Parliament approves Oversight Committee

by Michelle Elphage
Guyana Chronicle
December 7, 1999

PARLIAMENT yesterday approved the establishment of an oversight committee to prepare a plan for the drafting of Constitutional revision and guiding the implementation of recommendations for Constitution Reform.

All parties supported the motion moved by Leader of the House and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Reepu Daman Persaud. The Report of the Special Select Committee on Constitution Reform was also adopted.

"What seems clear to that consultations will have to continue and the motion so provides," Persaud told the House, which yesterday accepted two new members, new Ministers of the Government, Mr Saisnarine Kowlessar and Mr Geoffrey Da Silva.

"We've agreed in this motion that the Government in consultation with political parties represented in the National Assembly and with civil society as is necessary, establish forthwith, an Oversight Committee with appropriate terms of reference and authority."

The Committee is charged with:

* Preparing for the approval of the Assembly, a time-bound plan for the drafting of Constitutional revision;

* Overseeing and guiding the implementation of the recommendations of the Report of the Special Select Committee; and

* Submitting monthly progress reports to the Assembly, the first such report being made not later than 31st December 1999.

According to the motion, the Committee will be required to give priority to the establishment and functioning of separate task forces mandated to pursue the reform of the electoral system and the establishment of an Ethnic Relations Commission.

"There is a time factor, there is a consultation factor and that consultation is not confined to the members of the National Assembly but also the civil society if it is so necessary," Persaud outlined.

"Wherever we are at any given period, the report will be forthcoming, so that the National Assembly is kept informed, and through it, the nation as a whole."

But he urged that citizens read the Report of the Select Committee so that they can better appreciate what work has been done so far and what is left to be done.

According to the Parliamentary Minister, the acceptance of the motion will help to advance the "Constitutional destiny" of the country.

"It's a move in the right direction and I trust that it will influence more than anything else, togetherness, unity, harmony, security," Persaud declared.

"We need to have a Constitution which gives confidence to every individual and security to every individual...Once this is done, our nation, our people who wish to live together (and) work together side by side will close ranks for the future development and expansion of this great country of ours."

Mr Lance Carberry, front bencher for the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC) rose to support the motion stating that the timely adoption of the Select Committee's Report is a "necessary condition" for general elections in 2001.

"The establishment of the Oversight Committee, vested with the authority envisaged, is being seen as an earnest effort by the parties and represent the last opportunity for the expeditious realisation of a reformed electoral system," Carberry declared.

"The Government has the responsibility for the timely mobilisation of needed resources, including finance, to ensure that nothing prevents the execution of the task which it is agreed must be undertaken under the direction of the Oversight Committee."

"It is necessary that there should be the immediate establishment and functioning of the Committee along with the early availability of an agreed work programme and budget for the completion of the reformed Constitution for adoption by the National Assembly."

Leader of The United Force (TUF), Mr Manzoor Nadir however, gave "reserved" support to the motion claiming it was a product of crafting only between the PNC and the governing People's Progressive Party Civic (PPP/Civic).

"The (motion) falls short of what I think is a definitive statement that the Constitution drafting committee be established," Nadir argued.

"But not to stymie the process...we're going to have to work within the confines of the generalities that have been proposed here to try and put them back on track, that the purpose of this Committee is drafting the new Constitution and getting it ready for a referendum."

Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, leader of the Alliance For Guyana (AFG), supported the motion on the grounds that "it is another important step forward in what has been a very tortuous process." But, he said, he hopes it doesn't turn out to be a faltering step.

The AFG leader expressed concerns about the authority vested in the Oversight Committee, questioning whether it will have the jurisdiction to resolve those issues that weren't settled at the level of the Constitution Reform Commission and the Special Select Committee.

"If the Special Select Committee established by this House did not believe that it had the authority to settle questions that it passed on to this House to settle, will this Oversight Committee have the authority to do so?" Roopnaraine asked.

The 20-man Constitution Reform 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.

A Special Select Committee also met an October 31 deadline to peruse the Report of the Commission and submit its review to the House.

Discussions on the membership of the Oversight Committee will take place this week, Persaud told the Chronicle.

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