Constitution select committee meets deadline

By Michelle Elphage
Guyana Chronicle
October 29, 1999

THE Constitution Reform Parliamentary Select Committee has met its deadline of the end of the month by completing consideration of recommendations in a report to improve the 1980 Constitution, and will take its dispensation to the House shortly.

Chairman of the Select Committee, Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud, told the Chronicle yesterday that decisions on all 182 recommendations considered from the commission were agreed to by consensus.

"It was a challenging exercise. All sides spoke freely and frankly", he said.

"There was full, unimpeded discourse on all sides," he declared.

The parliamentary committee on Wednesday deliberated the last of the recommendations sent to it by the Constitution Reform Commission, and it is now in the last stages of preparing a report.

According to Persaud, after today's parliamentary sitting to approve supplementary provisions to meet the public service arbitration pay award, the Select Committee will convene to review the report.

It will be tabled in Parliament next week, he said.

"We've attempted to have clarity on quite a number of them (recommendations)," the Chairman added.

Today is the first time Parliament will meet since its summer recess ended.

Parliamentary political parties in August agreed to send the report of the Constitution Reform Commission to a Special Select Committee and report back to the National Assembly by October 31.

The select committee, which worked through the parliamentary recess, was expected to clear up misunderstandings in the report of the Constitution Reform Commission, and make further recommendations to the parliament.

The parties had agreed to treat the subject of the Elections Commission as a matter of priority.

The Constitution Reform Commission has recommended that a permanent Elections Commission be set up according to a Carter Center model introduced here for the country's 1992 general elections.

The Carter Center headed by former United States President Jimmy Carter helped bring off the historic October 5, 1992 elections, internationally recognised as the first free and fair polls here in almost three decades.

Representatives of the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC) on the Select Committee earlier this month walked out of a meeting of the body, protesting the pace at which the work was proceeding.

But the three members subsequently returned to the committee meetings.

Persaud at the end of Wednesday's meeting thanked the parties for their cooperation throughout the process, which he said demanded a lot of time, patience and tolerance.

"We've put up some of the recommendations as they are and we have fleshed out some of the provisions so that they can be laid in the National Assembly, debated and handed to experts for drafting," he added.

Persaud explained that the crucial issues like the Presidency, electoral systems and commissions were identified for consideration by the full select committee, while other issues were sent to two sub-groups of the body.

These sub-committees were headed by governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) representative, Mr. Ronald Gajraj and leader of the Alliance For Guyana (AFG), Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine.

The suggestions from the sub-groups were then taken to the full select committee for its perusal.

The 20-man Commission sworn in on January 22 by former 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 PPP/Civic and the PNC.

The agreements were signed by Mrs. Jagan and PNC leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, amid rising tensions and violence sparked by PNC anti-government street protests in Georgetown after the December 1997 general elections.

Fresh elections are projected by 2001, 18 months after the presentation of the report.

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