To The Editor:
The recent pronouncement of the minister of finance in which he declared with the utmost pomposity that graduates who are in arrears with the University of Guyana would be prevented from travelling out of the country until they had settled the debt, must strike all right-minded people as an appalling act of idiocy and lawlessness. This is so much the case that international news agencies carried the story. Citizens of Guyana are subject to and protected by the Constitution of Guyana, and I cite section 148(1) as follows: “No person shall be deprived of his or her freedom of movement, that is to say, the right to move freely throughout Guyana, the right to reside in any part of Guyana,the right to enter Guyana, the right to leave Guyana and immunity from expulsion from Guyana.”
There are some exceptions to this which are to be applied under the laws of Guyana, but which can only be imposed after the judgement of a court of law and I refer particularly to section 148 (h) which states that restrictions upon the right of any person to leave Guyana may only be made if they are reasonably required in order to secure the fulfilment of any obligations imposed on that person by law.
Unless the order to fulfil an obligation is made by a court of law, no president. minister of government or cabinet can take it upon themselves to subvert the Constitution of Guyana and infringe the constitutional rights of any Guyanese citizen to travel freely. Indebtedness is a civil matter and must be proved in a court of law on a balance of probabilities! When a judgement is made further action at law can be taken if there is evidence that the party under obligation does not intend to fulfil it.
The government of Guyana has just recently launched this disgraceful attack on University fo Guyana graduates which is intended to shame and humiliate thousands of people who have made significant contributions to Guyana mostly by working overseas and sending remittances which have supported the economy for years. For most of those who remained, it was impossible to get a decent job to earn a salary which could take care of ordinary obligations let alone pay back student loans. The free movement of CARICOM nationals was also a policy intended to allow professionals and university graduates an opportunity to develop themselves and to contribute in all parts of CARICOM. How does this minister of finance think this ridiculous dictatorial policy will work? Someone seeking a job overseas will have to present a million dollars to some customs officer in order leave the country, which will eventually amount to a lesser sum in order to ‘get away’? Is the minister so blatantly ignorant of Guyana’s international agreements and citizen’s rights? Is this the new democracy?
The level of crassness with which this matter of student loans has been handled by the Granger Administration leaves one to wonder at the quality of governance it intends to provide. There was no attempt to engage graduates on the issue before publishing the “list,” instead the administration took the route of name and shame which was immediately latched upon by the news media and others with glee, and which had the effect of criminalising those named in the public eye.
To President Granger, this policy is a serious, unforgivable breach of the Constitution of Guyana, the tenets of which you publicly swore to uphold. There are much better ways of dealing with this matter and as President of Guyana, it is your duty to find a way. Graduates will not forgive the stripping of their dignity in this manner.
I call on the legal profession in Guyana and the diaspora, and indeed all citizens, to get involved in preventing this breach of the Constitution of Guyana and infringement of the constitutional rights of Guyanese graduates. This government must be held accountable !