Gov’t to table constitutional reform bill ahead of recess

Government yesterday committed to tabling the Constitutional Reform and Consultative Bill, intended to advance the constitutional reform process, before the upcoming parliamentary recess in August.

A release issued by the Government of Guyana explained that Cabinet took the decision at a meeting yesterday.

The APNU+AFC government has come under increasing pressure over its failure to deliver on its manifesto promise of the appointment of a commission within three months of taking office to amend the constitution. Two years have passed without this commission being established. More recently, the government had said that $80m was set aside for consultations countrywide this year. Half of the year has passed without any such consultation being held. The government statement also came one day before the launch of a group called RISE which will focus on constitutional reform.

The government announcement also comes two days after Stabroek News reported that the opposition People’s Progressive Party /Civic (PPP/C) had not been consulted on the contents of the bill, which Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had previously referred to as the Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission Bill 2016.

“The Government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana remains committed to the process of constitutional reform and has been working steadily to put all the necessary mechanisms and framework in place,” the government statement said.

It noted that the coalition government, through the Office of the Prime Minister, set up the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform (SCCR), which submitted its report to Nagamootoo and the process of the drafting and review of the bill has been ongoing over the past months.

“The Coalition Govern-ment views the laying of the Constitutional Reform and Consultative Bill in the National Assembly as a major advancement in the process towards Constitu-tional Reform,” it added.

The bill has been identified by the United Nations (UN) as a key test of whether bipartisan support for the reform process truly exists.

Stating that if the bill “passes by one vote along party lines that will be a worrying sign for the process going forward,” the UN has noted that consultation, negotiation, and compromise on the bill at the earliest stages will be critical to its unanimous passage in the National Assembly.

Nagamootoo had also told Stabroek News that he intended to have “some consultation with the opposition in terms of the content of the bill [before tabling] because I would seek to have full support.”

There is no evidence that any attempt was made to realise this intention. Stabroek News has reached out to the Prime Minister’s office since April in an attempt to ascertain what progress was being made but receiv-ed no concrete response.

The Constitutional Assessment Team from the United Nations Develop-ment Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA), which visited Guyana in February after an invitation by the Prime Minister, was tasked with advising on opportunities, risks, and considerations for UN constitutional support to the Government of Guyana and other stakeholders in this process, including advice on possible programmatic support by the UN.

The UN team was the second to submit a report on the process of constitutional reform over the last two years. The first was the SCCR, which submitted its report to Nagamootoo in April of 2016. Neither of these reports have been publicly released, although Stabroek News has reported on their contents.

PPP/C parliamentarian Anil Nandlall, meanwhile, is maintaining that the bill is unnecessary. He told Stabroek News last week that the parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform is capable of spearheading the constitutional reform process. He explained that the committee came into being after the 1999-2001 constitutional reform process and is intended to review the working of the constitution and make proposals for reform if necessary.

Nandlall, the shadow Minister of Legal Affairs and a member of the standing committee, had maintained that the committee is empowered to co-opt experts or enlist the aid of other persons of appropriate expertise from persons outside of its membership.

Currently, the committee has been set up and present Minister of Legal Affairs Basil 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.

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