Walking the walk
Stabroek News
June 5, 2003

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The ‘ethnic census’ syndrome is not limited to the party political sphere. Self-perceived divisions of “ethnic interests” run in some other organizations as well. The history of the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) is a case in point.

“Captured” by the Burnham government in the 1970’s (to the extent that another professedly independent national association of lawyers was established) the national campaign against the 1978 referendum created conditions in which the GBA was returned to independent status in fact as well as law by the almost unanimous consent of its members.

Recently the GBA has again come under critical scrutiny by the government of the day, perceived at the highest level of government as an ‘opposition’ organization because of its stand on issues such as extra judicial executions and constitutional reform with a natural voting majority of Afro Guyanese.

It is well known that in GBA elections, as in so many other instances in Guyana, ethnic division had a major influence on the results, particularly the election of the President. Although a “compromise” is usually arrived at just before the election to preserve the formal unity of the Association, the majority group has always elected the President, whilst compromises are made with the minority in respect of the other officials and the ordinary members of the Bar Council.

In March 1999 the GBA made a number of proposals to the Constitutional Reform Commission in an attempt to establish a more inclusive constitutional structure. Many of those proposals were not adopted by the Commission, including the proposal for a Senate, the membership of which was weighted in favour of the parliamentary minority and civil society. These proposals have been the subject of some discussion among Bar Association members. One question asked was, how can the GBA propose a winner must not take all Constitution to the CRC, in which the highest institutions of the state reflect a more participatory system, but at the same time order its own affairs in a majoritarian manner?

Last week the Guyana Bar Association, by overwhelming vote at its Annual General Meeting, decided to move beyond ‘talking the talk’ and began to ‘walk the walk’ that it had been recommending to the Government and Opposition since the Constitutional Reform. It elected as its President Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, an active and long serving member of the Bar Council and a well known PPP member of Parliament with an independent mind, to replace Mr. Nigel Hughes who declined to run for a second term.

No great structural change, one may say. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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