The constitution provides for the participation of citizens in the decision-making processes Consumer Concerns
by Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
June 20, 2004

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It is said that a constitution is a sacred document. The Guyana constitution has been subjected to so many amendments that it can ardly be described as 'sacred.' Our 1980 constitution was amended by six acts in the year 2001 and by two acts in 2003.

These acts gave effect to the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Committee, as approved by the Oversight Committee on Constitutional Reform.

Article 11 as it appeared in the document Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana (1980) with Amendments Incor-porated was an important provision for consumers and other citizens. It stated:

"co-operatives, trade unions and all socio-eonomic organisations of a national character are entitled to participate in the various management and decision-making processes of the State and particularly in the political, economic, social and cultural sectors of national life."

Bill No 9 of 2003 repealed section 11 but consumers would have seen in the Explanatory Memorandum that the subject matter of the article was being elevated to a fundamental right.

We have to thank Mr Haslyn Parris for alerting us to the fact that this provision is still in our constitution and Mr Christopher Ram for making his copy of the constitution available to us.

Article 13 of the present constitution states:

"The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations, in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being."

This article is contained in Chapter II: Principles and Bases of the Political, Economic and Social System.

Article 149C, which is listed under Title 1: Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual, reinforces this right. It sets out that -

"No person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of participating through co-operatives, trade unions, civic or socio-economic organisations of a national character in the management and decision-making processes of the state."

Mr Parris has also alerted us to the definition of the word 'consultation' as given in our present constitution. In article 232 we find that in this constitution, except as otherwise provided or required by the context, 'consultation' or 'meaningful consultation' means the person or entity responsible for seeking consultation shall

(a) identify the persons or entities to be consulted and specify to them in writing the subject of the consultation and an intended date for the decision on the subject of consultation;

(b) ensure that each person or entity to be consulted is afforded a reasonable opportunity to express a considered opinion on the subject of the consultation, and

(c) cause to be prepared and archived a written record of the consultation and circulate the decision to each of the persons or entities consulted.

These provisions are very important for consumers in general and should be carefully studied with an eye to enforcing action and not allowing it to be a paper constitution.

These provisions are in accord with the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection where we find as one of the legitimate needs which the guidelines are intended to meet -

"Freedom to form consumer and other relevant groups or organisations and the opportunity of such organisations to present their views in decision-making processes affecting them."

The National Bank of Industry and Commerce has announced that from August 1 this year there will be a charge of $100 for withdrawals from savings accounts. This will not apply to senior citizens, that is, persons over 60 years of age if they have Advanced Savings.