few surprises, if any.

Neither Dev nor I said anything new. In fact, we have been addressing these same concerns for years – along with leaders like Swami Aksharananda – about Indian Guyanese marginalisation. Newer ones like the closure of sugar estates at an event that speaks to Indian indentureship is hardly a surprise either.

What arose from Kissoon’s diatribe, however, was a decided fear among some of our community. He succeeded in getting Indian Guyanese to pull back into their corners and to fall silent. It always comes as a surprise that there are people who view Kissoon as an intellectual and moral giant even though his columns amount to little beyond glib name-dropping and personal attacks on anyone he deems unacceptable.

His success in intimidating some in our community into silence, however, needs investigation on this historic centenary.

Are we still ‘bound coolies’ allowing others to define us or are we free to think, analyse and speak for ourselves and about ourselves?

In our divided country, there are agents with their various agendas who want us to retain our bound yard status and to live in fear and silence. These include self-loathers like Kissoon and others who feel that subsuming themselves to a national identity of oneness is the only future on offer.

The Government’s and Opposition’s continuous message of respect for diversity is set aside as political rhetoric by these Indian Guyanese who might well be correct about this assumption. They feel comfortable with their chosen status which opens doors for them in every area of national life.

Our insistence on national recognition and respect for our Indian heritage and experience, therefore, makes them vastly uncomfortable. The other section of the bound yard includes Indian Guyanese who do understand and agree with our positions fully but remain closeted for fear of reprisal and intimidation by Kissoon and those of his ilk.

So much for our legacy of courage and resistance inherited from the many Indian heroes who fell right here on the sugar plantations in the struggle for justice.

The question for all Guyana is: when will Indian Guyanese be able to live as Indian Guyanese and without fear to think, speak and voice an opinion from their perspective without being condemned as racists?

This branding never occurs when Africans, Amerindians or any other group speaks on behalf of their communities. This is not a cry of victimhood but an observation about the obvious racism directed at the Indian Guyanese population which is designed to keep us voiceless.

I wish to say to those Indian Guyanese who are fearful of embracing their ethnic identity: we left the bound yard one hundred years ago.

We are free to give voice in music, dance, literature, etc, and free to express ourselves. The next step would be the inclusion of these and other Indian Guyanese expressions on the national stage beyond the tokenism that now exist.

President David Granger in his address at Leonora last Sunday to mark the abolition centenary not only expressed his appreciation for the Indian contribution to Guyana’s development but assured us that we are very much part of a united Guyana.

This even as the State-owned “Guyana Chronicle” participates in the assault on myself, Dev, and People’s Progressive Party MP Adrian Anamayah who also spoke at the NCC on behalf of Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.

While this assault directly contradicts the President’s own message of inclusion and respect for diversity, I want to believe that the President is sincere about his message to our community.

This should mean that all hate speeches and bigotry directed at any individual or group should be condemned and should have no place in Guyana.


Ryhaan Shah

Mr Bulkan is uttering untruths in foolishly denying what he said

Dear Editor,

I wish to respond to a letter by Mr Ronald Bulkan, Communities Minister, in which he accused me of making baseless statements in relation to the Government’s payment to BK International of more than G$1 billion on a mere letter threatening litigation.

Let me say that my statement was based on an article published in the media on August 23, 2016. The front page headline read “Government pays BK US$5.7M on a simple threat”.

The article quotes Mr Bulkan as the source for the headline. It was an interview done with Mr Bulkan by the reporter. The article also carried MrBulkan’s photograph.

Mr Bulkan never denied the story, nor ever asked for it to be retracted. Naturally, one must presume that the article was accurate. After MrBulkan’s letter, I raised the matter with the editor of Kaieteur News and he assured me that the newspaper will hold steadfast to their story.

It is, therefore, clear that it is the Minister who is uttering untruths in foolishly denying what he said, when the same can be so easily confirmed or proven. I hope that the new Code of Conduct, which was promised for Ministers, will address the issue of Ministers, publically, peddling half-truths and even downright lies.

