Commonwealth Day 2017
Tuesday marked the launch of activities, including a panel discussion, in celebration of Commonwealth Day 2017. But while the body was lauded for the work it has done, there were firm reminders that local cases of constitutional turmoil, the rule of law and youth empowerment must be confronted by the organisation.
The panel discussion, hosted at the Umana Yana to celebrate the day, featured presentations from British High Commissioner Greg Quinn; Canadian High Commissioner Pierre Giroux; Indian High Commissioner Venkatachalam
Mahalingam; Australia’s Deputy Head of Mission, Tracey Haines; former Attorney General Anil Nandlall; Junior Public Infrastructure Minister Annette Ferguson and University of Guyana student Philippe Walker.
This suggestion, however, was put forward particularly by Nandlall in a bid to warn against discussions becoming extraneous. He noted that while the Commonwealth Charter was crafted in a noble and idealistic manner, discussions should zero in on specific, worrying situations in member states like Guyana.
“When we have these discussions, we must be able to interlink what is going on in the particular society in which we are having these discussions, lest our discussion becomes sterile,” Nandlall warned.
The Member of Parliament cited cases such as the imbroglio involving President David Granger and the appointment of a chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). Differences in interpretation of the Constitution have seen Granger reject every nominee proposed by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.
“Fundamental to democracy in Guyana is free and fair elections. Fundamental to free and fair elections is the appointment of a chairman of GECOM. And we are unable to do that with the requisite speed.”
In addition, the Court of Appeal is functioning with only two Judges, one of whom – Justice of Appeal BS Roy – is approaching retirement. Nandlall has been vociferous in calling on the President to act on the recommendations of the Judicial Services Commission, which he said were made since last year.
“Right next to us is the Guyana Court of Appeal. One of the fundamental tenets of this (Commonwealth) Charter is the rule of law. Fundamental to the rule of law is a functioning and independent judiciary.”
“And then we live in a country where there are serious separations of power breaches. And that is a fundamental part of the Charter, (which recognises) the role of the Executive and the Legislature and the integral parts that they have to play in a fluent democracy.”
In further commenting on the issue after the panel discussion, Nandlall expressed concerns about the status of both acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards and acting Chief Justice Roxane George.
According to Nandlall, neither of the women has been sworn in, despite the fact that their appointments were ‘effective’ from March 1, 2017.
Walker, a former Youth Parliamentarian and the final panellist to speak, advocated for more inclusion of youths. He noted that while there was relative peace in the Region, social issues affecting youths were all a catalyst for a disruptive society, if not addressed.
“Peace is not just the absence of war. There are so many other issues affecting our society that we need not paint a picture of (the absence of) violence and bloodshed to be a peaceful society. There are problems affecting our youth such as unemployment, abuse, suicide and drugs.”
“So, I look forward for fruitful discussions and not just the discussions, but the after-discussions to see (results) coming out of it that we can implement.”
High Commissioner Quinn noted that the Commonwealth was more relevant than ever. Quinn noted that it was a force for good around the world in matters of democracy and human development – fulfilling one of its goals.
“It is the British Government’s intentions to work with our friends and allies in the Commonwealth in the global trading environment.”
Quinn noted that the United Kingdom would be looking to build on the 24th Heads of Government meeting in Malta in 2015, in order to ensure the Commonwealth was reformed and reenergised to perform better.
“As the host of the next Heads of Government meeting in 2018, there will be an ambitious and dynamic gathering and we want to make the most of all the Commonwealth has to offer.”
Meanwhile, the Indian and Canadian High Commissioners pledged their countries’ continued support for the Commonwealth. In addition, Junior Minister Ferguson emphasised the importance of peace being maintained in the Region, for the sake of economic progress and human development.
The discussion was planned by Guyana’s National Assembly, with Speaker Dr Barton Scotland playing a key role. Scheduled activities for Commonwealth Day celebrations included poster and essay competitions for participants between the ages of seven and 11; and poster and essay competitions for participants between the ages of 12 and 17.
Under the theme “A Peace Building Commonwealth”, Commonwealth Day was celebrated on March 13 in several parts of the world. Fifty-two Commonwealth countries celebrate the Day, with 2017 marking 40 years since it became a global celebration.