SUBMISSION TO THE

CONSTITUTION REFORM COMMISSION

By The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í s of Guyana

(April 1999)
 
 

INTRODUCTION

The middle years of the twentieth century witnessed the birth of the new independent nation of Guyana and the establishment of a new religion in Guyana--the Bahá'í Faith. The fact that Parliament recognized the institutions of our Faith by a Special Act (#16 in 1976) is one that Guyanese Bahá'í s greatly treasure.

The Guyanese Bahá'í Community is a religious organization, a body which exists to explore and teach a Faith. While the principles of this Faith place great emphasis on the application of the scientific method to all phenomena, we see the contribution which we can make to the national discussion this Special Select Committee for the Review of the Constitution is conducting, as a spiritual one.
 

PROPOSALS FOR THE CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW

PREAMBLE

The Oneness of Mankind

Bahá'í s assert that the fair and just society we all seek can be founded only on an unshakable consciousness of the principle of the oneness of mankind, a spiritual truth which all the human sciences confirm.

Recognition of the oneness of mankind requires the abandonment of prejudice of every kind--race, class, colour, creed, nation, sex, material development--everything which enables people to consider themselves superior to others.

We propose that the PREAMBLE be amended to include that
 

WE THE PEOPLE OF THE REPUBLIC OF GUYANA
CONVINCED that acceptance of the oneness of mankind is the first fundamental prerequisite for the reorganisation and administration of our country towards a fair and just society. This spiritual principle should therefore be universally proclaimed, taught in schools and constantly asserted as preparation for the organic change in the structure of society which it implies.

CHAPTER II

PRINCIPLES AND BASES OF THE POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL SYSTEM

Articles 14-18

The popular debate between those who espouse a greater measure of free enterprise and those who advocate increased state intervention is, if we look closely at the rhetoric, appealing to our sense of the importance of fundamental values and spiritual qualities. Individual expression, imagination, the entrepreneurial spirit, devotion to hard work, appeals for a just return on investment--these are not purely materialistic goods. Nor are references to social harmony and justice, to care for the less fortunate, to building in equity of access to opportunity, to cooperation and to social solidarity. On both sides, often unknowingly, these spiritual values are the sources from which Guyanese draw inspiration and motivation. Economic discussions can quickly collapse into a debate quite at odds with any mature spiritual and ethical framework when interpretation focuses on products rather than on processes, and when they limit themselves to technological terms, ignoring the creativity to which technological achievement testifies.

What we are saying, and what we believe is supported by the thinking of a growing body of economists, is that the tissue of economic life is spun from cultural and spiritual values and from intellectual energy, imagination and confidence, quite as much as it is from material goods and services. This economic tissue is held together by patterns of information and exchange, as well as a wide variety of other relationships, all of which derive their strength from trust in principles of justice which are assumed to lie at the heart of the social contract. It seems to us essential that these underlying realities of economic life be addressed explicitly in the Constitution. We should seek, progressively, to set goals which are realistic in their recognition of all the dimensions of human nature and society, and devise programs and agencies which are far more able to capitalize on them than has so far been the case.

Justice, Baha 'u'llah declared a century ago, is "the best beloved of all things" in the sight of God and represents God's freely-given "gift" to man in this, the age of his maturity. In the intervening decades, it has become the test to which the peoples of the world now insist upon submitting any proposal for social and economic change. Those societies will succeed, we believe, which are best organized to serve as vehicles of this divine gift.

We believe that a primary economic concern of the State must be to encourage a much higher level of trust and cooperation in the partnership between capital and labour, which lies at the base of the material well-being of this country. The Bahá'í Writings envision a future in which experimentation with various combinations of public and private ownership will be a continuing and healthy characteristic of economic life. At the same time, they suggest profit sharing in both industry and commerce, as a potential source of great social motivation. We urge that government consider ways in which this form of economic organization, which should contribute significantly to a higher level of productivity, be actively cultivated in Guyana. We are not suggesting interference with the freedom of corporations and unions to conduct their own affairs, under the law, in whatever ways seem best to them. Rather, it seems to us that a policy of offering tax and other incentives to companies which organize their affairs so as to permit participation by workers in the profits of the undertaking and to share in the decision-making process, could be written into the Constitution.