Mr Bulkan went on to point out what was the basis for the huge payment to BK International.That is not the issue at hand Mr Bulkan is attempting to obfuscate. While in Government, I was aware of those figures. The issue is that BK International breached the agreement several times. The PPP/C terminated the contract and requested BK International to vacate the site. The PPP/C Government felt that it was BK International that was liable and should pay the Government instead. We were ready to sue BK for compensation.

It was this APNU regime that quickly rolled over and gave BK International a huge payment. This settlement and many others which this Government has concluded are believed by many to be tainted with rampant corruption. Mr Bulkan took the opportunity to castigate me about GuySuCo’s difficulties. Here again, he is displaying a huge gap in his knowledge of what is happening at GuySuCo, or if he knows, he has chosen to be dishonest on the issue.

I mentioned before that GuySuCo’s problems began when the price of sugar received from the EU fell by 36 per cent in 2010. The PPP/C government was investing in the industry to deal with the new reality. Our plan was working as could be seen in the 2015 production.

Had the PPP/C not been cheated out of Office, Wales would not have been closed and Rose Hall would not be threatened with closure.The industry has huge potentials in value added products. This regime refuses to go in that direction and is closing the industry instead. This is a decision that will haunt this country for generations to come.

Mr Bulkan should be one of the last persons to speak or refer to anyone’s ability to manage. After all, he ran his own business into bankruptcy.His pique with the PPP/C administration was because the government did not accede to their request for a bail out of some G$300 million. The PPP/C government felt it could not use taxpayers’ money in that fashion. He is with the APNU now maybe because they don’t care how taxpayers’ dollars are squandered and used to give the elite huge salaries and allowances. As a gentleman, I expect MrBulkan to own up to his words and not seek to hide from them.


Donald Ramotar

Former President


CCJ vigilant on appointment of Judges, independence of the Judiciary

Dear Editor,

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is vigilant as regards the method of the appointment of judges and the independence of the Judiciary in the Region. Last Tuesday, the regional court criticised the system how appellate court judges are appointed in Belize. Although the CCJ judges did not entertain the appeal filed by the Bar Association against the Attorney General of Belize, but expressed displeasure with the present arrangement for the appointment of Justice of Appeal.

At present, under section 94 of the Constitution of Belize Chapter 4, Appellant Court “Judges are appointed by the Governor General acting on advice of the Prime Minister given after consultation with the leader of the Opposition… is for such period as may be specified in the instrument of appointment.”

I should state that since there is no fixed time in the appointment, the judges’ tenure is at the whim and fancy of the Executive. This does not find favour with the CCJ which stated in its judgment that Justices of Appeal should be appointed in a similar position as Supreme Court Judges (first instant judges) with an independent appointing body and tenure until retirement age. The CCJ also recommended that shorter periods of tenure should be offered to appointees over the age of 75.

In Belize, Judges, Magistrates and legal officers are appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC). The composition of the JLSC – Chief Justice (Chairman), Solicitor General, President of the Public Service Commission and a representative from the Bar Association. Perhaps I should add that Belize is the only jurisdiction in the Region in which lawyers have a say in the appointment of Judges and legal officers.

The Guyana Government is expected to appoint a new Chancellor who will replace Carl Singh who has been acting as Chancellor for the past 13 years, but his appointment was not confirmed since the Leader of the Opposition did not agree to his confirmation. Ian Chang who acted as Chief Justice for more than 11 years was not confirmed either because there was also no agreement. In fact, Chang went into retirement a year ago without being confirmed and Yonette Cummings-Edwards has been appointed as acting Chief Justice.

