Alliance For Change (AFC) Leader Raphael Trotman says he is concerned that the criticisms that the party has fallen silent on the constitutional reform calls it championed while in opposition, have been vague on what direct fixes were needed.
He downplayed assertions that the constitutional reform process has been placed at the bottom of the AFC’s to-do list and pointed to a Bill that will be laid in Parliament this year, which paves the way for the establishment of a Constitution Reform Committee. Trotman said his party “will take it from there” once the body is established.
The APNU+AFC government has come in for strong criticism for not holding true to its promise to begin the constitutional reform process within 100 days of being in office.
Professor Harold Lutchman and head of the 2000 Constitution Reform Commission Ralph Ramkarran have said that neither the coalition government nor the opposition PPP/C appear to have any appetite for constitutional reform.
In 2015, government set up a Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform (SCCR), of which Lutchman was a member. This committee delivered its report to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, government’s point person on the matter, in April of 2016.
Among other things, the SCCR recommended a reduction of immunities for the President, limiting the powers to prorogue or dissolve Parliament and excluding the Attorney General from Cabinet so the holder of that office remains unbiased and impartial. It envisioned the completion of the entire process within 18 months.
The body recommended a three-tiered reform system where a group of legal experts on the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) would prepare a draft document encompassing some of the SCCR’s recommendations. This would then be distributed to stakeholders, including representatives of political parties and civil society.
The CRC would then be expanded to include representatives of political parties and civil society, after which, it would deliberate on submissions received and prepare a report which is to be perfected by its legal experts. This report would then be taken to the National Assembly for debate, following which, a referendum or some other method would be employed for the prospective adopting of the recommendations.
When he was asked in June this year about constitution reform, President David Granger had said, “I don’t want 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.”
In late November of 2016 the Prime Minister informed that a Bill for a consultative commission had been drafted and around $80 million were being sought to move the process along and also stressed that the AFC was still very keen on ensuring the matter was priority.
“We are on the road. It is not going to be easy. It is going to be a very complex and prolonged process but the Alliance for Change is determined that constitutional reform must remain a priority issue,” he had told reporters then.
“We went into the election and we promised constitutional reform. The AFC was foremost in its advocacy for certain changes to be made to our constitution to make it more people-friendly, if I may say that. Also, to open up the door for greater consultative democracy and participation by all stakeholders, including opposition political parties, in the process of governance, and we have not recoiled from that position,” he added.
Late last month a symposium hosted by the Carter Center and supported by the UK High Commission in Guyana, was held at the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen Campus.
Under the theme, “Perspectives on Guyana’s Constitutional Reform Process,” a panel of persons chosen from across the country discussed the issue.
The echoing posture was that constitutional reform was critically needed and that youths needed to have their voices heard in the process.
Trotman noted that even as government prepared to revive the constitutional reform process the AFC stands with the Prime Minister and awaits the process.
However, he believes that not only are parliamentarians engulfed with other pressing matters but that there are other reforms already implemented that need reviewing.
“One of the things I can tell you, having been in this Parliament for 18 years now is that constitutional reform is a matter we need to attend to but I believe personally that people have become very caught up with many other things.
We believe we should be working on many of the reforms we instituted in 2001. There is a lot of left over business there and I think yes there should be continuous review but I don’t accept that it is a laid-back approach,” he stated.