Beyond questions of economic structure, it seems to us unarguable that if attention is given to the needs and opportunities of certain segments of Guyana's population this will result in generating greater economic motivation. There are four such areas that, we believe, will greatly reward substantially increased attention of this kind:

(a) Agriculture

Those writings of our Faith that touch on economic questions place particular emphasis on the role of "primary producers", farmers, fishermen and others involved in the task of feeding the human race. Studies such as those undertaken by the Club of Rome indicate the need for greatly increased assistance and support for this sector of the world's economy. Since our physical survival depends on the efficiency and skills of our farmers, we believe that the economic foundations of our society should receive the State's careful attention.

(b) Guyana's Indigenous Population

The indigenous peoples of Guyana represent a unique resource. Their survival amongst us, in the face of heartbreaking discouragements faced by few other people on earth, and their retention of so much of their spiritual strengths, endows Guyana with a body of citizens who are potentially capable of playing a key role in the strengthening of the nation's economic and cultural ties with the rest of mankind. The movement to arrive at a just settlement of their claims, if it is persisted in, will not merely remove a long-standing cause of alienation, but can become a first step in a deliberate program to release this potential.

(c) Women

It is clear that the emerging global society is one in which women will have assumed an equal role with men in all fields of human endeavour, scientific, governmental, scholarly, and artistic, as well as social. The process is well advanced in most developed nations. Guyanese can take pride in the dramatic progress that this country has made over the past several decades. In this period we have witnessed not only the elimination of virtually all discriminatory legislation against women in this country but also the establishment of the necessary structures, both governmental and non-governmental, to examine policies and programs in the light of their impact on women.

The longer-term challenge is to gradually breakdown, through education, the deeply-embedded prejudicial attitudes which prevent the full participation of women in all areas of society. Because this challenge is essentially spiritual and moral in nature, government can approach it only indirectly, but the contributions of government are, nonetheless, of vital importance. Our society has a particularly pressing obligation to move toward freeing women from the economic dependency which has so far been inseparable from their social role as mothers.

(d) The Elderly

Whatever age any one of us may presently have, there is no doubt that all of us who live long enough will grow old. To one extent or another, each of us is dimly aware of the fact and concerned about the implications. From the way in which a nation treats its elderly, all of the other members derive an impression of the moral nature of that society, which strongly influences their willingness to participate in it and sacrifice for it. This perception affects the national esprit de corps to a profound degree. Guyana has moved steadily in the direction of attempting to create among Guyanese that sense of family which the Writings of our own Faith say is a necessary quality of a healthy community. To plan in this way to further deepen the sense of security among elderly Guyanese will require sacrifices in the setting of national priorities, but we believe this is one of the chief ways of releasing the human resources upon which our progress depends.

The Constitution should also encourage the fulfillment of certain essential requirements toward building a unified community. To cite a few:

a. The fostering of good character, and the development of spiritual qualities such as honesty, trustworthiness, compassion and justice.

b. The gradual education of all persons toward the eradication of divisive prejudices of race, creed, class, nationality and sex.

c. The promotion of human progress, through an understanding of the harmony of science and religion as two facets of truth.

d. The development of the unique talents and abilities of every individual, through the pursuit of knowledge and acquisition of skills for practice of a trade or a profession, not only for personal satisfaction, but as a contribution to the enrichment of the life of the whole community.

e. The full participation of both sexes in the elective and administrative processes of the community, including decision-making.
 