Guyana is the only country in the region where there must be an agreement between the President and Leader of the Opposition. This was only changed in 2002. Previously it was merely consultation like other jurisdictions in the Region. It seems as if the Cooperative Republic has to be different from other countries. Guyana is the only country in the Commonwealth where the Judiciary is headed by a Chancellor and not the Chief Justice. In July 1966 when the Court of Appeal of Guyana was established, Forbes Burnham who was Prime Minister and Head of Government was not happy for the then Chief Justice, Sir Joseph “Bonnie” Luckhoo to continue to head the Judiciary. He then appointed Guyanese Sir Kenneth Stoby who was Chief Justice of Barbados to the top job and renaming the position as Chancellor of the Judiciary and President of the Court of Appeal.

However, Judges – except the Chancellor and the Chief Justice – in Guyana are appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission which is headed by the Chancellor.


Oscar Ramjeet

Has the President just awoken from his slumber?

Dear Editor,

What happened? Did President David Granger suddenly wake up and become Columbus number two, that he and his administration now discover that he “…believed the rates are high and that there should have been certain parking exemptions from the inception…”

Also, he said, “We do feel that the contract is burdensome…” Why only now?

What did he do with the reports from his two Ministers – Finance and Legal Affairs? He received those reports several months ago. Did he read them at all and note their recommendations?

Anyway, I’m positive that those reports and the recommendations were discussed at Cabinet, but they took a gamble, relying on the loyalty of their own supporters, ie, the kit and kin, for them to remain quiet by all means possible with the rest of the population.

Note that the President said, “…pay your taxes and let the city run properly and WE won’t have to resort to these measures…”

Now, where did the ‘WE’ come from, especially if he and his Cabinet were not part of the entire process?

Anyone who believes that Minister Ronald Bulkan signed on for the parking meters to become operational on his own, needs his/her head examined.

How can any Minister sign on to something on behalf of the government without the blessings of the President and his Cabinet? Just like the Drug Bond, which Minister George Norton eventually confessed, was a Cabinet’s decision.

I do congratulate everyone who has and will continue to protest. The effectiveness of those demonstrations are the real reasons for the Government and the Mayor and City Council waking up and trying to cover up their blunders, with the Government mouth-pieces claiming they are now looking into the wellbeing of the citizens of this dear land.

What really jolted them into action is not just the size of the demonstrations, but the unity of all the demonstrators. This is their real headache and President now telling us about the ‘Terror Clause.’

The parking meters have to be scrapped. We have to remain united, for in unity lies strength. This ‘Terror Clause’ has nothing to do with us. As citizens we were never informed or consulted.

Therefore, let those who were involved and signed on to it, let them pay, be it the Government of the ‘Gang of Four’. Those ‘green monsters’ have to go; we are already under too much financial burdens.

Let them go after those who are not paying taxes to raise revenues.

Yours sincerely,

Chandra Shekar Azad


Reports of US immigration raids in Queens for illegals

Dear Editor,

Newspapers are reporting that Federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) Agents of Homeland Security raided restaurants, stores and other job sites in Elmhurst and other parts of Queens. There are also rumours that ICE agents raided Liberty Avenue, Richmond Hill (dubbed Little Guyana) last week though this has not been confirmed.

The reports from raids in Queens say hundreds were picked up. And it is not clear if any out of status Guyanese immigrants were picked up and in custody and the nature of their violations. Trinis and Jamaicans were arrested. Rumours of the raids swept through the tight Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trini communities of Queens where tens of thousands of Indian Guyanese and Trinis are settled. Queens is home to tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America, including thousands of Indo-Caribbeans. These immigrants contribute billions of US dollars in productivity; they engage in low level and low paying jobs (like picking fruits and vegetables, staffing restaurants, stacking shelves of groceries or vegetable stands, and factory work) that “regular or native” Americans refuse. The illegals live among their ethnic communities to blend in and avoid attention. Because of their physical appearance and generally thought to be non-Americans, minority communities like Indians, Hispanics and Arabs are targeted for ICE raids.  As community leaders and immigration advocates note, Indo-Caribbeans and South Asians are easily distinguishable from other groups and are often mistaken for Middle Eastern Arabs or Hispanics; their communities are targeted for ICE raids to check on immigration status.

