– urges civil society to look at parliamentary reform
Describing the stakeholder process as “effectively dead,” the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is recommending that civil society focus on reforming the parliament towards greater constituency representation, to ensure wider participation in governance.
At its first quarterly review for the year, held last Saturday, the GHRA Executive Committee concluded that reforming the parliament is a “more realistic focus” in the light of the government’s apparent disinterest in stakeholder participation. “Without a marked change in this posture, the GHRA Executive Committee would recommend that civic energies be re-focused away from the [stakeholder process] agenda, which is effectively dead,” it explained in a statement. “A more realistic focus may be a reformed parliament, based on constituency representation, without which constitutional reform in general cannot be completed.”
The review looked at progress in implementing resolutions approved at the GHRA’s Annual General Meeting last December. Among the resolutions was a call for implementation of Article 13 of the Guyana Constitution, which addresses greater participation of citizens in public life. In this vein, the GHRA had been advocating for future elections to be held under a reformed Constitution.
The committee noted that the most significant civic initiative since the last election was the attempt by some 60 organizations, under the umbrella of the Forum on Effective-ness & Solidarity (FES), to engage the government within the framework of the stakeholder process. “Despite the scepticism of many observers, civil society organizations made a good faith effort to test the potential of the [stakeholder process] for developing civic/political partnerships,” it said, adding that several large and lengthy meetings produced a detailed memorandum on implementation of the constitutional reform issues which the process had identified as a priority. “Disappoint-ingly, neither the Appointive Com-mittee of parliament nor the minister responsible for the Constitutional Reform Committee of Parliament has shown the necessary interest in re-engaging civil society on the issues raised,” it, however, added. Further, it said the Appointive Committee created extraordinary confusion in the process of appointing members of the Rights Commissions, rather than engage civic society: “There is enough evidence to suggest that the government would prefer to jeopardize constitutional reform rather than respect the independence of civil society.”
With respect to the AGM resolution on combating sexual offences, the GHRA executive noted a slackening of momentum in the ‘Stamp It Out’ campaign. Saying there has been an escalation of sexual violence crimes in the first quarter of this year, the executive called for a concerted effort on the part of the GHRA in support of bringing the pending legislation into law. It also noted the need for greater coordination of services provided for victims of sexual offences to reduce the stress the current fragmentation of services creates for them.
The meeting also noted that the Report on Torture of Guyana Defence Force ranks has still not been released, while another incident of torture has been alleged in drug-searching exercises by the joint services on Wakenaam.
Meanwhile, in reviewing current issues which may require a response, the executive said a priority is to understand the implications of the failure of financial institutions for citizens. It noted the reluctance of the government to provide a full and transparent explanation of the involvement of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the New Building Society (NBS) in the purchase from Clico of $1.5 billion of bonds in the Berbice Bridge Company Inc and the use of the funds generated by the sale. Noting that the chairmen of both the NBS and the NIS work in the Office of the President, the GHRA executive said the episode does not inspire confidence.
Also, the review considered the projected decrease in overseas remittances, together with devaluation of the US dollar, which it said would be severe. There were also reports of cutbacks in welfare payments for adults and children, including a child with disabilities, being implemented with crudeness and arrogance in Amerindian communities.
In the light of the problems NIS finds itself in, the GHRA said, benefits are more likely to shrink than expand and the cost of contributions to be increased rather than lowered. “Governments in developed societies are taking unprecedented steps to protect their citizens against the consequences of the financial meltdown,” it said, adding that administration should consider similar interventions to protect access to such essential services as water, electricity and telephone.
In addition, the GHRA also registered concern about the increase in explicitly vulgar advertising for music concerts for dancehall, soca and chutney concerts. It said reports on the actual events suggest the common denominator is a high degree of lewd and sexually threatening antics from both performers and some intoxicated patrons. As a result, the GHRA is requesting that the police force and Human Services Ministry take note of the number of minors who frequent such events. It also noted the incongruity between government spending millions of dollars trying to promote responsible sexual behaviour to combat HIV and tolerating such entertainment, saying it suggests that its priorities are confused.
Attending the review were members from the North West, East Coast Demerara, Georgetown, Rupununi and Linden represented environmental, trade union, disabilities, legal, indigenous, women and health interests.