Where are the youths?

Guyana Chronicle
March 28, 1999

THIS was the question a member of the Constitution Reform Commission asked last week, commenting on the lack of youth participation at the public hearings in the south hinterland.

The issue was also raised by a youth leader in a letter last week in our regular `What our readers say' column.

Young people, it seems, are not interested in the current process of making changes to the controversial 1980 Constitution.

This process is taking up a lot of money and time and is expected to lead to changes in the supreme law of the land that best meet the needs of the Guyanese society, with all its diverse characteristics and interest groups.

It would be a great pity if this seeming indifference among young people to changing the Constitution is widespread and not many appear to make submissions at the public hearings.

The youth representative on the Constitution Reform Commission, Mr. Faizal Jafarally, feels more should be done in the advertising campaign to `catch' the youths.

Some commissioners have criticised the advertising group contracted for the job for not doing enough to get more people out at the public hearings but spokesmen for the company have denied the charges.

Mr. Jafarally said the lack of youth participation in the reform process seems to be a problem all around and he plans a youth symposium through the National Youth Council (NYC) to educate young people about the Constitution and how to approach the reform process.

This process towards changing the 1980 Constitution was among the measures agreed in the `Herdmanston Accord' to resolve problems thrown up in the aftermath of the December 15, 1997 national elections.

That accord, brokered by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and signed by President Janet Jagan and People's National Congress (PNC) leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, in January 1998, outlined the scope of the Constitution Reform Commission.

It said among the matters the commission will address are "measures and arrangements for the improvement of race relations in Guyana, including the contribution which equal opportunities legislation and concepts drawn from the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society can contribute to the cause of justice, equity and progress in Guyana."

These are matters on which the views of young people must be canvassed because they are the ones who will mainly be inheriting the fruits of whatever changes are made.

It may be that youths are disenchanted by the ugliness that has scarred the political life of this country since the violence and rising tensions triggered by the PNC anti-government street demonstrations started in Georgetown in January last year.

Even adults have been turned off by that ugliness but society cannot throw up its hands in despair at the antics of those with narrow agendas and the battle must be maintained to preserve and consolidate democracy.

Young people are too integral a part of the nation to be ignored in a process as vital as constitution reform and there must be a concerted effort to get them more involved.

The Constitution Reform Commission has been mandated to "consult with civil society at large" and this includes youth.

There can be no excuse for not including them in a more than perfunctory way in the process, even if it this means extending the time allocated before the commission presents its report to the National Assembly.

Changing the constitution is not an easy task and it should not be a haphazard process.

Not including the views of as many young people as possible, would be short-changing the process.