President a creature of the Constitution, not opposite way around

Dear Editor,
PRESIDENTIAL immunity has to do with the protection of judgement that comes with the discharge of duty on behalf of the State, not ascribing to oneself the property of the State.

The “Immunities of the President” as outlined in Article 182 of the Guyana Constitution could never have been intended to grant President the power, privilege, or authority to violate the Rule of the Law, when in taking the Oath of Office that person has sworn to uphold the Constitution.

The Oath of Office reads:- “I ………, do hereby solemnly declare that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the People of Guyana, that I will fully execute the office of ……. without fear or favour, affection or illwill and that in the execution of the functions of that office I will honour, uphold and preserve the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.”

In Title 4 of the Constitution, which deals with “The President”, Article 180 allows for
“Removal of President for violation of [the] Constitution or gross misconduct.” If the constitution allows immunity for the President to do as he or she feels then it makes an ass of Article 180 that checks the President’s conduct by the people, through the National Assembly, in exercising their responsibility to remove him or her.

Further, Article 9, which deals with sovereignty expressly says, “Sovereignty belongs to the people, who exercise it through their representatives and the democratic organs established by or under the Constitution.”  What this article is telling us, is that the people, as a whole, are supreme to any action taken by any elected official. Elected officials serve as representatives of the people and not supreme leaders of the people.

An article in the Constitution that is often taken for granted, but very essential to our existence is Article 146, which deals with the “Protection of freedom of expression”. This article comes under Title 1 which speaks to the “Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual.”

Article 146 not only protects the right to share and receive ideas, information and knowledge, but in doing so it allows us to check elected officials, including the President. Behind this backdrop one can appreciate why the media, as an institution, is considered vital to democracy. Because it is through the media, as a mass institution, we participate in the process of sharing ideas, information and knowledge as to the activities within the countries and the people involved in these and are affected by these.

The Sparendaam ‘Pradoville 2’ issue has to do with State land perceived to have been acquired through shady circumstances and former President Bharrat Jagdeo is at the centre of this arrangement. The issue before us, as it relates to immunity is that the former President is a direct beneficiary to a process he authorised. The President appoints the ministers and they function on his behalf and he is therefore ultimately responsible for their conduct.  The buck stops at the President.

This country has laws that specifically outline how lands are to be acquired and state properties are to be disposed of. Where the president has taken an Oath of Office to obey the constitution he is subject to laws and is duty-bound to obey them.

This society continues to be done a disservice from the lack of constitutional knowledge and the propaganda that it is a bad Constitution, which continues to create tolerant-space for people to blame this instrument when others violate it, or when others seek to use it to cover their dastardly conduct.

This notion that the enshrining of immunity to a President is a Forbes Burnham thing is wrong. Immunity clause is standard for Heads of Government and is written into a Constitution and some countries apply it as a matter of convention.

The absence of knowledge of the Constitution goes to the heart of law enforcement in this country, for when Jagdeo advised the State Organised Crime Unit that he will not answer any question pertaining to the investigation of Pradoville 2, when he himself is a beneficiary, law enforcement should have been able to accordingly advise him rather than remaining mum and allowed him to flout his responsibility.

Immunity is intended to protect the president as he uses his judgement in matters of state in the discharge of his day-to-day duty on behalf of the people. But this duty is circumscribed and checked by the Constitution and the laws that flow therefrom. If immunity meant the President can run wild and do as he pleases then Article 9, 146 and 180 would be meaningless.

The President is a creature of the Constitution, not the Constitution a creature of the President. This means the office holder does not operate above this supreme instrument, but operates within the confines of it.

Yours sincerely,

Lincoln Lewis

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