Is the “Rule of Law” in Guyana descending into an abyss – like that of Venezuela?

Dear Editor,
Rule of Law is a key pillar of a democracy. Interrupting the fair and judicial application of the rule of law amounts to a loss of democracy and capitalism. Guyana is now under direct threat of this phenomenon. First were the actions of GECOM in ignoring the Constitution and failing to prepare for elections in 90 days. Second was the Appeal Court ruling on the no-confidence motion (NCM). Combined with many other glaring examples of Government influence and control over various “independent” bodies that comprise the agencies of implementing “rule of law,” it is easy to conclude that there is a creeping dictatorship that is circling the land of Guyana.
Twenty years ago, Venezuela began to see similar signs. But quickly, a gathering momentum of abuse propelled Venezuela to where it is today. And, of course, Guyana’s history of dictatorship and rigged elections, until the Carter intervention in the 1992 elections, has left an indelible scar on Guyana. Will Guyana descend [back] into the abyss?
Any reasonable man will tell you that the arithmetic used by the Court of Appeal is unprecedented, and is not grounded in our Constitution. Refer to legal minds such as former Chancellor Kennard, or former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran and the many other pundits who comment on these matters. And of course it differs from the Chief Justice’s legal reasoning. But one nevertheless demurs to respecting the Court of Appeal’s decision pending the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Any reasonable man will tell you that GECOM is clearly ignoring the NCM and Constitution by insisting on house-to-house registration rather than convening elections. In polite terms, both the Court of Appeal Justices and GECOM seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet as the Government.
Like SOCU, and many of our institutions, APNU Government policy and direction appear to be taking precedence over “rule of law” and the “independence” of the many statutory bodies set up to protect our democracy by providing the checks and balances against Government. One can readily call it the “creeping dictatorship”. Of course, one can also argue differently, depending on which side you are on. All are involved!
The Tuesday (April 2nd) resignations of 4 senior APNU/AFC ministers and Parliamentarians, supposedly to follow the court ruling, is not simply APNU complying with the law. The reversal or restatement the next day reflects the flip-flop nature of APNU and their frequent duplicity on important matters. The man in the street is not stupid! It is widely expected that APNU will re-open the dual citizenship at the CCJ and argue that Charrandas’s vote was invalid. And that notwithstanding the validity of any proceeding of the National Assembly (like the NCM vote), the issue of eligibility to vote, if settled, will invalidate the NCM by rendering a less than 33 vote of the elected members. This is notwithstanding the fact that both the Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal treated this issue as “settled law,” and that Charrandas’s vote is validly part of the 65 votes. If this route were to follow, one can allege a conspiracy between the CCJ and the Government of Guyana.
The CCJ is now in the crosshairs of all, including the ABC countries. The fact that Trinidad and Jamaica, the two largest CARICOM countries by economy and population, are not part of the CCJ, but remain bound to the UK Privy Council, already illustrates the majority perception of CARICOM nationals of the CCJ. Just May 2018, less than one year ago, then Prime Minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, declared that if his party won the general elections in Barbados, Barbados would withdraw from the CCJ. He lost his elections, thus averting a Barbados withdrawal. But there is a growing perception that the CCJ, the highest court of CARICOM for Barbados and Guyana and a few smaller countries, lacks independence.
To make matters worse, the CCJ appointment committee (the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission) includes one of the Guyana Court of Appeal judges — acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Yonette Cummings-Edwards, one of the two judges who ruled in favour of the Government on the NCM. In addition, the Guyana APNU Government attorney who argued the NCM mathematics, Dr. Francis Alexis, is another member of this appointment committee. And their colleague on the same committee is none other than the Chairman of the CCJ, who will hear the NCM case, Justice Adrian Suanders. One can clearly argue conflict and lack of independence.
One therefore expects that this landmark decision that is expected in May and will determine the legality or illegality of the APNU-AFC Government will very likely determine if Guyana stays in the CCJ (assuming a PPP Government at the next election) and joins the growing list of important CARICOM countries not part of the CCJ, or those (like Barbados) looking to exit.
The US, UK, Canada, and EU are all observing. Rule of Law is one of the vital ingredients of a democracy. With the oil wealth Guyana is about to be part of, Guyana’s brightest days are expected to be on the horizon in the next decade. GECOM Executive, its APNU Board members and Chairman (the subject of another CCJ case), along with Court of Appeal and CCJ judges, can all expect to be under the microscope if decisions appear to be ignoring law and more reflective of rendering political decisions. With GECOM, it is easy to argue the complicity of the GECOM Executive and their failure to prepare for elections. The ethnicity argument has also gained some currency, with the recent ruling of the Ethnic Relations Committee over the failure to re-hire the former DCEO (since he was the most qualified), but who happened to be of a different ethnicity. With the judiciary, the arguments are not as straightforward. But the suspicion is clearly perceived. The world is watching and waiting.

A Grant