PPP/C open to constitutional reform but alarmed over breaches – Jagdeo

Although the PPP/C is open to constitutional reform, it is concerned about the process involved, as well as alleged breaches of the Constitution by the government, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo said on Monday.

During a PPP/C press conference, Jagdeo said it was unclear which external agency was helping government to drive the process forward.

Asked for his views on a public consultation on constitutional reform which was held last week Friday, Jagdeo, a former president, informed that during a previous meeting with a United Nations (UN) team, the PPP/C had expressed some concerns. He said that the team had informed that the government was pursuing constitutional reform and the UN wanted to hear the opposition’s views.

“Then to our surprise, we saw that the Carter Center may be leading this process too. That the government had hired somebody from the Carter Center… I don’t know because it now seems as though the Carter Center and the British High Commission are leading this,” he said.

Jagdeo was making reference to the consultation held at the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen Campus, which was organised by the Carter Center, with the support of the British High Commission.

Though constitutional reform was a manifesto promise of the coalition government, no minister was present at the forum, which lasted for three hours.

“We are still a bit confused as to which external agency the government has requested to work with them on the whole process of constitutional reform,” he said.

He said that the PPP/C has argued that it has grave concerns about the process. “From the announcement of the government, they have treated this as a task of the executive and now it has departed from what happened the last time we had major constitutional reform… that [was] the two parties got together in a body that included members of civil society and that led the process. Now it seems as though this is executive-driven,” Jagdeo told reporters.

Jagdeo said that his party also asked the UN team what precisely the government wanted to change. “We didn’t get clear answers about that too,” he said.

According to Jagdeo, it was made known to the team that the PPP/C was open to any discussion about constitutional reform or changes. “But right now we have a major issue…there are daily breaches of our current constitution and so from the Carvil Duncan case, to the case where the government has so far disregarded the advice of the [Judicial Service Commission] to the President and the Attorney General ascribing their own interpretation to the constitutional provision relating to the appointment of the chairman of Gecom [Guyana Elections Commission] to where the Ministry of Social Cohesion is taking over the responsibilities of the Ethnic Relations Commission,” he said.

He questioned how respect for the Constitution can be achieved given what is happening. “…We had a huge constitutional reform in the past but how do you get the President to accept what has been settled interpretation on some of the constitutional provisions?” he questioned while reminding that the PNCR and the PPP/C for over 20 years had agreed about the process for the appointment of the Gecom chair and now the President “just pops along and has a totally different view. How do you get those? Constitutional reform does not allow you to do that.”

Jagdeo told reporters that while his party has an open mind on constitutional reform, “we are more concerned now about the daily breaches of the Constitution and law and order, violating the independence of the office of the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] through SARU [State Assets Recovery Unit] and SOCU [Special Organised Crime Unit].”

He said that the PPP/C has pointed out to the international community that it has gone silent on several matters and therefore it raises questions about the need for a fresh set of constitutional reforms when government does not “even respect some of the things that we had agreed to in the past.”

He said that it is all “buzz words to give a little project out to a few bodies running around creating the impression that work is being done in these areas when they are busy doing what they always wanted to do which are grave violations of many of the laws and our Constitution.”

While stressing that the PPP/C remains open minded, he said that there needed to be condemnation of the daily breaches of laws that already exist.

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