The “rule of law” is one of those phrases that this Government loves to use, and our citizenry is very familiar with it. But, like the perfunctory “good morning” or “good afternoon” greeting, it has absolutely no bearing on phenomena invoked. This is rather unfortunate, since it is this “rule of law” that has to be the foundation of any state we hope to establish in our long-abused land, where our people – brought here to labour as slaves and indentured servants, or peripheralised into the jungles – can live with dignity.
What is the ‘rule of law”? Ultimately, that citizens should be ruled by laws and not men, and that no man – even a king – can be above those laws. In Britain, which ruled us for hundreds of years, the move from the rule of an absolute monarch to the present “rule of law” took hundreds of years, and witnessed a king beheaded. In Guyana, with only a half-century experience, our citizens are evidently yet not imbued with the well-nigh-reflexive opposition to threats to the rule of law, as is the case in the developed democracies.
The immediate problem arises with the word “rule”. Whether out of “human nature” arising from the “twisted timber” out of which they are made, or individual idiosyncrasies of those who are chosen to “rule”, some being more “twisted” than others, the rule of law is constantly tested, especially by the rulers, as it is today by the PNC-led Government.
The “rule of law” has to begin with the “law” – the rules by which we are to be ruled — and ultimately these have to emanate from the will of the people if they are to be seen as legitimate and obeyed. The Supreme Law of the land is the Constitution, which “constitutes” the state that is supposed to rule the citizenry under its mandate.
Arising from the need to always be careful of the dangers of power being centralised and taking on authoritarian characteristics, modern constitutions invariably insist that the powers to rule the state be separated into the three functional areas of governance: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The Legislative branch is responsible for enacting the laws of the state and authorising the funds necessary to operate the government. The Executive branch is responsible for implementing and administering the public policy enacted and funded by the legislative branch. While the Judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the constitution and laws, and applying their interpretations to controversies brought before it.
The organisations that have these powers should be structured in such a way that they act as “checks and balances” on each other, to ensure the rule of law is not violated.
In Guyana, we should discern immediately that the Executive President still has such a large reservoir of power, even after the 2000 Constitutional amendments, that it is facilitated to pose a challenge to democratic governance and the rule of law. This is evident when the incumbent refuses to accept the spirit of the Constitution as emanating from the intent of its framers. Take Article 162, covering the selection of the Chairman of GECOM. The intent of the framers was for the competing political parties to consensually select a candidate by insisting he/she be selected by the President from a list of six persons proposed by the Opposition Leader (OL). That the Judiciary allowed the President to unilaterally select his hand-picked candidate without any input from the OL is most unfortunate, and the constitutional crisis that we are presently facing was enabled by this decision.
As we face the abyss of a constitutional crisis, such as has never been seen in the history of our republic – the refusal of the President to obey the clear command of the Constitution – the citizens of the country must accept that ultimate sovereignty, which undergirds the rule of law, lies in their hands.
And they have to protect it from an out-of-control Leviathan.