PNC will not return to Constitution Reform meeting unless...

by Michelle Elphage
Guyana Chronicle
October 15, 1999

THE People's National Congress (PNC) yesterday said it will not be returning to the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Constitution Reform unless its articulated concerns have been adequately addressed.

At a press conference hosted by leader of the team, Mr Lance Carberry, at the party's Congress Place, Sophia Headquarters, the PNC executive member said, "The PNC has refused to concur silently with a process that has these deficiencies, and has therefore chosen the method of walk-out to alert the general public to what is taking place."

"It remains committed to the process being conducted in a transparent and timely manner, pursuant to the objective of holding elections in keeping with the Herdmanston Accord, by 2001, January 17."

The PNC members on the Select Committee walked out of a meeting on Wednesday following a verbal exchange between Carberry and Mr Bernard De Santos of the People's Progressive Party Civic (PPP/Civic).

Carberry also apologised yesterday for an "unfortunate slip" of referring to the work of the Constitution Reform Commission as "haphazard."

He said he had high regard for the work of the Commission and in no way considered it haphazard.

The PNC member, who shared the press conference with colleagues Mr Raphael Trotman, Ms Deborah Backer, and Mr Lloyd Joseph said the party will not return to the Select Committee unless it receives evidence that the body can conclude its work in the specified time.

"We're expecting that those specific concerns will be addressed," Carberry explained.

Trotman said the walk-out by the PNC was necessary at this time since it made no sense being in "a pantomime."

"It's better to stop, assess where you are, and then proceed," Trotman added.

He emphasised that the October 31 date for completion of perusing the Commission's recommendations and sending them to Parliament was agreed to by all sides at the Committee's meeting on August 6.

"We are very worried that, given the current pace, we are not going to make it...and all hell will break loose with political parties pointing fingers," the PNC member noted.

He, along with Backer, who replaced Mr Winston Murray on the Select Committee, agreed with Carberry that the PNC was repeatedly asking for a list of the secretariat staff and a work programme.

Backer argued that the paper documenting the secretariat staff which was distributed at Wednesday's meeting did not address the issue they raised.

She said instead the Committee was given a list of all the parliamentary staff, including those who would have little influence on the work of the Select Committee.

But the PNC believes the month end deadline could still be met, since the main sticking points are electoral systems and the Elections Commission.

Trotman and Backer explained that the main issue is about a unanimous recommendation of the Constitution Commission which said the Parliament must reflect geographic and gender representation in the society.

"These are the areas that, once we get past them, even if it means working until midnight....(we will) see the 31st of October as an attainable deadline," Trotman added.

Chairman of the Select Committee, Minister Reepu Daman Persaud, in an invited comment Wednesday, urged the PNC members to return to the Committee so that they could get on with its work.

"Since we are all committed to this project let them return and let us continue with the task," Persaud suggested.

"The Committee is working collectively so far, and views are fully aired. We have worked well so far, and I feel we can achieve the objective of the task given to us by the Parliament."

The PNC representatives also said there is need for experts to come forward and say how some of the recommendations can be implemented, indicating that there seemed to be problems of interpretation.

Experts through the National Democratic Institute (NDI) have already offered to contribute to the process.

Carberry also said the media was not paying enough attention to the work of the Committee, and he noted that a meeting hosted by the PNC to apprise former civil society representatives on the Constitution Reform Commission as to how the work was going did not see the expected attendance.

Trotman added that all former members of the Constitution Commission should stand as "guardians and custodians" of the process until it is completed.

He said it is important that the former body "agitate" among their parties and organisations to ensure that their recommendations are seen through.

The Select Committee usually meets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but up to late yesterday it was not clear whether today's scheduled meeting would come off.

The 20-man Commission, sworn in on January 22, by then President Janet Jagan, met a July 17 deadline to present its report to Parliament, as provided for in two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) brokered "peace" agreements signed last year between the governing PPP/Civic and the PNC.

These agreements were signed by Mrs Jagan and PNC leader Mr Desmond Hoyte amid rising tensions and violence sparked by anti-government street protests.

Fresh elections are projected by 2001, following the presentation of the report and its consideration by Parliament.

Hoyte last week threatened "unpleasantness" if the Select Committee does not meet its month-end deadline for reviewing recommendations and sending them to Parliament.

The PNC leader said he feels that "expert assistance" is required to determine the options for the implementation of the Constitution Reform Commission recommendations.

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