Constitutional reform: Political activist proposes separation of powers between Cabinet, Parliament

WPA Executive, Dr David Hinds

– can provide independence for MPs to more freely exercise conscience vote

With the need for constitutional reform as pressing as ever, political scientist and Working People’s Alliance (WPA) Executive, Dr David Hinds is proposing strict separation of powers between Cabinet and voting Members of Parliament (MPs) be one such reform.

Dr Hinds made this suggestion while appearing on the Globespan 24×7 live show in New York. He appeared with former President Donald Ramotar and A Party for National Unity (ANUG) member Timothy Jonas.

Hinds called for a strict separation of powers, urging that Guyana uses constitutional reform to get rid of irritants to governance. One irritant, he noted, was the fact that numerically, members of the Cabinet dominate in the Parliament and as such, it can lead to accusations of executive overreach.

“We do not, in our Constitution, have enough separation of powers,” Hinds said. “Structurally, the system leans too much towards the executive. Parties, when they are in power, take advantage of that problem in our Constitution. Parliament is supposed to be an oversight body of the Cabinet, but you have Cabinet members in Parliament.

WPA Executive, Dr David Hinds

“If you’re in Parliament, you’re in Parliament making laws. If you’re in the Cabinet, you stay in the Cabinet and implement policies. So (the accusation cannot be made) of executive bias. We use constitutional reform to get rid of these irritants to governance. We need proposals like that to be put forward and for the country to rally around them, so we can deal with these issues.”

According to Jonas, however, such a system would still not be enough to guard against parliamentarians continuing to act as ‘rubber stamps’ by voting along party lines for legislation that could potentially harm the country. Responding to this, Dr Hinds referenced the potential for backbenchers to think and vote independently, without the pressure of being part of the executive.

“Yes, I agree with him. Those representing the party in Parliament will be party members. But history has shown us that some of those members do buck the system. Only recently, in Guyana, one member has caused an uproar,” Hinds said, a reference to former Alliance For Change (AFC) MP Charrandas Persaud, who voted in favour of the no-confidence motion of December 21 that brought down the Government.

“If you go back to Barbados in the early 1990s, it was the backbenchers that brought down the Sandiford Government. So, I think it is a step, it is not a solution to the problem,” Dr Hinds argued.

On December 21, 2018, Persaud broke party lines to vote in favour of a no-confidence vote brought by the parliamentary Opposition against the Government. At the time, there had been much criticism of government policies and the coalition was reeling from setbacks across Guyana at the Local Government Elections (LGE) polls.

Afterwards, Persaud in explaining his actions said that he took a conscience vote after observing the Government’s closing of Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) estates and the toll it took on families in the sugar belt, from whence he hails.

His party, the AFC, wasted little time in expelling him in an act of retaliation the next day. And after accepting defeat, Government turned around and tried to get the motion overturned, first through the Speaker and then through the High Court. When neither worked, it filed an appeal.

The Court of Appeal then ruled in a 2:1 split decision that a majority of 34 votes would have been needed to validly pass the No-confidence motion brought against the Government last year. While Justice Rishi Persaud had dismissed the appeal and conferred with the ruling of the High Court, his colleague appellate Judges ruled in favour of the State’s appeal.

Both Justices Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Dawn Gregory opined that while 33 is the majority of the 65-member National Assembly, the successful passage of a no-confidence motion requires an “absolute majority” of 34, and not the “simple” majority of 33 that has been used to pass ordinary business in the House. The case is now before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).