As was highlighted by the shenanigans committed by Moses Nagamootoo and his lackeys before the AFC’s Convention, one of the sad features of political life is the level of cynicism attending our politicians. There is no question that there is much to justify this cynicism. When bands of people, unconcerned about the people who elected them to office, are typified by greed, avarice, and mind-boggling incompetence, what is the average citizen to think? If Guyana is ever to unearth leaders who would work for the nation — rather than for themselves, as is evident with this PNC-led Government — we would have to go beyond mere hand-wringing and wishing for patriots to materialise out of thin air, and create enabling political institutions.
While, as the cliché goes, we have to ultimately depend on the integrity of individuals elected to office, we have to start from the premise which has been painfully evident over the past four years: to be human is to have weaknesses. Our institutions have to be so structured as to give incentives to the persons who fall within their ambit to enhance the desired values. In general, people are more committed to following rules that they had a role in crafting. This is commonsense: rules had to have made some sense to us, or we would not have accepted them in the first place.
So where do we begin? One place is to start at the very beginning. In the political realm of any country, institutions all emanate from the Constitution of that country. And in Guyana, it is from this “supreme law of the land” that the political cynicism begins. The Constitution of Guyana has a particularly tainted and cynical history. Ostensibly, its birth was occasioned by the decision of Forbes Burnham to launch Guyana on a socialist path in 1974 with his “Declaration of Sophia”. The 1966 Independence Constitution was “too bourgeois”. The fly in the ointment, however, was that while Mr. Burnham was undoubtedly committed to socialism, he was even more enthusiastically committed to satisfying his drive for absolute personal power. The rigged Referendum of 1978 demonstrated early on that he saw the creation of the Constitution as a mere legal fig leaf to cover his ambitions. Yet, it is from this Constitution that, today, all our political institutions flow and our political behaviour is shaped, notwithstanding the major amendments to the Constitution following the 1999 Reform Process.
However, it is not only a question that the changes do not go far enough, even though this is not an inconsequential objection; the present document is a mishmash of articles that still hark back to socialism — articles that are internally and relationally inconsistent; articles that should properly be dealt with by statutory law, rather than being in a constitution, etc.
It is also not the question that the PNC has reneged on its commitment to its partner, the AFC, to alter the Constitution, and has successfully resisted real fundamental change. It is also not the question that they have, further, even resisted implementing the spirit of the changes that have been enacted, and gleefully used the Constitution’s centralised mechanism to lock out other groups from having any real input into the political process.
A Constitution has to be seen as a social contract between the various forces in a country, creating a state with institutions that are just. For the state to be just, we must begin from first principles; a nip and a tuck won’t do. Avoiding this gives us the concoction we now have governing us, which is flush with contradictions. The PNC politicians, led by David Granger, play fast and loose with the rules, as with the NCM, because they know the rules were generated in cynicism by themselves.
Are we surprised that institutions flowing out of such a flawed Constitution, which is out of sync with our national values, are only observed in the breach?
The people must reject the PNC’s obdurate refusal to implement constitutional change.