Four political parties submit proposals to Commission

by Wendella Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
April 23, 1999

REPRESENTATIVES of four political parties were among the groups and individuals that have so far submitted proposals to the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC).

Sunday is the deadline for hearings, which have been held throughout the country as part of the process of consultation.

Among the parties making presentations to the Commission recently were: the PPP/Civic Party; the National Democratic Movement (NDM); The United Force (TUF) and A Good and Green Guyana (GGG).

The New Democratic Movement is proposing that the Constitution should stipulate a Bicameral Assembly with a President chosen by the people in separate elections. The President should garner 51 per cent of the votes; members of the Lower House should be elected on a First Past the Post system, while those for the Upper House should be elected under the system of Proportional Representation (PR).

The NDM wants an Independent Accountability Committee headed by the Ombudsman, appointed by Parliament. The Committee must be located in the Senate.

They also propose an upper age limit for the Presidency to that of 70 years; that the Office be held by a Citizen of Guyana who shall not be less that 45 years; that there be a permanent Elections Commission and that Treaties be ratified by both Houses, and State Secrets be published after 25 years.

Meanwhile, the GGG wants the Constitution to spell out the country's commitment to justice, domestic calm, defence of the country's territory, and laws to provide for the welfare of all citizens.

The Party said it was of the view that when the existing Constitution was framed, there were terms such as `capitalism' and `socialism', which had particular meaning at that time.

It proposes that there be a removal of terms used to describe the state such as `cooperative' and `socialist', and that no attempt should be made to replace these by any term, or single word of description.

The GGG explained, however, that its statement must not be interpreted to mean that the party has passed judgement on any previous system of government or administration.

The party felt that there should be an agreed moral code to give guidance to the organisation of national life, and this code should be encased in a set of rules for governance. Information and knowledge-sharing systems should be geared to allow the world to be viewed as it is, provide a strong continuing link with the country's past, and offer a bond for the future.

The Constitution should also require that every teacher and media personnel subscribe to a set of rules, undertake research and speak the truth.

The GGG also proposed that for practical purposes, Afro-Guyanese should culturally be regarded as indigenous, and that this should be clearly spelt out in the Constitution; the Justice system must be re-organised so as to allow individuals who lack financial resources, adequate access to opportunities for fair-play and to be heard in the Courts.

Additionally, the Constitution should accept the maxim "that justice delayed is justice denied" and, at whatever cost, avoid such delay.

While it suggested that political parties should be encouraged to combine their talents and ideas and work together in the national interest, the GGG said it does not recommend any mechanism in the Constitution which will create a National Front Government.

The proposals by the TUF were contained under 11 sub-headings, namely: the State; Private Property and the Private Sector; The Presidency; Amerindian Issues; Freedom of Information; Electoral System; The Elections Commission; Regional and Local Government; Parliament and Power Sharing; the Judiciary and Other Matters which encompassed topics such as the Armed Forces, Domestic Violence, Corruption, Racism and Victimisation.

The United Force wants the state to be known as the Republic of Guyana; that all reference to socialism and socialist principles should be deleted from the Constitution; and that political parties should be free to exist once they subscribe to the principles of national sovereignty and subscribe to the Western principles of democracy.

The Constitution must offer protection for the taxpayer from an unfair government; that any tax that will provide for double taxation of the same income must be declared unconstitutional; the State must be prohibited from operating businesses or holding shares in such entities; the President should be limited to only two terms be it consecutive or broken; that any Member of Parliament can start in Parliament as against what now obtains in Article 170 of the present Constitution that only members from the President's own party can do so.

The party also recommended that the power of the President to dissolve Parliament in the event that a removal-from-office process is in train should be expunged, since it gives the President the power of that of a dictator, and that the immunity from prosecution the President has should be limited to only the period when he is in office.

TUF, like the NDM, wants the holding of the Office of President to be made eligible only to persons born in Guyana; that there should be an established Council of Chiefs comprising all the tauchaus in the country and that provisions be made so that Amerindians can at any time call on an Amerindian Land Commission to determine claims to lands.

The Constitution should also entrench the right of citizens to public information, (and this must be so especially for the media); the right of journalists to protect their sources so that no court or law should be able to compel a journalist or media house to divulge their source of information.

It added that amendments are necessary to certain laws which would lay penalties on the media for printing certain items of information which had not been "officially" released or which had been given via "leaks".

That the state must not own any media house as such ownership causes abuse and results in the entity becoming the mouthpiece of the party in government; that the Elections Commission be composed according to the Carter Formula, three each from the Government and Opposition and a Chairman chosen by the President from a list nominated by the opposition.

Also, TUF recommended that there must be forms of power-sharing that will promote unity in diversity and unity, without party paramountcy, and unity for development; the Opposition Leader must be the member who is best able to secure the support of the majority of MPs not supporting the government and that his duties will be similar to those which are enjoyed at present by the Minority Leader; that the Opposition Leader's salary and allowances shall be on par with that of Ministers of Government and that the remuneration of leaders of parties in Parliament shall be at the level of Parliamentary Secretaries, and that they should be given office space as well as a level of staffing and a budget with which to work.

TUF also proposed that it be unlawful, unless there is consent from two-thirds of the National Assembly, for the creation of standing Armed Forces including army, navy, air force, women's services and any other such groups; that though there are enacted laws to deal with domestic violence, the issue is so serious that it is now a Constitutional one; that a law should be enshrined to deal with all levels of corruption which should be treated as a serious offence.

On Friday, April 16 last, Commissioners began perusing submissions with a view to compiling their report which should be presented to the National Assembly on July 16, in accordance with the Herdmanston "peace" Accord, assented to by the two major political parties in January last year.

The Herdmanston Accord was followed in July 1998 by the St Lucia Statement, the second "peace" deal brokered by the Caribbean Community, between the two parties.