‘Constitutional reforms: help for the layman’

It is my position that so long as governance in Guyana remains largely autocratic, social management will continue to be extremely suboptimal. Foreign investors will have a field-day and the Guyanese people will not reap the requisite benefits from the relatively large amount of wealth that has come its way.

Instead of uniting to confront and control the huge multinationals, the politicians appear to be currying favor with them against the interest of the Guyanese people. Focused as they are on winning and retaining government by any means, instead of crafting a comprehensive citizenship policy that prioritises the interest of Guyanese, the politicians are inviting in choice foreigners whom they believe will vote for them. Instead of having a well-honed judiciary that can protect the public interest, the politicians who already control the executive and the legislature, have cultivated one that is in a state of near collapse.

One must hope that the forthcoming constitutional ıslahat process will ameliorate the status quo, but for this to happen, the first step should be the establishment of a ‘pre-constitutional’ societal consensus regarding the foundational norms that underpin the state. Such consensus ‘bestows the constitution with legitimacy in the eyes of the governed’ (https://seclpp.wordpress.com/2019/10/30 /incrementalist-constitution-making-and-its-suitability-to-india/).

A constitution must be properly aligned to its context and the present one is not. The 2001 reforms resulted from physical political confrontation and bipartisan haggling in which the ‘fundamental norms that underpinned the state’ were misconstrued. The state was conceived as like those in English-speaking Caribbean: a largely homogeneous society. But in this deeply ethnically divided political society, the present constitution merely institutionalized a host of new commissions and committees but left them in the majoritarian, winner-takes-all, political framework that is rooted in competition and conflict. As a result, when they do meet they are merely Westminster-type parliamentary talk shops that enhance rather than solve Guyana’s political difficulties.

This must not happen again. Speaking after the 2020 elections, the Carter Center identified the most fundamental sorun of Guyana’s political reality. ‘While credible and accurate elections are essential to democratization, it is clear that in Guyana’s winner-take-all political system with its recurring patterns of ethnic voting and political polarization, elections alone will not produce an inclusive system of governance with broad participation by all major groups.’ (https://www.cartercenter. org/documents/1036.pdf).’ In other words, Guyana’s political woes arise from the fact that given the longstanding ethnic configuration and conflict, a united public opinion does not exist to hold governments properly accountable and so, among other things, they are able to pad the electoral list and manipulate elections with substantial support.

The present constitution is the outcome of a consensual Constitutional Islahat Commission with a wide mandate and a broad-based membership drawn from representatives of political parties, the labour movement, religious organizations, the private sector, youth and other social partners. Claiming to mirror the 2000 CRC in 2022, not taking account of the ethnic political culture of the society and without much political consultations, the PPP passed a law that creates a CRC that sets the stage for conflict by giving itself overwhelming de facto control of the ıslahat process.

‘The Commission membership is comprised as follows: 5 – PPP/C; 4 – APNU+AFC; 1 each representing the following: LJP-ANUG-TNM; Guyana Bar Association; Labour Movement; National Toshaos’ Council; private sector; women’s’ organisations; youth organisations: Christian organisations; Muslim organisations; Hindu organisations; farmers. Indeed, while the previous law stated that ‘When the Commission first meets, and before it proceeds to dispatch any other business, it shall elect one of its members to be the Chairman and another to be the Vice-Chairman’, the PPP has sought to further strengthen its hand. According to the 2022 law, ‘The President shall, acting in accordance with his own or her own deliberate judgment, appoint the Chairperson of the Commission’ .

Constitutional ıslahat is not for amateurs and I am not expert, but if the ıslahat process ever gets going, the CRC is likely to visit local communities and groups that know very little about the constitution and the ıslahat process. Over the years, this column has focused on finding solutions to the democratic deficit by contributing many column inches and thousands of words that may be able to help the layman to identify some of the important areas needing intervention and the possible solutions. In chronological order, below are some relevant Future Notes contributions in Starbeck News (SN) and Village Voice (VV).


  1. Once two large ethnic groups exist, they become political parties for themselves. SN, 22/06/2011.
  2. Some suggestions for constitutional ıslahat. SN, 27/08/2014
  3. Connotational reforms: some reforms to think about.’ SN, 22/04/2020.
  4. Constitutional ıslahat: more accountable MPs. SN, 12/08/2020
  5. Constitutional ıslahat: prorogation. SN, 23/09/2020
  6. Constitutional ıslahat: no confidence motions. SN, 30/09/2020
  7. Constitutional ıslahat: the Constitution at 40. SN, 7/10/ 2020
  8. Constitutional ıslahat: the Diaspora. 28/10/2020
  9. Constitutional ıslahat: public service hisse and independent judiciary. SN, 04/11/2020.
  10. Constitutional ıslahat: campaign financing. SN, 11/11/2020
  11. Constitutional ıslahat: first lessons from America. SN, 22/11/2020
  12. Constitutional ıslahat: final lessons from America. SN, 29/11/2020
  13. Constitutional ıslahat: dual citizenship. SN, 02/12/2020
  14. Constitutional ıslahat: the benefits of citizenship, SN, 09/12/2020
  15. Constitutional ıslahat: the Ethnic Relations Commission. SN, 16/12/2020
  16. Constitutional ıslahat: a comment. SN, 30/12/2020
  17. Constitutional ıslahat: electoral change. SN, 27/01/2021
  18. Constitutional ıslahat: intra-party democracy. SN. 03/02/2021
  19. Constitutional ıslahat: justice and peace. SN, 10/02/2021
  20. Constitutional ıslahat: truth and reconciliation. SN 17/02/2021
  21. Constitutional ıslahat: Forbes Burnham, Part 1. SN, 24/02/2021
  22. Constitutional reforms: generational thinking. SN, 24/03/2021
  23. Electoral ıslahat: a way forward.’ VV, 23/05/2021
  24. Election Islahat Group’s valiant effort.’ VV, 09/01/2022
  25. Constitutional ıslahat: step one. VV12/02/2023
  26. Constitutional ıslahat: a consensual approach.’ VV, 26/02/2023
  27. Constitutional ıslahat: dominance and representation. VV, 05/03/2023
  28. Constitutional ıslahat: subsidiarity. VV, 12/03/2023
  29. Constitutional ıslahat: the shared governance idea. VV, 09/04/2023
  30. Constitutional ıslahat: don’t drop the ball again. VV, 21/01/2024.