Constitutional Reform

Stabroek News
April 17, 1999

Written submissions for constitutional reform should be made by this weekend. From next week the Commissioners will get down to the job of holding discussions among themselves in an effort to arrive at a consensus on the various issues and then preparing their report for the National Assembly.

There are several major areas that will engage their attention. First, perhaps, is the system of government. Should the executive presidency imposed in l980 be retained or should we go back to the pure parliamentary system that we had in our l966 constitution where the government is led by a Prime Minister who sits in Parliament and there is a President with limited powers as Head of State.

Then there are the fundamental human rights and freedoms. Are these adequate, should any be added, should they be worded differently, should some of the qualifications that now exist be removed, are they adequately entrenched against change, is the procedure for enforcing these rights affordable by citizens (it costs a large amount to retain a lawyer to file proceedings in the High Court), if not how can that be remedied, should a special constitutional court be set up which citizens can approach by a simpler and cheaper procedure?

Then there is the electoral system. Should pure proportional representation be retained or should it be mixed with the original consistuency system and/or should the single transferable vote be introduced. Is the party list system where candidates are listed in alphabetical order, not the order of priority, acceptable? In yesterday's paper Fr Curtis described the Chilean electoral system which also seemed of interest. And how should the Elections Commission be composed? Should there be a permanent body? Should the Carter formula be adopted?

Other important issues have to be considered like the basis of citizenship and whether dual citizenship should be permitted, the procedures for altering the constitution, the powers of the executive president (if that institution is retained), should the legislature be unicameral or should there also be a senate containing in addition to political party members the representatives of various civic groups, how should judges be appointed, and how, if at all, should their tenure of office be extended (should the ages for retirement be increased), how should the Service Commissions be appointed (by the Senate, perhaps, if there is to be one), the office and functions of the Auditor General, the rights of Amerindians.

Also, to use the wording of the Constitution Reform Commission Act, the Commissioners have been mandated to consider ways for the issue of discrimination and ways of dealing with it. "improving race relations and promoting ethnic security and equal opportunity" and "measures to ensure that the views of minorities in the decision making process and in the conduct of government are given due consideration". The wider use of parliamentary committees may well be one way of tackling the latter.

The Commissioners have about three months. They will have available other constitutions and the services of advisers. Their report will be presented to the National Assembly not later than the l7th July, l999 and should lead to a new constitution.