Key constitution reform committee gets underway
- task forces established

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
January 15, 2000

The seven-member Oversight Committee got down to work yesterday with its newly-appointed Chairman, Information Minister Moses Nagamootoo. He will be assisted by Haslyn Parris, of the PNC, who served as secretary of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC), as its co-ordinator.

The committee was appointed to oversee the drafting of a revised constitution in accordance with a time-bound plan approved by the National Assembly which would allow the completion of the revision of the constitution to conform with the Herdmanston Accord deadline of January 17, 2001 for general elections.

At its next meeting the committee will consider the preliminary estimates of the time each of the five task forces to be established would take to produce drafting briefs for the recommendations they are to be assigned to look at. These task forces are to be headed by committee members, except for the one assigned the recommendations dealing with the electoral system. This one would be led jointly by Dr Roger Luncheon of the PPP/Civic and Vincent Alexander of the PNC.

Another issue for discussion at the next meeting will be the committee's relations with the media beyond the monthly reports which it is to submit through Leader of the House for Government Business, Reepu Daman Persaud, to the National Assembly.

When the question of the access of the press was raised by Alliance for Guyana (AFG) representative, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, he referred to the presence of media personnel at the meetings of the CRC and the Special Select Committee on constitutional reform. Supported by The United Force (TUF) representative, Manzoor Nadir, Dr Roopnaraine argued for the presence of the press at the plenary sessions of the committee.

Parris, Alexander and Dr Luncheon, wanted the media excluded, arguing that the requirement for the submission of reports to the National Assembly addressed to some extent the question of transparency. Another argument against the presence of the press at yesterday's meeting in the Parliament Chambers was that unlike the CRC and the Select Committee, the work of the committee would be a form of negotiation between the parties, which would be best conducted in the absence of the press.

With the prevailing sentiment being to exclude the press, Dr Roopnaraine said that there would be need for some ground rules with regard to members speaking to the press.

A no less contentious issue to be looked at is the composition of the task forces. Nadir had voiced concern about the appointments of Nagamootoo and Parris, which Persaud announced when he convened the meeting. Nadir complained of collusion between the PPP/Civic and the PNC, arguing that it smacked of the division of spoils between them and the contribution of committee members, who were not in either party, would be devalued if that was how the committee would operate.

He returned to this contention when the issue of the composition of the task forces was raised and referred to the document circulated to members suggesting the recommendations to be assigned to each task force and the member of the committee identified to lead it.

Nadir argued that the motion which established the committee had assigned it the responsibility of naming the task forces. However, it was pointed out by Nagamootoo that the motion also assigned Persaud the task of overseeing the work of the committee and it was agreed that the members identified to lead the task forces would liaise with Persaud about their composition.

Documents circulated to the press about the methodology to be adopted by the committee towards its work indicated that the process would be treated as a project for which Nagamootoo, as chairman, has responsibility for the implementation for the time-bound plan.

This responsibility, among other things, requires him to ensure the adequacy of the physical and other necessary arrangements for the committee's work and for the operation of the task forces, as well as overseeing the identification and engagement of the experts deemed necessary for the execution of the tasks assigned to the task forces. He also has responsibility for overseeing the collaboration between the task forces and legal advisory groups to be established in the preparation of the drafting briefs in accordance with time schedule required by the plan.

Parris, as co-ordinator, has responsibility for planning and monitoring the implementation of the National Assembly-approved time-bound programme for the completion of the revision of the constitution. He also has the responsibility for liaising with the government and donor community to ensure the adequate and timely availability of financial and other resources required for the completion of the programme.

Before the business of the meeting got underway, a minute of silence was observed to mark the death of former trade minister, Michael Shree Chan, who had served opposite Parris as plenipotentiary for the PPP to oversee the implementation of the Herdmanston Accord measures.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples