Stop the slide into dictatorship

On March 2, the citizens of Guyana will have to draw a proverbial line in the sand on the creeping subversion of the rule of law, which is a disturbing sign of a return to the dark days of the PNC’s dictatorial rule, especially between 1968 and 1985 under Forbes Burnham, that party’s “founder leader”. During the last five years, there were too many examples abounding of governmental institutions — led by President David Granger — stretching and acting outside their constitutional remit, and taking unilateral political decisions that plunged the country further down the Burnhamite abyss.
As usual, it began with testing actions that violated the spirit of agreements that were solemnly crafted to guide actions in the political realm. For President Granger to renege on the agreement with the AFC contained in the “Cummingsburg Accord” — to have his Prime Minister chair the Cabinet and be in charge of domestic governance — by claiming the Constitution precluded it was more than bad faith. It was a sign that, without compunction, Granger was willing to break the moral contract between parties that undergirds the rule of law writ large. The Constitution authorises the President to delegate any of his Executive powers to any of his Ministers, but unfortunately, the AFC were unwilling to challenge him on his claim. Their mouths were muzzled by the hand that feeds them.
Granger moved on to actually violate the Constitution when he disputed, in a long and contentious argument, the clear language that was inserted to approve the nomination and appointment of “any other fit and proper person” than a judge as the Chair of GECOM. He said it was simply the “perception” of the Chief Justice, to whom the matter was referred. He insisted that he was entitled to his “perception”, and took the matter all the way to the CCJ. Even when that apex court ruled against him, Granger insisted on another obtuse interpretation of the law to claim he was entitled to include his nominations on the list of six names the Opposition Leader was supposed to submit for him to make a choice from.
It is when these intrusions form a pattern of violations of the spirit of the rule of law that the vigilance of the citizenry becomes critical, since dictatorships are usually constructed in broad daylight while the citizens are inattentive. Soon the rights of those citizens themselves are trampled upon as the “dictator in the making” enlarges the scope of his unilateral actions.
In fact, the Chief Justice had to rule that a unilateral action by President Granger to annul the leases of several West Coast Berbice farmers was illegal. But clearly, from his subsequent actions, that judgement did not serve to disabuse the President of his misapprehension of the “separation of powers” doctrine and his encouragement of the traducing of the rule of law.
Not surprisingly, the President’s cavalier attitude infected other officials of his Government, and almost every day one could read of further transgressions. The secreting of the “signing bonus” received from Exxon in the Bank of Guyana (BOG) for over a year — done by two senior Ministers: Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman and Minister of Finance Winston Jordan — and not in the Consolidated Fund as mandated by the Constitution (Art 216) was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of egregious transgressions. The overreach on the oil contract signed by Trotman is still an ongoing saga, which had to be approved by the imperious Granger.
The fact that Ministers can alternately try to stonewall and then offer patently specious “reasons” for their breaking of the law demonstrates their contempt for the Guyanese people. But it is grounded in their following a President giving short shrift, if any, to even the highest laws of Guyana.
What has been very unfortunate is the partisan lines along which the citizenry has been split towards these transgressions, evidently oblivious to the encouragement it offers to our country’s inevitable slide into authoritarianism at best, and to a dictatorship at worst.
This must be halted on March 2.