Marking Article 13 work
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THE purpose of our political system, as written in Article 13 of the Guyana Constitution, outlines that “the principal objective of the system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being.”

This article came out of the 1999 constitutional reform exercise which resulted from the then Opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), under the leadership of Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, signing The St. Lucia Statement with then President, Janet Jagan, on 2nd July 1998. It was felt, among other things, that “measures and arrangements for the improvement of race relations in Guyana include the contribution which equal opportunities’ legislation and concepts drawn from the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society can contribute to the cause of justice, equity and progress in Guyana.”

The St. Lucia Statement has its genesis in the dissatisfaction at the outcome of the elections’ results expressed by the PNCR; and, more importantly, the fear and/or frustration of a significant segment of the population in regard to living under the administration of a party they had not supported to form the Government. This fear and/or frustration has/have its concerns rooted in persons’ opinions that they felt excluded from political decision-making, and that it has impacted their lives. There is no intent to argue the merits or demerits, validity or invalidity of these views; save to say that civility requires that if those fears, real or perceived, were expressed, they were deserving of being addressed. For years, the society has been told — and some have come to accept — that ours is a winner-take-all politics, where the party which has not secured the Executive, and its supporters, are denied.

Again, our purpose here is not to argue any merit or demerit of this claim, but to examine the article before us and see how we can make it work in our common good in the here and now, even as conversations continue about constitutional reform. Careful examination of Article 13 shows that it speaks to a solution to the discontent of 1997. It lays the platform, via the nation’s supreme law, to establish and foster a political solution built on the involvement of all, irrespective of our diversity but inclusive of the political party supported. In that this article was assented to by the then President, Bharrat Jagdeo, it was not unreasonable to harbour expectation that he would have chartered a new course, consistent with its objective. This notwithstanding, it does not mean that the article cannot be activated in its fullest, and add fillip to the enveloping nationalism. The preference, harboured in certain quarters, to foster a politics of dissent or of “our time” does not negate, or should not obscure, the overwhelming desire of the ordinary man and woman to proceed along the road of inclusion. Whichever way it is looked at, a diverse nation stands to gain more when all feel that their voices are heard, their opinions and inputs valued, their choice of representative respected, and their taxes invested in them, irrespective of political or apolitical interests. Few, if any, relish living in a nation constantly racked with silly divisions, whose laws work for some and not all, whose citizens oppose only for the sake of opposing; a nation comprised of feeble men acting as though they are omnipotent, and engaging in endless back and forth, with none wanting to concede anything or listen to the other; all being more bent on talking past each other, and everyone out to prove they are right and the other is wrong. That is not a healthy relationship for any people to cultivate, be it in the home or in public life. Guyanese, having gone past the stage of saying ‘enough is enough’, many continue to register disapproval and discontent with their feet. Those who have stayed, or desire to return, are pleading with their leaders to give development for all a chance to work. The best place to start is at Article 13, given that it aims to ensure a society wherein all can have equal opportunity to realise their God-given potential.

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