The year 2017 also saw poor rice farmers from Region 5 successfully challenging the unconstitutional revocation of their 50-year-old leases for rice lands. It is also this year that the President instructed Minister Joseph Harmon to direct the Police Service Commission to halt the promotion of Police officers. Again, the constitutional jurisdiction of the High Court had to be invoked to declare these directions unconstitutional.
This year also witnessed repeated acts of rampant discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and politics. Dozens of qualified professional sons and daughters of this land were unlawfully dismissed in a manner designed to disgrace, humiliate, and tarnish their professional reputation and standing.
Another vulgar violation of the Constitution took place when the Commissioner of Police was suspended by the Minister of Public Security, in clear violation of Article 225 of the Constitution. It was also in 2017 that the nation learnt that the Government received an US$18 million signing bonus from ExxonMobil, which it stashed in a secret account in the Central Bank instead of being deposit in the Consolidated Fund, as is required by Article 216 of the Constitution.
The year 2017 will conclude with Guyana being no closer to constitutional reform, something the Coalition Government promised to deliver within its first 100 days in office.
This year, the nation also witnessed an unprecedented and repeated abuse of the Procurement Act, wherein a singular purchase of pharmaceuticals worth over $605 million was undertaken upon the direction of a Minister of Health to a handpicked supplier.
The year 2017 will also end without the promised termination of the lease of a house in Charlestown, for which the Government is paying $14 million per month to one of its cronies. The lease contract says that the property is being rented as an office, but the Government says it is storing pharmaceuticals and medical supplies at the premises.
Like in preceding years, the Minister of Finance cut the budgetary requests of almost every single constitutional agency, while the Government continues to pay lip service to financial and functional autonomy, which these agencies are guaranteed under the Constitution. The Judiciary’s Capital Budget was cut by over two-thirds, rendering it impossible for the Judiciary to carry out most of its capital programme.
APPOINTMENT OF CHANCELLOR
Perhaps the mother of all constitutional violations was the President’s unilateral appointment of an 84-year-old retired Judge as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). This scandalous appointment came after the President rejected 18 respectable and outstanding Guyanese whose names were submitted to him by the Leader of the Opposition, who received those names through a consultative process involving almost every important stakeholder organisation in this country.
The gentleman who was eventually appointed claimed that he was the Chief Justice of Grenada. The President disclosed to the press that he appointed him because he was the Chief Justice of Grenada. To date, not an iota of evidence has been produced that this gentleman was ever appointed the Chief Justice of Grenada. In fact, the evidence which has been unearthed established that he was never appointed the Chief Justice of Grenada. The matter is now engaging the attention of the court.
2017 is ending with another major constitutional scandal brewing. The President is actively recruiting a person for the position of Chancellor of the Judiciary, but has not seen it fit to engage the Leader of the Opposition, whose agreement is constitutionally required before such appointment can be lawfully made.
Indeed, the press has already identified a candidate who seems to enjoy the President’s confidence. Having regard to the President’s track record on these matters, one cannot discount some warped and twisted interpretation being placed on the Constitution through which the President persuades himself that he is empowered to make such an appointment unilaterally.
Only time will tell.
Mohabir Anil Nandlall,