UNDP help sought for Constitution wrap up
Parliament faces end-of-November deadline

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
October 2, 2000

The National Assembly faces the challenging task of having 171 constitution reform recommendations approved and incorporated into an amended charter before its projected dissolution at the end of November.

To ensure the necessary legislation is promulgated the Government has approached the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for its assistance in funding a project to oversee the preparation of the requisite legislation.

Secretary to the Cabinet, Dr Roger Luncheon told reporters on Friday that the project would be similar to the one the UN agency had funded for the Oversight Committee (OSC). That project established timelines by which the various tasks had to be done if the Committee was to complete its work in accordance with the time-bound plan approved by the National Assembly.

The project, which Stabroek News understands the government will be putting up to the UNDP, calls for the establishment of a Secretariat strengthened by the incorporation of a Task Force of Legal Drafters who would be required to present for enactment:

*bills for the implementation of the constitutional changes; and
*enabling legislation associated with the constitutional changes. Some complementary tasks that the Secretariat would require to undertake or commission would be:
* providing the National Assembly with a schedule for the passage of the various pieces of legislation;
* a public education programme to inform the public about the changes that are being made to the Constitution and to explain the proposed changes; and
* the re-writing of the proposed constitution in a manner that would be easily understood by the man-in-the-street.

As part of the public education programme, the OSC has suggested that some 2000 copies of its report should be printed and circulated as widely as possible.

A hurdle which the government would have to cross is the fact that any commitment of funds by the UNDP would only be up to December 31, the end of its financial year. As far as Stabroek News can ascertain the project has not yet been costed so that it is still uncertain how much of it the UNDP would be in a position to take on.

When the motion for the adoption of the report was discussed by the National Assembly, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Reepu Daman Persaud said that the various pieces of legislation would be agreed with the other parliamentary parties before being brought to parliament.

At present, according to Dr Luncheon, two such pieces of legislation are now with the parties. These are amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RPA) and the National Registration Act.

However, there is not complete agreement on the amendments to the RPA as the difference over the minimum allocation of seats to the regional constituencies between the PPP/Civic and the other parliamentary parties is still unresolved. The PPP wants a minimum allocation of one seat and the others a two-seat minimum.

Because of their concern about the National Register of Registrants (NRR), the opposition parties are seeking to empower the Elections Commission to remove the names of persons from the Preliminary Voters List whose photographs for the new national identification card have not been taken. At present the law requires the person who is objecting to a name being on the list to prove that the person does not exist.

Other legislation which Stabroek News understands has been the subject of discussion is a motion which would identify the organisations from which the members of the Ethnic Relations Commission should be chosen. The Ethnic Relations Commission is one of the constitutional bodies the CRC recommended should be established and it has the authority to debar from contesting an elections any political party or agent acting on its behalf who stirs up racial hatred.

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