None of the unassented bills pertaining to constitutional reform was retabled in the 10th Parliament

Dear Editor,

The calls for accountability ring true and until it is ensured this nation and its people will continue to be done a grave disservice.

Article 164 of the Guyana Constitution, ‘Procedures for altering this Constitution’ expressly states:

“(1)   Subject to the provisions of paragraphs (2) and (3), a Bill for an Act of Parliament to alter this Constitution shall not be passed by the National Assembly unless it is supported at the final voting in the National Assembly by the votes of a majority of all the elected members of the Assembly.

“(2) A Bill to alter any of the following provisions of this Constitution, that is to say-

(a) this article, articles 1,2,8,9,18,51,66,89,99 and 111; and

(b) articles 3,4,5,6 and 7, 10 to 17 (inclusive), 19 to 49 (inclusive), 52 to 57 (inclusive), 59, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65, 68, 69, 70, 72 (in so far as it relates to the number of regions), 90 to 96(inclusive), 98, 108, 110, 116, 120 to 163 (inclusive, but excepting article 132), 168 to 215 (inclusive, but excepting articles 173, 185, 186, 192 (2) and (3) and 193), 222, 223,225, 226, 231, 232 (excepting the definition of ‘financial year’), shall not be submitted to the President for his assent unless the Bill, not less than two and not more than six months after its passage through the National Assembly, has in such manner as Parliament may prescribe, been submitted to the vote of the electors qualified to vote in an election and has been approved by a majority of the electors who vote on the Bill: Provided that if the Bill does not alter any of the provisions mentioned in subparagraph (a) and is supported at the final voting in the National Assembly by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the elected members of the Assembly it shall not be necessary to submit the Bill to the vote of the electors-

“(3) In this article-

(a) reference to this Constitution or nay particular provision thereof include references to any other law in so far as that law alters the Constitution or, as the case may be, that provision; and

(b) references to altering this Constitution or any particular provision thereof include references to repealing it, with or without re-enactment thereof or the making of different provision in lieu thereof, to modifying it and to suspending its operation for any period.”

 

Article 119A ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform’ expressly states,   “(1) The National Assembly shall establish a Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform for the purpose of continually reviewing the effectiveness of the working of the Constitution and making periodic reports thereon to the Assembly, with proposals for reform as necessary.

“(2) To assist in its work, the committee shall have power to co-opt experts or enlist the aid of other persons of appropriate expertise, whether or not such experts or other persons are members of the Assembly.”

It is very clear from Article 119A and 164 the people are allowed to review, amend, alter, reform, modify, suspend and repeal the constitution through their representatives (ie, votes by members of the National Assembly) and directly (via ballot and engagement).

The constitution has gone through significant reforms coming out of the Herdmanston Accord and the St Lucia Statement signed by Janet Jagan and Desmond Hoyte. This process had the involvement of individuals and groups, inclusive of the major political parties, human rights body, business, trades union and religious communities. Coming out of this process there remain bills passed in the National Assembly with support from both government and opposition which were sent to then President Jagdeo for assent or non-assent, of which he did neither.

Bills that were not assented to during the life of a parliament are considered dead when that parliament ends. Nothing prevents those Bills from being retabled under a new parliament and sent to the incumbent president for assent. The 1st to 9th parliaments were controlled by the government. The 10th Parliament is controlled by the opposition. Further, the Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform is also controlled by the opposition in this 10th Parliament. My understanding is that not even one of the outstanding bills pertaining to the constitutional reform exercise has been retabled in the 10th Parliament, and the Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform has had no engagement with the people.

Out of respect for the people of this nation it ought to be explained why the constitution has not be respected to achieve any of the reforms being called for, when clearly from the information presented above were it so respected we would have been having a different conversation today. There is growing concern that the people of this nation are being taken for a ride, the constitution is being cherry-picked at whim, and reasons are found to blame poor governance on an instrument that awaits activation by the people and their elected representatives.

Yours faithfully,

Lincoln Lewis

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