Leader of the main opposition APNU David Granger yesterday said that while he agrees with calls for constitutional reform, the needs of the people should drive the process.
“…We need to go back to the people to find out what the people themselves want,” Granger said yesterday at a party press conference.
The APNU leader was responding to questions on the call by local business icon Yesu Persaud for reform, especially to the powers of the executive president.
Persaud on Tuesday lambasted government for disrespecting fundamental human rights and targeting critics and said that as he hopes that constitutional reform would be a priority for a new government.
His criticism was in light of President Donald Ramotar’s announcement that new polls would be held next year in light of the failure of his suspension of the Parliament to yield dialogue with the parliamentary opposition. The president has been heavily criticized for his decision to arbitrarily suspend Parliament, in a move to prevent a no-confidence vote against his government. Critics say that while his actions were permissible under the constitution, the provision under which he acted was never intended to be used in such a manner.
Granger said that while much focus seems to be on presidential powers, there are aspects of the current constitution that affects “the people on the ground” daily and as a result it was the masses that needed to be consulted before changes are made.
“As far as constitutional reform is concerned, this has become a very popular topic nowadays but we need to move away from beer garden talks and find out from the people themselves what it is they want. Everybody has got a package of reforms in their back pocket,” he said.
“Everybody is talking about presidential powers but some of these experts never speak about the way that communities are administered and this is what the local government system is meant to remedy. Everybody knows the president this and the president that but the people are suffering at the bottom,” he added.
The APNU leader stressed that decisions on having amendments or redrafting of the constitution were serious and while some may want to make reference to what is done in other countries, one has to look here at the Guyana situation and work out with the populace what is best-suited.
“We can’t have a cut and paste constitution. We can’t have one that selects a bit from South Africa, a bit from Zimbabwe, a bit from the United States. There are hundreds of suggestions… We also need to look at the experiences we have had in the 10th Parliament… because these have brought out some new issues which the constitution will have to remedy,” Granger noted.
“We have a Parliament that has not met for five months because one man can write on a piece of paper ‘Prorogued.’ We have to have a more careful look at the condition than what some people are suggesting. We need to go to the people and we need to get experts in public law to redraft the constitution… No cherry picking. Be finished with that. We need to hear the voices of the people,” he added.
The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) earlier this week urged a civil society-led constitutional reform process following the upcoming national elections. It said it was convinced that “the profound dysfunctionality of Guyanese political life” is directly linked to the current 1980 Constitution, which was written to provide a legal façade for the “virtually imperial powers” Prime Minister Burnham had accumulated. Further, it noted, “Despite years of the calling for the Constitution to be scrapped, when the PPP took office in 1992, it found the Constitution surprisingly useful and postponed reforming it.”
The group added that lessons from the past clearly indicate that the reform cannot be left to politicians alone and it called for the establishment of a civil society-led constitutional reform process after elections. It noted that the new Parliament must be confronted with an irresistible demand for constitutional reform, which it believes can be achieved through a civil society driven process.