Defects of inquiry not beyond redemption
Stabroek News
May 22, 2004

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In the Constitutional reform process just a few years ago the Commissioners with one voice emphatically asserted as an underlying proposition of the Constitution the principles of empowerment. To quote their words:

"The conduct of the affairs of the nation should be based on a principle of inclusiveness of individuals and interest groups in decision-making about matters pertaining to their welfare. As key elements of empowerment, the principles of transparency, accountability, justice, equality and the rule of law should pervade all aspects of the nation's affairs."

These excellent words - not verbatim - found themselves written into our Constitution in its Article 13 under the Chapter: Principles and Bases of the Political System.

Moreover, the Preamble to this our basic law, our grundnorm - the highest norm out of which all others flow, with great passion proclaims that we Guyanese, "proud heirs of the indomitable will of our forebears; in a spirit of reconciliation and co-operation... [shall] forge a system of governance that promotes concerted effort and broad-based participation in national decision making in order to develop... a harmonious community based on democratic values..."

What wonderful words, inspiring words, indeed to which meaning and life must be given in the forging and development of our political system. These words are all the more valuable because every single Guyanese agreed and accepted them. These are not PNC words, nor PPP words. They are words which emanated from a sincere collective process which resulted in our first genuine Guyanese Constitution. The Indepen-dence Constitution was an imposition by our colonial masters; and the 1980 Constitution, an authoritarian imposition by Burnham's PNC.

But our new Constitution of 2001 [legalistically a revision of the one of 1980] was a complex collage of compromises coming from the widest participation.

This is why it must be allowed to be worth more than the paper it is written on. Practical meaning must be given to the letter and spirit of its words. Sincere interpretations must be plucked out from these larger principles, to effectuate a political architecture and a machinery that will smoothly run. When our governance system provides no specific or directly cognizable practice or precedent to guide us, we must fall back on these words in the Constitution to find a just, acceptable solution.

The developed democracies know it as constitutional conventions and I can simplify this concept no further than explaining that it is "ways of going about things".

The usage and actual practising at the highest levels of these conventions and practices will ensure courtesy, civility, even magnanimity to flower in our politics. They oil the political machinery; they avoid creaking and friction which always grind to a halt this machinery.

Without any doubt, what the Commissioners said then, and what the Preamble and Article 13 of the Constitution spoke to, were exactly what ought to have beckoned our President to consult on the range and diversity of issues surrounding the inquiry now to be held on the death squad allegations.

Just think of it, what would have been the kudos coming his way today. What a distinguished precedent to have set. What a Statesman he would have been! But lo and behold an immaturity persists. This will do no one any good.

What is aggravating is the proposition that there is no conditionality or pre-requirement to consult the stakeholders about anything about this inquiry. This is indeed so, legally. But good governance requires that this be done as a convention, as a better way of doing things, as exhibiting the forging of "concerted effort and broad-based participation", "reconciliation and co-operation". Did these words in our Constitution not mean anything to anybody in Government?

There are no statutory or legally binding attributes to the dialogue-process between the President and the Oppo-sition Leader. Yet they met and discussed; consulted with each other. Why? Because benefits were and are to be had from such a process. I still believe strongly that all these discussions and consultations should be in the Parliament; but I can live with them talking privately - it is a signal advance.

All this glib talk that consultation was not required or did not matter on such a grave matter of national importance is smothered by His Excellency's own utterances when he pointed out that he tried getting on to the Opposition Leader through the phone, but failed. Our leaders must do well to remember that there is matter in manner. And although this procedural impairment of not consulting should never lead to the negation of the substantive enquiry, our leaders must conduct the State's affairs to avoid these retrograde developments.

I wish to make a final point. We must show some creativity and imagination. We must explore the difficult probabilities, confront the hard questions, even if not being able to find solutions. We must not set standards on the basis of what used to occur under the previous administration, utilizing the silly argument, especially on important issues like these, that since the PNC never use to consult why must the PPP?

Our standard in politics must be nobler and more honourable than what used to be. We must set Cheddi's standards by asking the question: What would Cheddi have done? And whenever circumstances so emerge and demand, set higher and higher standards still!

This was such a circumstance. Our President faltered. But the situation is not beyond redemption. He can pick himself up and deliver a knockout punch simply by restarting the whole process.