The real problem in Guyana is the constitution
By Eileen Cox
April 22, 2001
Mischief, thou art afoot. That being so, it is the duty, nay a sacred obligation, for all well-thinking persons to sit down and examine the conditions that lead up to the perpetration of mischief.
The problem seems to me to be POWER. In Guyana we speak of Power-Sharing. In Barbados they speak of Social Partnership, quite a different concept.
The National Democratic Institute spared no effort to expose the Guyanese thinking public to various forms of Constitutions. Their efforts were of no avail. A decision was taken by our leaders to continue with the present Constitution, with some amendments. This Constitution has shown itself to be a major disaster.
On 30th May, 1997, the Consumers' Advisory Bureau (CAB) submitted to the Select Committee of the National Assembly recommendations for a reformed Constitution. CAB strongly advocated "the re-establishment of the liberal Westminster Constitution of the type Guyana once enjoyed and which obtains in CARICOM territories, in Britain and most of the Commonwealth". We would then have a titular President with a Prime Minister, primus inter pares, first among equals, quite different from an all-powerful President. Other persons also recommended this return to the Westminster model.
For myself, I was intrigued with the Swiss Constitution. Here is what Mr Peter Halder, a former Ambassador to Canada and an Adviser to the Prime Minister of Fiji for some years, writes about our present situation:
"The real problem is the Constitution. The system of government in it is not suited to multiracial countries like Guyana, Trinidad, Fiji and Suriname. Hence the ethnic maelstrom in them. Switzerland is just as multiracial- Swiss, German Swiss, French Swiss, Italian Swiss etc. Switzerland has a system of government that has worked there for many years. With a few changes it would be a great system for Guyana et al.
In Guyana, the ruling Government is not a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Unfortunately and regrettably, it is a government of the Party, by the Party and for the Party.
It is for that reason that the Swiss system of government is the best for Guyana. It is not party political and is therefore for the people."
On my bookshelf I find a book, "Problems of Parliamentary Government in Colonies" which is a Report prepared by the Hansard Society on some of the problems involved in developing parliamentary institutions in colonial territories. It was first published in 1953. Because of the difficulties we face in establishing a stable government, we may be well advised to note a suggestion therein. I quote:
"An elected Executive Mr L.S. Amery has suggested that the Swiss method of an executive elected by the legislature by P.R might be suitable for some plural societies. The essence of the system is that the Cabinet is elected by both houses of the legislature by the S.T.V. (Single Transferable Vote), and consequently is necessarily a coalition containing, on the whole, moderate people of the different elements. There is no Prime Minister, but the Presidency of the Cabinet goes round by annual rotation. Once elected, the Cabinet cannot be dismissed by an adverse parliamentary vote, and this means that a member of the Cabinet has no reason to be subject to the pull of his own community. The Cabinet, which is thus not responsible to the legislature, tends to be an administrative rather than a political body,"
It would seem that all Members of Parliament have an equal voice. Standing Committees ensure that there is consensus. The executive functions are separated from the legislative.
This system has been in operation for many decades and no one can deny that the benefits to Switzerland have been tremendous.
According to Baron Acton, 1834 - 1902, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Our political leaders who refused to consider a return to a titular President will hardly smile on the Swiss model Party members will continue to demand "Winner take all."
It is now for People Power to be shown, not in the destruction of buildings and terrorising of people, but in a demand for a new Constitution that will ensure lasting peace. The present Constitution, a major disaster as I said, should be confined to the flames.
In the meantime, I implore my restless and unruly brothers and sisters, and other elements, to desist from destruction. Confine your efforts to seeking to attain a new and workable Constitution for Guyana.