Govt not interested in constitutional reform – Nandlall

first_img…says abandoned Parliamentary Standing Committee is proof“The desertion of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitution, the erection of a Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform without consultation with Opposition are all evidence that the Government has no interest in bringing about constitutional reform,” former Attorney General Anil Nandlall has said.Nandlall, in an interview with Guyana Times, contended that the established Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform has been abandoned, since it has not met since the coalition government took office in May 2015.He argued: “…in my view, this government has not exhibited any evidence that they are interested in constitutional reform although they promised that to the people in their manifesto at the 2015 General Elections.”Nandlall noted that the Parliamentary Committee, which was set up under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration and chaired by the then Opposition Leader and now President, David Granger, has met once since it was instigated.Former Attorney General Anil NandlallHe lambasted the Government for not activating the Parliamentary Committee, and “going behind the Opposition’s back and setting up their own Constitutional Reform Committee” – a Committee which he said is made up predominantly of lawyers. Thus, he asserted that the Government’s concept of reform seemed to be a process shrouded in secrecy.He also stated that the Opposition was not included in the consultation of the Steering Committee and “when we cornered the Prime Minister on the topic, he stated that he had consulted with the President and the Government”. Nandlall fervently emphasised that consultations should be both external and internal.The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition had promised constitutional reform in its manifesto for the 2015 General Elections. According to the former Attorney General, the APNU/AFC manifesto stated that within the first 100 days of the coalition being in government, there would be “the establishment of a Constitutional Reform Committee with a mandate to complete consultations, draft amendments and present same to the National Assembly for approval within nine months. Sixteen months later, the House is yet to see anything”.“APNU/AFC recognises that the Constitution, in its current form, does not serve the best interest of Guyana or its people. 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,” the coalition manifesto had outlined.It also stated that a Commission consisting of representatives of trade unions, the Private Sector, religious and faith-based organisations, women, youths, professional organisations and the University would be set up.The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) had criticised the Government-established Committee for Constitutional Reform, stating that it fell short of being fit for the purpose as it was dominated by lawyers.“Being accountable to party leaders rather than to the electorate has robbed our representational politics of the vitality political participation provides. A range of reforms are necessary, therefore, to make our national Constitution a genuine blueprint for democratically acceptable politics. Issues such as reformed presidential powers and a Bill of Rights are two obvious features. However, the strongest argument is the need to convince party leadership to replace their monopoly control of political decision-making,” the organisation said.There have been many calls for constitutional reform, especially in relation to the reduction of the powers of the executive. And according to some political critics, reforms seem to be the last thing on the agenda of the Opposition and the Government.Constitutional reform has also been touted by USAID as the fix for Guyana’s dysfunctional political climate. It has been stated that the main test to democracy, human rights, and governance in Guyana is its legacy of political parties structured along ethnic lines and single party dominance.However, Nandlall argued that constitutional reform has always been on the front burner of the PPP agenda, citing that there have been over 200 changes to the Constitution while the PPP was in office.He stated that prior to the 1992 General Election, the Party had promised constitutional reform and a few months after it gained power a Constitutional Reform Committee was set up. “The work of that Committee was overtaken by a larger body established under the Administration called the Constitutional Reform Commission, this Commission was a broad-based one and comprised of all of the political parties in the Parliament, religious organisations, the labour movement and Private Sector and civil society organisations”.“…I believe it is unfair to say that the PPP was not active on the question of constitutional reform, but, more fundamentally, what you are reforming the Constitution to achieve, that is the fundamental question,” he added.“Guyana has a good Constitution and so it is important to work together to get the Constitution to function rather than ask for it to be changed again,” he said, adding that there are a number of calls for changes in the Constitution but it was not clear what the desired reforms were.He posited that the people calling for the reforms should prepare a document articulating what their proposals were, so that they can be studied.“In my view, while the Constitution has a very important role to play, there are many persons who are placing too much importance on the Constitution. The Constitution simply outlines the structure by which a country is to be governed and what rights the people have and what the State’s obligations are, outside of that, the Constitution can achieve very little. It has to do with how it is interpreted, and how the bodies that the Constitution vest powers in are able to function,” he stated.last_img read more