At present the need for constitutional compliance trumps the need for constitutional reform in Guyana. This was the position shared by former Attorney General Anil Nandlall at the Ninth Turkeyen and Tain Talks held under the theme “Constitutional Reform: to court brave change or leave well enough alone?”
Speaking at the Pegasus Hotel, last evening Nandlall noted that the views he was sharing were his own and not those of the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic of which he is an executive member.
During his seven-minute presentation as part of an eight-person panel, Nandlall questioned the origin of the desire for constitutional reform.
He noted that the new civil society group RISE (Reform, Inspire, Sustain and Educate) has identified Constitutional Reform as their raison d’etre and that the Carter Center and the British High Commission have both been vocal in their wish to see constitutional reform.
He further noted that constitutional reform has for decades been part of the lexicon of Guyanese political society and has been viewed as a panacea for every wrong in society.
Nandlall however questioned whether the nature and reason of this reform is being driven by the people themselves or by foreign influence.
He stressed that he is yet to see cogent and compelling reasons being advanced for constitutional reform or detailed proposals for the nature of these reforms. In the absence of these two provisions he noted that “no informed decision can be made.”
Reminding that Constitutional Governance is illustrated by leaders complying with rule of law, Nandlall noted that when leaders comply with the constitution there is no room for challenge to their actions but when they fail to so either deliberately or through ignorance they open themselves to challenge and critique.
He stressed that violations of the constitution do not equate with an ineffectiveness which would justify a process of reform.
Citing as examples a recent directive from President David Granger to the Police Service Commission, Nandlall reminded that the constitution insulates constitutional commissions from receiving directives from anyone including the President.
He questioned how a reform of the constitution would address such an issue asking “would it remove the protective insulation?”
He also cited the recent exchanges between the President and Leader of the Opposition on the issue of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.
Nandlall noted that the constitution directs that the Leader of the Opposition submit six names yet he has so far submitted 18 and no chairman has been selected.
“Have we convinced ourselves that our constitution and the breadth of its provisions do not meet the needs of the people of Guyana and are therefore ineffective….at this juncture the need for constitutional compliance trumps the need for constitutional reform,” Nandlall stressed.
Meanwhile, Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman who appeared on behalf of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo told those gathered that the Constitutional Reform Commission Bill which is presently before the Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform will be the “first order of business for the National Assembly when it returns from recess at the end of October. Nagamootoo was attending another event on behalf of President Granger who is at the UN General Assembly.
The more than two-hour discourse on the issue was mostly genial with a brief altercation between opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and Trotman.
Teixeira as a member of the audience rose to request that the bill presently before the house be withdrawn as it specifically identifies sections of the public to be consulted during the reform process.
She argued that the general tone of the presentations yesterday was that the widest possible consultations are necessary and the delimitations in the bill would prevent such from occurring.
Trotman in response noted that the Bill before the house is the same one written by himself and Teixeira several years ago and that any delimitations are not absolute.
“Government has no intention of leaving anyone out of consultations,” he stressed. Teixeira attempts to respond were loudly objected to by the audience and she took her seat.
The Turkeyen- Tain talks is a bi-monthly thought fora to facilitate informed and respectful discourse on matters of public interest that have significant national, regional or international implications, enable the university to serve as a public intellectual broker allowing the academic, civic, business, diplomatic and other communities to listen to and learn from each other as well as to offer meaningful evidence- based and policy-relevant engagement between UG students, lecturers, researchers and alumni on the one hand and the public and private sectors and the international community on the other.
Speakers at last evening’s talk included Nandlall; Trotman; Indra Chandarpal of the Women and Gender Equality Commission; Rosemary Benjamin-Noble, Rights of the Child Commission; Shameza David, Guyana National Youth Counci;, Jean La Rose of the Amerindian People’s Association, Vincent Alexander and Terrence Campbell of RISE Guyana.