ICE agents have been raiding immigrant communities all across the US since Donald Trump was sworn in as President a month ago. The new President issued an executive order for the arrest and deportation of illegal (undocumented) immigrants. In addition, the President issued a travel ban on immigrants (including those with green cards and visas) from seven Islamic countries. Already the Caribbean immigrant community is on edge in the wake of Trump’s travel ban. The raids, travel ban, detention, and denial of boarding of aircrafts bound for the US have left Guyanese and other immigrant communities worried and confused about Trump’s immigration policy. Elected officials and community leaders say the raids in New York, and particularly so in Richmond Hill, have created tremendous amount of fear among immigrants regardless of status. Officials note that immigrants who committed minor offences including evading transportation fears run the risk of being arrested and their record made available to ICE for pick up and deportation. However, the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, said the city will not turn over illegal immigrants to ICE and that anyone arrested or in public schools will not be asked about their status. Community leaders from Richmond Hill were interviewed on NY TV 1 about recent raids. The raids in various parts of Queens were condemned by all community leaders, immigration lawyers and politicians.

Yours truly,

Vishnu Bisram


High drama in city streets as officials continue clamping vehicles

…despite court order placing a hold on paid parking


A vehicle clamped on Tuesday despite the court order

A vehicle clamped on Tuesday despite the court order

Officials from the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) and Smart City Solutions (SCS) strutted through the capital city on Tuesday, booting vehicles despite a court order which placed a hold on the paid parking project.

However, this is not the first time the M&CC has flouted a court order; back in May 2006, Town Clerk Royston King spearheaded the destruction the famous ‘Dread Shop’, located at Russell Square in Stabroek, Georgetown – a business which has been in existence for some 48 years, despite an injunction in the courts.

It was high drama on Water Street on Tuesday when SCS officials attempted to clamp the vehicles of persons who parked in the area without paying.

But in some cases, the citizens put up a fight and resisted the clamping of their vehicles.

In one instance, a female driver argued with the SCS official and refused to allow him to clamp her car, which resulted in a heated exchange of words.

The High Court on February 16 granted an order which legal luminaries interpreted to mean that the paid parking project is suspended until the legal proceedings are resolved.

The writ had stated, among other things, that, “an order nisi of certiorari be and is hereby granted to quash the decision of the Mayor and Councillors of the City of Georgetown to enter into an agreement on or around 13 May, 2016”.

The respondents also have to show cause against all the orders made by the Chief Justice to quash their decision to enter into the contract, which has already caused weekly mass protests in front of City Hall.

Their day in court is set for February 27, before Justice Brassington Reynolds. Should they fail to comply, the document noted, they will be held in contempt of court.

However, Mayor Patricia Chase Green and the Town Clerk had already signalled their intention to breach the court order.During a pre-recorded press conference at the National Communications Network (NCN), the Mayor announced that the parking meter project would continue as normal. Their intentions have been heavily criticised by lawyers from the lobby group Movement Against Parking Meters as well as former Attorney General Anil Nandlall.

Nandlall had argued that if the city were to continue implementing the project or force anyone to pay for parking before the hearing, this would be tantamount to violating a court order.

He explained that when that “order nisi” is issued, it puts the particular decision, which it imputes, upon hold until the respondents show or does not show cause. If the other side succeeds in showing cause why the order should not be made absolute, then the order nisi is discharged.

However, he noted that if the respondents do fail to show cause, then the order nisi is upheld and made absolute, thus quashing the decision.

“What that means, therefore, is that until the case is concluded, the decision (in this case) the parking meter contract and its implementation has been put on hold by the order nisi.”

Impact on business

Meanwhile, the calls for the termination of the Parking Meter Project continue to escalate and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) is the latest entity to reiterate those demands.

