Govt’s attitude to Constitution “deeply troubling” – former Speaker
urges Govt to withdraw PSC letter before court makes another embarrassing ruling
The Government’s track record of losing court cases in which interpretation of the Constitution is involved has not gone unnoticed. Former Speaker of the National Assembly, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran, has become the latest legal mind to express worry over decisions made by the President that have been overturned by
Referring to an editorial which stated that the Government’s attitude to the Constitution signals a willingness to ignore legal precedents whenever it finds this suitable, Ramkarran has cited several cases that seem to support this view. Among those are the termination of the Red House lease and the instructions the President issued to the Police Service Commission (PSC).
“In the face of criticism, the Government, instead of withdrawing the offending instructions to the PSC, doubled down and gave excuses for its unlawful conduct,” Ramkarran stated. “In other words, the Government does not want the PSC to select some of the persons recommended.
“Even though the Government can properly place the evidence of unfitness of persons recommended to the PSC and ask it to reconsider, it appears more comfortable in violating the Constitution by giving instructions,” the legal luminary observed.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, in a letter dated July 27, wrote to the Police Service Commission (PSC) to inform that the President had directed that there be
no consideration of promotion for members of the Guyana Police Force until further notice, and this directive should be implemented immediately.
Even PSC Chairman Omesh Satyanand had expressed concern at the unprecedented directive given by the President, and had said that halting the entire promotion process would be a blow to senior officers of the Guyana Police Force, whom he noted have invested time and energy in building a career at the Guyana Police Force, and were expecting their just reward.
Satyanand had called for some clarity and justification in regard to the circumstances that had led to the President’s directive, and President David Granger had subsequently stated that he had acted based on information he had received regarding complaints made against individuals in the Force.
Article 226 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana states: “Save as otherwise provided in this Constitution, in the exercise of its functions under this Constitution, a Commission (service commissions) shall not be subject to the direction or control
of any other person or authority.”
“Apart from maintaining professionalism, the drafters of the Constitution understood that a professional, and not a politically aligned, Police Force is related to the human rights and civil liberties of citizens,” Ramkarran noted of the directive.
“Guyana (has) already experienced the subversion of the Guyana Constitution, starting with the defanging of the Elections Commission in 1968 prior to the elections of that year. I personally experienced it when I served on a toothless Elections Commission in the elections year of 1973,” he recalled.
Already, a number of rulings have been made in the High Court against the coalition APNU/AFC Administration, and President Granger has had some of his
decisions deemed unconstitutional.
Last year, he gave occupants of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (CJRC) 48 hours to vacate the premises in a directive which Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo described as “unconscionable and vindictive”.
On August 9, the Opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) secured two conservatory High Court orders blocking the State from ejecting the CJRC from the property, once the official residence of former President, the late Dr Cheddi Jagan.
Acting Chief Justice, Senior Counsel Roxane George, SC, overruled every submission made by Attorney General Basil Williams, and refused his request that the CJRC case be dismissed. The Chief Justice upheld submissions made by former Attorney General Anil Nandlall on behalf of the CJRC.
Then the plight of several farmers who were issued land leases grabbed national attention. These farmers were, in 2014, granted by then President Donald Ramotar 50-year leases for state land located in the rear of Number 40 Village, West Coast Berbice.
However, in March of 2016, they received from the Mahaica/ Mahaicony/Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) letters informing that President David Granger had cancelled their leases and they must therefore cease occupation and return the land to the MMA/ADA.
The farmers sought justice in the courts, and were represented by Attorneys Nandlall and Manoj Narayan among others, while the State and the MMA/ADA were represented by Attorney General Basil Williams.
On the same day as the Red House judgment, the Chief Justice ruled against the President’s revocation of rice farmers’ land leases, deeming it unconstitutional. She also ruled that the farmers are entitled to compensation from the State.
There is also the case of the vacant Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairmanship. Interpreting constitutional stipulations according to his own understanding, President Granger had rejected every nominee proposed for the post by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on grounds that Article 161 (2) of the Constitution prescribes that nominees must either be qualified to be a Judge, or be fit and proper.
But local businessman Marcel Gaskin moved to the High Court in March to challenge the constitutionality of the President’s reasoning. That judgment was handed down last month.
While the Chief Justice had acknowledged that the President can determine whom he deems “fit and proper”, she overruled the President’s interpretation of the Constitution by finding that there is no particular preference for the appointment of persons with legal training.
In wake of these rulings, Ramkarran has urged that attempts to issue directives to the PSC not be allowed to succeed. He has proffered the following advice for the government: “The Government can lift its deeply troubling approach to the Constitution by withdrawing the offending letter to the PSC before the court once again embarrasses it by inevitably ordering it to do so.” (Jarryl Bryan)