While the United Nations (UN) has identified the draft bill for the Constitutional Reform Commission as a key test of whether bipartisan support for the process truly exists, eight months after the bill was drafted it has not been shared with the opposition PPP/C.
Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs and member of the Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform Anil Nandlall says that he is not aware of any such bill being given to the opposition and has questioned its reason for being.
“As far as I am aware, no such bill has been transmitted to the opposition. I am surprised that we are proceeding in the direction of establishing such a commission by way of a bill when our supreme law, the constitution, already has established a parliamentary standing committee for constitutional reform in line with article 119(a). This amendment came from the 1999-2001 constitutional reform process and it was intended that the committee would review the working of the constitution and make proposals for reform if necessary,” Nandlall told this newspaper.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had first spoken to Stabroek News about this bill at an Alliance for Change (AFC) press conference in November, 2016.
He had said that the Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission Bill 2016 was to be tabled before the end of the year.
“I am hoping I can still get that done before the end of this year. If not, first thing in the new year, [so as] to set up a commission with a secretariat, to prepare to go nationwide to consult on aspects of the constitution that ought to be changed or reformed,” Nagamootoo had stated.
“At the time when I would have tabled the Constitution Consultative Reform Commission Bill, I would expect that there would be some consultation with the opposition, in terms of the content of the bill because I would seek to have full support,” he had added.
At the time, he said his office was seeking $80 million “to meet the requirements of constitutional reform.” That sum was allocated in the 2017 budget.
In May, he explained that the bill had been returned to his office by Attorney General Basil Williams for additional work.
All of this was news to Nandlall, who maintained that the Standing Committee is empowered to co-opt experts or enlist aid of other persons of appropriate expertise from persons outside of its membership.
Currently, the committee has been set up and Williams is chair.
“Unfortunately, the AG has not summoned a meeting for over a year. We met to appoint him and I can’t recall meeting since then,” Nandlall said.
He stressed that establishing another commission by ordinary law is absolutely superfluous, duplicitous and a colossal waste.
“The committee is almost 17 years old. I can’t fathom an intelligent reason why we need another such entity. There is nothing this proposed commission can do which parliamentary committed cannot do. It was the intention since 2001 [for] this body to complete the reform process because it was not concluded at the time. $80 million of taxpayers’ money may have already been expanded and all we have as a result is some report which apparently has never left the PM office [the Hughes commission report],” the former AG said.
According to him no member of the public or opposition has been offered a copy of the report submitted to the PM in April, 2016.
“It is clear that the PM has nothing important to do, so he uses these important sounding concepts, like constitutional reform, as a basis to look to the public that he is engaged in some important activity. It is nothing but a sham and façade,” he declared.
Speaking about the Constitutional Assessment Team from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA), who also submitted a report on the process to the PM, Nandlall said he doubts they knew of the parliamentary committee since it was likely that they would’ve preferred to channel financial assistance towards resurrecting that committee.
There is no mention of the committee in the team’s report. The team, which visited Guyana in February, was tasked with advising on opportunities, risks, and considerations for UN constitutional support to the Government of Guyana and other stakeholders, including advice on possible programmatic support by the UN.
“If it passes by one vote along party lines that will be a worrying sign for the process going forward,” the report, seen by Stabroek News, states about the draft bill. It therefore advises that consultation, negotiation, and compromise on the bill at the earliest stages will be critical to its unanimous passage in the National Assembly.