Impartial roles of Police and Army noted

Guyana Chronicle
July 15, 1999

REFERENCE to the impartial roles of the Police and Army has been recommended for inclusion in the changes being proposed by the Commission set up to review the country's 1980 Constitution.

Perusing submissions made by the military at the Commission's meeting on Tuesday, Commissioners agreed that while the suggestions were noteworthy, they should include general reference to the disciplined services in the Constitution.

They agreed to include: "The State's defence and security policy shall seek to defend national independence, preserve the country's sovereignty and integrity, and guarantee the normal functions of institutions and the security of citizens against any armed aggression."

The Commissioners at Tuesday's meeting agreed to add that the Constitution should contain provisions enshrining the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force, their further impartial roles and basic functions, taking into account the general rules of those organisations.

The Army had made five general suggestions, which read that the Constitution should include:

* The powers of the President to deploy forces outside of Guyana;

* The powers of the President to deploy forces in Guyana

* Appointment of Police and Army Heads should be approved by two thirds majority in Parliament;

* The Defence Board

* Parliamentary sub-committee to deal with defence and security.

However, while Mr Miles Fitzpatrick of the Guyana Bar Association argued that Commissioners should consider why these "seasoned, highly trained" people made these recommendations, other members said that the suggestions did not require constitutional status.

Mr Bernard DeSantos of the People's Progressive Party Civic (PPP/Civic) backed by colleague, Mr Reepu Daman Persaud, said amendments to the Defence Board Act can incorporate some of these suggestions.

DeSantos said that, to his mind, the only recommendation that warranted consideration for addition to the Constitution was the one for a parliamentary committee on defence.

"Security is a serious area for any country and if security is thrown to the public, then the entire nation will be in danger," Persaud stressed.

He said to consider the selection of heads for the Army and Police, through Parliamentary debates can be degrading to these "sensitive" posts, and the country can end up with a "beaten" candidate.

Persaud also noted that if there isn't agreement on the matter, it could lead to these "crucial" positions being vacant for a long time.

The Commissioners, after presentations by two Women's activists, Ms Magda Pollard and Ms Vanda Radzik, also agreed to recommit the decision for the establishment of a joint Constitutional Commission on Women and Children.

Pollard, in her contribution at the start of the meeting, said that to join the two commissions makes it seem that women's links with children are their most important role, and expressed concern that only their reproductive functions might be recognised in a situation like that.

She argued that areas like Women and Health and Women and Poverty are areas barely touched in Guyana, and a joint Commission can limit the consideration of issues such as these.

Both Pollard and Radzik posited that they thought a joint Commission would be a retrograde step for the country.

The motion was eventually recommitted and 17 Commissioners voted in favour of separate Commissions.

Two Commissioners voted against the motion.

Members, however, voted against a Youth Commission being established at the Constitutional level, after Youth representative, Mr Faizal Jaffarally asked for a recommital of the previous day's motion.

Fitzpatrick suggested, and it was agreed, that the Commission will recommend the establishment of a statutory Youth Commission.

This position was also taken for the Elderly, after a recommendation came from Dr Frank Anthony of the PPP/Civic.

Commissioners also considered the issue of Fundamental Rights, the Rights of Workers and Race Relations with reference to an Ethnic Commission.

The members perused a paper presented by former State Solicitor, Mr Bryn Pollard on Fundamental Rights, which includes references to that section in the constitutions of other countries.

A paper presented by Trade Union representative, Mr Randolph Kirton saw Commissioners supporting additions to the Constitution, such as the right to strike, subject to the reasonable limitations of the law. And trade unions and employers shall have the right to conclude collective labour agreements which shall be legally binding.

Both of these motions were slightly amended, and Commissioners agreed that most of the other issues raised in the paper are already provided for in the Constitution under the fundamental rights section.

Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, of the Alliance For Guyana (AFG) also withdrew a motion to discuss systems of Government.

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