Guyana is one of the few countries in the western hemisphere that are not affected by national disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes or hurricanes, but it has politicians who are considered almost as bad, and, as such, progress is impeded.
It is more than a month ago since Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon issued a call for the acting Chancellor of the Judiciary and the acting Chief Justice to be confirmed, but nothing has since been done or heard in this regard. Maybe Harmon’s speech was merely to make news, because he was speaking at an international women’s forum, and was advocating that the two women, who have been acting in their respective positions for three years, be confirmed.
Harmon said, “I am prepared to do what is necessary to ensure that it happens”. He has since not taken any step, but the move for the confirmation has to be initiated by President Irfaan Ali. However, he has not done so, and has not stated whether or not he would do so.
Confirmation of the two top legal positions has been on the horizon for decades. The last confirmed Chancellor was Madam Justice Desiree Bernard, and when she quit to take up higher judicial office, to become a Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice in April 2005, no confirmed appointment was made.
In fact, Justice Carl Singh acted as Chancellor for more than a decade, until his term ended without confirmation; and so did Justice Ian Chang, who, until his retirement, acted as Chief Justice without being confirmed. He died subsequently.
It seems to me that there will never be agreement between the Government and the Opposition in regard to the appointment and confirmation of the two top posts, and one wonders why “consultation” was removed and replaced by “agreement”. I seem to recall that the late Bryn Pollard, former Legal Consultant of Caricom, had suggested that there be a safeguard in the constitution if there is no agreement that two-thirds of Parliament should vote for the measure. This too might be difficult to achieve.
It is very unfortunate that no agreement has been reached despite calls and pleas from former CCJ President Sir Denis Byron; Sir Shridath Ramphal; Justice Desiree Bernard, former Chancellor; and even the current President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders, and other legal luminaries.
Despite court rulings and a clear recount of the votes, Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon is still maintaining that Irfaan Ali is not the legitimate President, and Harmon says he would not recognise Ali as the Republic’s Head of State.
The only solution to this impasse is to reamend the Constitution – removing “agreement” and replacing it with “in consultation with”; and this might pose a problem, because, in my view, a simple majority of votes is not enough to amend the Constitution, it may require either two-thirds or three-quarters, and if the Government cannot win over the support of some Opposition members, the amendment will be stalled. Therefore, it is not likely that there will be a confirmation of the two top judicial officers.
What a shame. If Guyana is to move forward, Government and the Opposition have to agree on certain aspects in the interest of the nation and the populace. The country cannot afford further gridlock, and politicians must work in the interest of the country/populace, and not on their personal aggrandisement. There must be more trust between the Government and the Opposition.