In a statement on Tuesday, the GCCI said it is irresponsible for the M&CC to continue with the metered system due to a lack of transparency during the implementation process, a lack of adherence to public procurement procedures, and the absence of feasibility studies and citizen consultations.

“The M&CC should remember that one of the most important qualities that citizens seek in elected officials is transparency and any attempts to bulldoze the populace with opaque contracts will not garner support, especially not from the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce,” the body noted.

The Chamber said it received numerous complaints from its membership regarding the metered system and its negative effect on customer traffic and sales.

“We are concerned that conditions will worsen if the metered system remains in operation,” GCCI said.

Nonetheless, the Chamber said it supports the efforts to engage in public-private partnerships for the purpose of raising revenue for the city, but emphasised that it does not support the flawed and in some cases, potentially illegal methods that the M&CC has employed in doing so.

But time and again, the M&CC gang assured that the project is above board and that there is nothing secretive or illegal about the deal.

Following a few days of protest against the Parking Meter Project and protracted intervention from the central government, the authorities at City Hall decided to review the rate structure.

A new rate structure was announced but citizens continue to reject the initiative.

Stakeholders are arguing that the reduced fees do not address the problems of lack of inclusivity and the rampant corruption believed to be involved in the arrangement.


In support of a referendum on Constitutional changes

Dear Editor,

This has reference to a recent news item on the Privy Council Brexit ruling by the UK Supreme Court.  In the UK, there was a referendum. The UK Supreme Court ruled that Parliamentary approval is also required for Brexit.

The Guyana Court of Appeals (led by the Chancellor) is expected to hand down its ruling on the government’s appeal of the decision by the High Court (Judge Ian Chang, Ret’d) declaring presidential term limits unconstitutional.

The CJ ruled that changes to the constitution pertaining to rights must be done by referendum and not parliament alone; peoples rights are supreme. I am in favour of term limits. But I also firmly support the idea that the peoples’ rights are stronger and they should give their assent to any constitution or amendments to it.

The Burnham constitution was not approved by the people in a free and fair referendum. Why not grant the people that vote in a referendum as happened in England with Brexit or in Scotland? The country needs constitutional reform. But it must be done legally through a referendum.

The Burnham constitution was the product of a rigged referendum. Judge Chang made a wise ruling mandating a referendum on constitutional changes although I would have preferred a referendum on the entire constitution. Chancellor Chang’s appeal court should empower the people by affirming that ruling.

Related to the Guyana case is the one recently engaged by the British Privy Council on the legality of the procedure “to Brexit”. There was a court challenge, filed ironically by a Guyanese Briton, on whether the UK can break from EU without parliamentary approval. The Highest Court ruled that parliament must give its assent also to what is known as the Brexit vote and cabinet approval.

Guyana’s system of governance is different from the UK. In UK, the parliament is sovereign and supreme over the people unlike in Guyana. In Guyana, parliament cannot act alone in restricting people’s rights or decide on how people will be governed. In the UK, the people choose representatives – under its first past the post representative democracy– to govern them and act for them in a parliament. Thus, the members of parliament in UK can speak on behalf of the people because each represents a constituency.

In Guyana, the parliament is not sovereign and is not a representative body with constituent representatives; we have a PR system in which the party represents the people. Thus, the Members of Parliament cannot speak on behalf of the population on an important matter like restricting voters’ choices in an election. This must be done by referendum. The fact that the constitution was imposed on the population without their assent, a referendum becomes all the more imperative and moral.

It is about time that the politicians give voters an opportunity to voice their view on the Burnham constitution. The politicians say they are in favour of term limits and people empowerment. Instead of a court challenge to the Chief Judge’s ruling endorsing a referendum, why not put the Burnham constitution and all its amendments to a vote? Better yet, why not ask the people to choose between the amended Burnham constitution and the independence constitution of 1966? Why are politicians afraid of the voices of the people?

Yours faithfully

Vishnu Bisram