No progress but gov’t continues to promise constitutional reform

Each year since assuming office in 2015, the APNU+AFC government has promised to establish a Constitutional Reform Commission which would re-examine the Constitution in an open and inclusive manner, and reforms introduced where recommended.

In fact these were the exact words used by Minister of Finance Winston Jordan in his 2015 Budget Speech. On August 10, 2015, Jordan told the National Assembly that the Government will seek to re-establish the pillars and tenets of good governance by placing particular emphasis on the strengthening of governance institutions.

“A Constitutional Reform Commission will be established to begin re-examining the Constitution in an open and inclusive manner, and reforms introduced where recommended…in this regard, the period ahead, will be dedicated towards establishing a Constitutional Reform Commission to undertake comprehensive reforms with the objective of building a more democratic and inclusive society.”

This did not happen in 2015. Instead one week later a Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform was established with attorney Nigel Hughes as convener.

The six-member Committee was given a deadline of December 2015 to submit a report which would give direction and scope within which the constitutional reform process should take place. The submission was to be made to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.

This report was actually submitted on April 30, 2016. This was four months after Jordan had proclaimed in his 2016 Budget Speech that “the Governance Office will coordinate implementation of recommendations by the steering committee on Constitutional Reform.”

He added that the Government had made provision for establishment of a broad-based constitutional reform commission and expects this commission to begin work during the year 2016.

Almost 12 months later he was promising that in the New Year [2017], the Government would work assiduously to accelerate the constitutional reform process.

“In this regard, an administrative secretariat will be established to manage the reform process and support the consultations, which are scheduled to begin in 2017,” he told the house on November 26, 2016.

Specific mention was made that a sum of $80 million has been set aside for the Constitutional Reform Commission to hold consultations in all ten administrative regions.

“Over one hundred communities will be engaged in consultations and hearings and the entire process is expected to last for at least two years,” the Minister had promised. None of this happened this year.

However, in his most recent speech on November 27, 2018 Jordan is again promising that the Commission will be formed and mandated to do extensive work with the people of Guyana in every administrative region, to ensure an inclusive and transparent process.

He noted that the restyled Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission will gather information for the reform process, and put its reports and recommendations to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform. This is the first mention of the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Jordan has however now cautioned that the substantive process of constitutional reform can only commence when the recently laid Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission Bill has been passed and assented to.

This legislation is currently engaging the attention of a special select committee. Upon completion of the deliberations and passage of the Bill, a Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission will be formed. This is expected to occur in 2018.

Once established Government, with support from development partners, has promised to provide for capacity building to the Commission, and civic education across the country.

In its manifesto for the 2015 general elections, APNU+AFC had promised swift action on constitutional reform. It said among other things “Within three  months  of  taking  up  office, APNU+AFC  will  appoint  a  Commission  to  amend  the  Constitution  with  the  full  participation  of  the   people.   The   new   Constitution   will   put   the necessary checks and balances in place to consolidate our ethos of liberal democracy.  Freedom of speech, reduction of the power of the President and the Bill of Rights will be enshrined in the document”.

Constitutional reform was also among the manifesto’s 15 “interconnected Foundations for Development,” which were said to be “all equally important and must be implemented in an integrated way.”

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