Reform of the constitution is years away despite a manifesto promise by the APNU+AFC administration of swift changes.
This was the clear message from Minister of Finance Winston Jordan’s 2017 budget presentation yesterday.
Jordan stated that “Consistent with the broad tenets of participatory democracy, the Constitutional Reform Commission will hold consultations in all ten administrative regions. Over one hundred communities will be engaged in consultations and hearings and the entire process is expected to last for at least two years. A sum of $80 million has been set aside for this process, in 2017.”
He added that in the new year, the government will work to accelerate constitutional reform and to facilitate this an administrative secretariat will be established. Already 18 months in office, no substantial progress has been made by the government on constitutional reform.
The APNU+AFC coalition had highlighted constitutional reform in its manifesto released during the general elections campaign last year. The manifesto stated that within the first 100 days of the formation of a Government of National Unity a number of things would be done including the “Establishment of a Constitutional Reform Committee with a mandate to complete consultations, draft amendments and present same to the National Assembly for approval within nine months.”
The coalition had trumpeted constitutional reform several times in its manifesto. One reference said that “APNU+AFC recognizes that the Constitution, in its current form, does not serve the best interest of Guyana or its people. Within three months of taking up office, APNU+AFC will appoint a Commission to amend the Constitution with the full participation of the people. The new Constitution will put the necessary checks and balances in place to consolidate our ethos of liberal democracy. Freedom of speech, reduction of the power of the President and the Bill of Rights will be enshrined in the document.”
Another reference spoke to “immediately” appointing a Constitutional Reform Commission consisting of representatives of all major stakeholders – trades unions, the private sector, religious and faith-based organisations, women, youths, professional organizations and the University. “Its mandate will be to undertake the urgent task of fashioning comprehensive reforms, for early implementation, designed to guarantee a democratic society free from the abuse of citizens by those in high office fuelled by the exercise of arbitrary powers and behaviour by the Executive which is inconsistent with the spirit and provisions of the Constitution,” the document said.
Last month, constitutional experts Professor Harold Lutchman and Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran told this newspaper that the 18-month-old coalition-led government and the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) do not appear to have any appetite for constitutional reform, with both sides historically wary of giving up presidential powers.
“What they support when they are in government is entirely different to what they support when they are out of government. The same thing they criticize when they are out of power, the same thing when they are in power they don’t see anything wrong with,” Lutchman, who was a member of the 2015 Steering Committee for Constitutional Reform (SCCR), told Stabroek News in an interview. Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo received the SCCR report on April 30th, 2016 but it has still not been released to the public.
Lutchman’s view was echoed by Ramkarran, Chairman on the Constitution Reform Process in 2000, who said that the APNU+AFC-led coalition government has been very slothful in getting the process started, although it would have been high on its manifesto priorities.
In June, President David Granger during the airing of his weekly ‘Public Interest’ programme said that proposals for constitutional reform should come from the people following widespread consultations.
“I don’t want a boardroom constitutional reform, I want a public discussion, I want people in their communities to meet and express their views. I don’t want a group of people sitting in a room saying what must be done,” Granger said during the programme.
His statement was seen as a clear sign that constitution reform would not make swift progress.