The politicians are doing nothing to make the Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform work

Dear Editor,

I am a proponent of respecting the Guyana Constitution and making it work. Civilised societies cannot operate without laws, and the Constitution, in spite of its imperfections, should be upheld since it allows for better governance of the people’s business. Article 119A makes provision for the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee to continuously review the constitution’s effectiveness, making periodic reports to the National Assembly, and where necessary proposals for reform.

This committee must be allowed to do its work and its role should be respected. I have made this point several times before and it converges with Anil Nandlall’s call (‘Why the need for a Constitutional Reform Commission when there is a Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform?’ SN, July 9). This is one of the sore issues I have with those who are talking about constitutional reform without taking time to recognise, understand and enforce what is in this instrument.

Where Mr Nandlall and I part company is that though he recognises what is required of the Standing Committee of which he was a member in the 10th Parliament, and sits as a member in this 11th Parliament, he didn’t do and isn’t doing anything to make the committee work.  It was the PPP and WPA who have socialised the society to despise the Constitution and both of them made it part of their political campaign platform to either discard or overhaul.

In the 10th Parliament then Leader of the Opposition David Granger was the committee’s chair. On this committee Mr Nandlall represented the PPP/C’s interest and since that party had executive authority and the committee was not functioning, he had a responsibility to his party, its constituents, and the Constitution to ensure the committee commenced its work.  The same principle applies in this Parliament where Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams is chair of the committee. Having made public what he knows is correct Mr Nandlall must now demonstrate respect for the Constitution and the constituents he was elected to represent by ensuring the committee does its work.

For the WPA, it has presented a leading opportunity to make Article 119A work.  Their co-leader Rupert Roopnaraine was prime ministerial candidate of the APNU, which along with the AFC in the 10th Parliament comprised the legislative majority. The failure by Dr Roopnaraine to perform this duty is an indictment of the party and what it has always led society to believe, namely, that it has an abiding interest in constitutional reform. The WPA may be inclined to excuse its action by saying that it is part of a coalition and was constrained by the decision of the collective. Let them be reminded that constitutional reform has been one of its consistent messages since 1980.

The AFC which was part of the opposition majority in the 10th Parliament had too campaigned about constitutional reform, yet did nothing to ensure the committee was doing its work. This party is in the executive and the majority in the Parliament, but today, rather than enforce Article 119A, the party is violating the article through extra-constitutional measures.

While under Desmond Hoyte’s leadership the PNC pushed for and achieved constitutional reform, when the opportunity was      presented to head the Standing Committee in 2011, the party failed in its responsibility to make sure that bills and motions consistent with the amendments were brought to the Parliament for deliberations.

There remain outstanding amendments from the 1999 constitutional reform process that are languishing somewhere.  These too must now be brought before the Parliament in the form of bills.

Society is being implored to recognise that on matters of the Constitution and many spheres of governance the politicians are in their best element talking the talk and not walking the walk. There was recent cause to remind Clement Rohee and Henry Jeffrey of similar failure on their part in upholding the Constitution and passing legislation to operationalise the intent of the articles ensconced therein when they were in the executive and had legislative majority.

This instance reinforces my argument that it is not the Guyana Constitution that is bad, but the failure of the political leadership to respect it and the wider society to hold them accountable for this contempt.

Yours faithfully,

Lincoln Lewis

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