CHAPTER III

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS OF THE INDIVIDUAL

No one can fail to sympathize deeply with the anguish which the problems created by a disintegrating social order are creating for a growing number of human beings who feel helpless to protect themselves and their families. At such a time, public protest is an understandable feature of public discussion, and we believe that successive Guyanese governments have been very far-sighted in not merely respecting the constitutional right to protest, but in lending various forms of practical assistance in certain instances where groups of citizens have wished to express strong disagreement with decisions. The adoption of the Charter of Civil Society for the Caribbean Community can leave no Guyanese in any doubt that he is adequately protected in law and that adequate channels exist through which he can contribute to the decision-making process in our society.

But citizens also have responsibilities. The most important of these, in a democratic society, is submission to the will of the majority, as expressed through the constitutional instruments which society has painstakingly created for that process. Governments have the right to expect civil obedience. Governments have the right to be wrong and still be supported in their decisions. No good, but only harm can result from the deliberate violation of civil law or deliberate disobedience to duly constituted agencies of civil authority. We believe that this is a principle which is endorsed by the vast majority of Guyanese and one which is capable of evoking an impressive response from them.
 
 

CHAPTER VII

LOCAL DEMOCRACY

The kind of society which Baha 'u'llah envisions emerging from the upheaval of the present age is one in which local government will have a far greater role than it does in virtually any present-day State. The reasons are, no doubt, sufficiently obvious as to need no elaboration. It will be enough to note that, for society to adequately nurture the various aspects of its citizens' lives, and to create the necessary sense of family amongst groups of citizens, the level of government which is closest to man's day-to-day life must have at its disposal an adequate share of the material resources of that country. Is the distribution of resources and powers between the municipal and national levels of government here in Guyana appropriate, for example, to the changing nature of our society? While we do not feel competent to comment on a subject which falls properly into the sphere of political action, we do believe that Guyana will be greatly benefited if specific attention is paid to the relative position of its municipalities in the system of things.
 

TITLE 2

PARLIAMENT

Regulation of procedure

Consultation

We are told, on all sides that our parliamentary system is anachronistic and incapable of responding to the challenges of the future. No one would deny that there is a good deal of merit in these criticisms: the institutions themselves were conceived for the needs of a very different age than that in which we now live. What is important is that Guyana has moved to develop a supplementary system of ad hoc arrangements which is capable of functioning in a consultative, rather than an adversarial mode. The present hearings are an instance of this program, if it can be so termed. Efforts to restructure parliamentary institutions, therefore, seem to us a secondary concern. Indeed, since the principal shortcomings of these institutions seems to us to lie in the party system they enshrine, and since there is little or no likelihood that this can be significantly altered, we believe that national energies would be most profitably expended in expanding and systematizing the experiments in consultation now underway.

We mention the consultative principle, particularly, because it lies at the heart of the functioning of our own Faith. Baha 'u'llah declared that, together, consultation and compassion form the "law" of the age of mankind's maturity. Our experiments with His guidance on consultation in the administration of an international community which, as we say is extraordinarily varied, have proven so fruitful that we are moved to summarize here a few of the guiding principles:

1. Freedom and opportunity for all those affected by a decision to participate in the consultative process.

2. A clear distinction between this broad consultation and the deliberations of the democratically elected body which must take the responsibility for the decision.

3. Encouragement for every individual engaged in consultation to "freely set forth his conscience".

4. The prohibition of any form of factionalism.

5. The responsibility of all those participating to exercise courtesy and moderation.

6. The moral obligation of each individual in a consultative process to detach himself from his own contribution, which, once it has been made, becomes a common possession.

7. The requirement that, once a decision is taken, the majority favouring and those originally in opposition must unite in a whole-hearted and united effort to carry it out.

8. The obligation of decision-making bodies to constantly evaluate their work and, where necessary, revise their decisions.

In addition we recommend this practice of consultation for use at all levels of government, especially at the local level, that collective talents and energies of those involved can be productively and unitedly focused on the needs of the citizens in a spirit of service.