Final constitutional reform report handed in Parliament urged not to reopen issues agreed on

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
August 26, 2000

Representatives of the People's Progressive Party/Civic and the People's National Congress yesterday urged parliament to give substance to the recommendations of the Constitutional Reform Committee and the Oversight Committee (OSC) for a new constitution of the country.

The representatives, Vincent Alexander of the PNC and Dr Leslie Ramsammy of the PPP/Civic, expressed similar sentiments about the major political parties working for the common good of the country in the reform process at the handing over of the Final Report of the Oversight Committee on Constitutional Reform in Parliament yesterday.

Chairman of the OSC and Minister of Information, Moses Nagamootoo yesterday handed over the two-volume report to Leader of the House and Minister of Agriculture, Reepu Daman Persaud.

In brief remarks Alexander stated that the issues should not be reopened by Parliament as it is in itself a microcosm of the society which has arrived at the report. The involvement of the representatives of the PPP and the PNC and the maturity displayed by both in the process, he said, "will be a turning point in the history of the country." He expressed the hope that Parliament would build on the process and that the gains in the process would be protected. It would be a sad day for the people of the country, he said, "were Parliament to reopen the issue and if there was to be any backward movement."

Like Alexander, Ramsammy said it was a pleasure for representatives of both parties to be working together and making new friends in spite of political differences.

He noted that the 171 recommendations presented to parliament represent a true consensus of the parties. The comprehensive set of recommendations, he said, "now promise to transform the society in which we are confronted with so many issues that divide us, into efforts to bring us together."

Over the past six months, he said, none of the members of the Task Force or OSC complained about the hard work and they tended to think of the work as "more of a privilege and an honour."

In response to the remarks made, Persaud said that the entire exercise was an experience for him and those involved. He had been with the process from the inception having served as a member of the CRC. Even in the CRC, he said, the members had to work outside the formal sessions. He also piloted the legislation through the parliament.

Having chaired the special select committee, Persaud said that he has learnt that Guyana has a special gift which is one which should be sustained and perpetuated. "We may have... divergent political opinions but we can get down as a people and discuss matters of national interest. This constitutional process brought that out very neatly, very vividly. We reached consensus. The recommendations were unanimously adopted by the National Assembly which was before the OSC for consideration.

He said it was a tedious process, time-consuming, demanding not only energy, time and effort but skill and knowledge and a great degree of scholarship. He congratulated those who worked tirelessly, including the technical team and the secretarial staff of Parliament. He said they have contributed at the national level to the country's political evolution and the constitutional evolution of the country. He was sure that the Guyanese people appreciated the contribution.

Noting that the process has not ended, he promised to do everything possible to further expedite it. "We have been talking about how we will approach this. We will not dismantle the consultative process so we will talk and discuss so that together we can advance the process."

He said he intends to hold a very early meeting with those who are involved in the drafting to seek their advice and their guidance, and to talk to the parties about how early they can work out a time frame to advance the process.

In the Chairman's remarks, Nagamootoo said that it was with a sense of great satisfaction and honour that he presided over the OSC and presented the final report to the Government of Guyana for tabling in the National Assembly.

He gave a background to the work of the OSC and recognised the contribution made by Co-Chairman, Coordinator and monitor of the administrative process, Haslyn Parris of the PNC who was absent at the ceremony because he was out of the country. His work in the final preparation he said should not go unnoticed.

He wanted it placed on record that the constitutional reform process did not come out of the Herdmanston Accord agreed on by the PPP and the PNC or "out of the crucible of political disputation of more recent vintage" but it had its origins even before that.

Reading from a note dated January 25, 1993, sent to him by the late President Cheddi Jagan, Nagamootoo said that Dr Jagan was urging Cabinet "to decide whether there should be a constituent assembly, the whole national assembly or a constitutional commission made up of representatives of parties in the National Assembly and personalities like Fenton Ramsahoye, Ashton Chase, Dr James, Dr Harold Lutchman, Dr Mohammed Shahabudeen and persons from the United Nations Human Rights Commission and Caribbean constitutional lawyers. We should then throw this out to the public to decide which way to go."

An initial attempt had been made by then attorney general Bernard De Santos in 1996 and after the Herdmanston Accord, the CRC was established and chaired by Ralph Ramkarran. He said "we do not take the glory, if there is any, all by ourselves but it is the shared results of the entire political directorate of this country, civil society including labour and business as well as all the people of Guyana who have contributed to the process that was open to them by way of evidence and open hearing."

Nothing in the report could be considered law until Parliament decides what mechanism will be used, that is whether it will be a simple majority, a two-thirds majority or ultimately a referendum. It is parliament that will pronounce on these matters, he said.

Other members of the OSC were Dr Roger Luncheon of the PPP/Civic; Manzoor Nadir of The United Force, and Dr Rupert Roopnaraine of the Working People's Alliance. Members of the Task Force whose duties were to produce briefs on the CRC recommendations were Gail Teixeira, Deborah Backer, Jean La Rose, Philomena Sahoye-Shury, Sherwood Lowe, Ramdial Bhookmohan, Dr Keshav `Bud' Mangal, Deryck Bernard, Aubrey Collins, Raphael Trotman, C.M. Llewellyn John, Harrichand Mahadeo, Lance Carberry, William Sampson and Randolph Kirton.

The legal advisory group consisted of Chief Parliamentary Counsel, Cecil Dhurjon; Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Roxanne George-McLean; Drafting Specialist in the Attorney General's Chambers, Zehar Singh-Negi and attorney at law, Cavelle Lynch.

Legal draftsmen were Dhurjon; George-McLean; Singh-Negi; High Court Judge, Justice Oswald Legall; former chancellor and attorney general, Professor Keith Massiah; and Principal Parliamentary Counsel, Alexis Downes-Amsterdam.

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