OPINION: VP Jagdeo’s use of presumptuous” profanes, interferes with hallowed judicial freedoms

Last Updated on Saturday, 27 April 2024, 19:06 by Writer

by GHK Lall

There must be some places that Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo must avoid going near. However deeply his sense of right and wrong is offended, he knows enough not to venture into critical public pronouncements of the judiciary over what he interprets to be overreach. Dr. Jagdeo knows all too well about the separation of the powers doctrine that stands between the executive and the judiciary. Dr. Jagdeo knows that Article 122A(1) of the Constitution of Guyana mandates: “All courts and all persons presiding over the courts shall exercise their functions independently of the control and direction of any other person or authority; and shall be free and independent from political, executive and any other form of direction and control.” 

VP Jagdeo used a difficult word a few days ago to describe some of what came out of Justice Sandil Kissoon’s last decision in the matter involving the Guyana Teachers’ Union and the Government of Guyana. In normal circumstances, the use of “presumptuous” is a word that provokes anger. In the context of a judicial ruling, the employment of “presumptuous” is preposterous. It is offensive, raucous, and overstepping into a protected realm, and Jagdeo knows this. The judiciary is prohibited territory for anyone from president to vice president to all other Guyanese; yet that is where Jagdeo ventures irresponsibly. He knows what is called for under the umbrella of respect for the judiciary and its hallowed independence. I think that Dr. Jagdeo went too far, and he should withdraw the comment. I return to the aforementioned Article 122A(1), which said, inter alia, “All courts and all presiding over the courts shall exercise their functions independently of the control of any other person or authority; …from political, executive, and any other form of direction and control.” 

There is absolutely no question here that former president Jagdeo has ruptured that commanding constitutional restraint when he was so bold and reckless to declare Justice Kissoon to be “presumptuous.” The president is the leader of the national executive, but his powers and those of his secondary servants and affiliates do not extend, should never intrude, into the independent arena occupied by the jurists in Guyana’s judiciary. Secondary servants and affiliates of the president number Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, among others. In many instances, he has risen to the level of primus inter pares, and with that elevation or self-anointment comes the responsibility for him to comport himself in every way, including the verbal, in a constitutionally honorable way. An ignoramus may be excused for his imbecility, but Dr. Jagdeo is not an imbecile. When the union and government are locked in the throes of collective bargaining disagreements, and the president decides to meet with teachers, in what manner should that be interpreted? The record of the government, present and past, has been to circumvent the collective bargaining process, with the objective of subverting its flow and outcomes. It is my view that the advisers of President Ali should have cautioned him about both the optics of such moves and the purposes for which they were intended.

In layman’s language and commonsense perception, what else, save for issues that could normally fall within the boundaries of collective bargaining, could have been on the agenda, if not at the top of it? I believe that the president’s meeting was untimely and improper, given the conditions prevailing. There have been too many of these side door overtures and self-serving leadership schemes, which have not been to the benefit of Guyanese workers, be they teachers or public servants. To dare to utter the derogation of “presumptuous” is to put a damper on judicial independence, to introduce a dangerous chill into the universe of free judicial thinking. What Jagdeo did with “presumptuous” is not without its close cousin. It involved the same Justice Kissoon, and followed in the aftermath of his parent company guarantee ruling that went against Exxon. Within a matter of minutes, VP Jagdeo was touting what is “predictable’ and about those decisions that could ‘spook investors.’ Taking “predictable” from before and what is “presumptuous” earlier this week, the alarming is seen in this corner. It is that Guyana’s Vice President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, (a former president, I remind again) has arrogated unto himself the power and authority and unfettered freedom to speak for his PPP Government and to dictate to the judiciary of this country what it can say and what it cannot. How it can decide, and how it must not. Regarding the latter, I refer my fellows to his post parent company guarantee adjudication outburst.

To take matters to another level, and ensnaring Guyana’s judiciary again, it was CEO John Hess of Hess Corporation, a partner in the Exxon-led Guyana consortium, who interpreted what he heard in a conversation with Guyana’s President Ali as the equivalent of a virtual ‘guarantee’ of a judicial ruling. I combine the three: judicial decisions must be “predictable” and Justice Kissoon is “presumptuous” and sandwiched between the two, what was tantamount to a ‘guarantee’ from the political executive about a favorable judicial decision to come, and I conclude as follows:

  1. The Guyana judiciary is under siege from the executive;
  2. The sinister and sabotaging, as directed against the local judiciary, are becoming alarmingly apparent; and
  3. The constitutionally sacred local judicial independence is coming in for subtle and, sometimes, brazen forms of control and direction.