Constitutional reform: ‘Who are we?’

Over the years, even after the 2000 revision of the Constitution resulting from widespread consultation, many people have been demanding root and branch reforms of what they call the ‘illegal 1980 Burnham Constitution’ . The events during the election process earlier this year have focused attention on the need for constitutional and electoral reforms. Therefore, it is commendable that the government and the opposition are committed to such reforms and that citizens form themselves into societies to participate in the process.

Having said that, it seems to me that going to the reform process is the most basic and fundamental questions that need to be asked and answered satisfactorily who are we and what do we aspire to? It is around the answers to these questions that any constitution should be built or revised. It’s not unusual for people to turn to the national motto – ‘One people, One Nation, One Destiny’ – to look for the answers. Indeed, in making the opening presentations at the Ethnic Relations Commission talk on ethnicity on December 14, 2020, Mr. Kit Nascimento suggested that, if I understood it correctly, the ethnic problem will only arise when we understand and celebrate our Guyaneseness in Guyana is being solved. expressed in our motto and eschew speak of being African-, Indian-, Amerindian-, etc. Guyanese. The Oxford Dictionary Online states that a motto is ‘A sentence or short phrase chosen as a crystallization of the beliefs or ideals of an individual, family, or organization’, and Mr Nigel Hughes later stated correctly that the motto is aspiration and not represent who we are at the moment. The implication is that you may be asking people to celebrate who they are not and they may never come and the aspiration itself must be based on an understanding of who we are!

For constitutional purposes it is essential that we understand that we are not a ‘people’ or a ‘nation.’ We are citizens of the same country, we have the same passport and occupy the same geographic space, but we only have to realize that the following comments on social media and ballot box results in the last elections – young among the young and old. there is a lack of feelings – the central ingredient of being a ‘people’ or ‘nation’. Our lives can be divided into public and private spheres. In important parts of the public sphere – the political and the economic – there are basic competitions based on ethnicity. And in the private sphere, there are numerous churches and grapes, the latter spying all forms of ethno / political prejudice. The ongoing ethnic / political struggle is the driver of this unacceptable division and the motto will not begin to be realized until this struggle is over.

The current situation realizes the 1954 conclusion of the British Guiana Constitutional Commission in the Robertson Report, ‘We do not entirely share the confidence of the Waddington Commission that comprehensive allegiance to British Guiana can be instilled in people of such diverse origins.’ Nearly 70 years later, two Saturdays ago, Raphael Trotman of the Alliance for Change (AFC), speaking to the PPP / C in a letter in Stabroek News, stated, ‘What it means that a large section, almost half of the population, will not accept you, believe your motives are genuine, or give you their trust ‘(SN: 12/12/2020). Guyana is neither a ‘nation’ nor a ‘people’: it desperately breaks a bone and it is after recognizing this ‘rock’ that a constitution must be built!

A useful handbook on constitutional reform, derived from consideration of reform efforts around the world, states that the process is multidimensional and involves legal legitimacy – obtained by adhering to relevant legal principles, norms and rules, political legitimacy – reflected in the sovereign independence of the citizens. in their different groups adopting the constitution, and moral legitimacy – the close relationship between the constitution and the shared values ​​that underpin the moral basis of the state. ‘In addition, the constitution can aspire to goals such as social reconciliation, forgiveness after prolonged persecution, social inclusion and moral renewal of the state. … The process for constructing a constitution and its substantive content are the two keys to legality. And yet, each faces unique challenges in the contexts of building a constitution affected by conflict. By overcoming these challenges and continuing to respond to the context, constitution builders can build more legitimate constitutions’ (

On a practical level, let us consider forming the oldest democratic constitution for which it says a great deal about the nature of democracy and the fracture and thrust of building a constitution that needed to avoid political and philosophical dogma in the quest for a more perfect establishment. union. When in 1787 the representatives of the thirteen provinces met to draw up the constitution of the USA, they understood that they were states gathered to establish central government to better facilitate their collective demands but wanted to maintain as much of their independence as possible. Their different sizes and economic and political orientation meant that negotiations were going to be difficult and deep trade-offs had to be made.

Among other things, the provinces were concerned about the possible growth of an oppressive central government and as a result – after some 60 rounds of voting among the delegates – agreed the current Electoral College mechanism and elected president, who do not. based on monastic principles. So, today, a small state like Rhode Island has 265,000 votes per Electoral College member, while California has 718,000. The large provinces wanted representation in Congress based on population size while the smaller provinces argued for equal representation. A compromise led to the establishment of a population-based House of Representatives and a Parliament based on equal representation. The provinces were quite concerned that the federal government might be tempted to intervene at its own convenience and disregard their authority. The compromise was to give the federal government explicit authority while all other unallocated powers remain with the provinces. On the vexing issue of how slaves were to be counted for taxation and representation purposes, after weeks of negotiating the compromise was that direct taxation by representation and lower house representation was based on white residents and three-fifths for every slave. (

Even with minimal constitutional intervention citizens need to be encouraged and helped to participate fully and to own the reform process and its consequences. However, after decades of self-interested propaganda Guyanese need to be properly informed of the meaning of democratic participation and of the ethnic nature of the politics underlying Guyanese reality. This column states that Guyana is not a ‘nation’ and that democratic political legitimacy must adequately reflect the sovereign independence of citizens in their particular groups. ‘This will require discussions and agreement between representatives of these groups and final approval from all of us. One should not expect that sensible results can be easily reached: the deep compromises required to make the reforms necessary for Guyana to be a properly functioning democratic state will lead to significant political struggle . Success will depend on the political vision, will, determination and institutional capacity of the various political elites.

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