Engineers' group proposes six-year electoral terms
--parties to share power according to votes received

Stabroek News
April 25, 1999

A "judicious sharing of authority" is among the constitutional innovations proposed by the Guyana Association of Professional Engineers (GAPE). The association contends that its proposal would address the failing of people to judge what is conducive to their long-term interests even though they are often the best judges of their immediate gratification.

Among other things, the proposal calls for separate municipal and local government elections which would be contested on the first-past-the-post system. The proportional representation system would be retained for general elections which would be held at six-year intervals. GAPE called too for the lists of candidates to be submitted in the preferred order of priority by the parties contesting the elections.

Also, the proposal recommends that the party which obtains the largest bloc of votes would provide the President, who would hold office for the first three years after the election. The Prime Minister for the first three years would be appointed from the party with the second largest bloc of votes, provided that the votes are in excess of 30 per cent of the votes cast at the elections. The President and Prime Minister will switch offices for the second three years.

At the time of the change over, the proposal provides that the incoming President could request a re-shuffle for grounds of efficiency once the proportional representation system within the Cabinet is maintained.

The proposal recommends too that any party which polls in excess of 30 per cent of the votes at the national elections would be eligible to an allocation of Cabinet posts in accordance with the percentage of votes it obtained.

As a condition of eligibility to contest the elections, the proposal calls for political parties to agree on a national development strategy and to submit a six-year development plan which accords with this strategy.

The plans, the proposal says, would be an indication of the priorities or modifications to the national development strategy they would pursue were they to emerge as the majority party. This requirement GAPE says is not "only to test the genuineness and political maturity of the party" as should it obtain 30 per cent of the vote, its plan would be used in association with the national development strategy to produce an outline plan for action over the six-year period.

The proposal calls for Cabinet portfolios to be fixed and not changeable according to the convenience of the President. It recommends that the portfolios related to finance, agriculture, transport, education, health, works and foreign affairs should be considered the more important ones and that the premier party should have first choice of three of them. The proposal also allows for the appointment of up to four technocrat ministers without any party affiliation.

To oversee the legislative programme GAPE calls for the establishment of a six- to ten-member Commission of Legislation "of able and intelligent persons of some intellectual maturity whose duty would be to oversee the legislative programme and ensure its relevance and effectiveness in our society."

The members of the commission, according to GAPE, would be selected by the parties in the government and would hold office for six years. They would not be parliamentarians and would be responsible only to the President and would be drawn from the Trades Unions, religious organisations, women's organisations, professional associations, the private sector and educational bodies.

With the regard to the parliamentary arrangements, GAPE has proposed the establishment of parliamentary select committees for science and technology, finance, law, land reform and consumer affairs.

These committees would comprise parliamentarians and nominees from the relevant non-governmental organisations agreed by the parties in the government.

Also proposed is the establishment of parliamentary select committees to interview and determine at public hearings the suitability of nominees for ministerial positions and ambassadorial posts. GAPE also proposes that the President should not be immune at any time from prosecution and must be a Guyanese by birth without any foreign citizenship as should the Prime Minister, Ambassadors and High Commissioners. GAPE says that this requirement is to "ensure that there would never be the perception of conflict of national interest."

GAPE says that its proposal would have, among others, the advantage of engendering the feeling in a political party, serious about governance, that it has a chance of sharing authority in running the country or promoting the ideals it cherishes.

"The intention of sharing of authority between contesting parties gives one the chance of correcting or neutralising any extreme measures which the other may introduce because theirs would be a change in primacy after three years."

Also, another advantage according to GAPE, is that there "will be a built-in incentive on the part of ministers as they would be faced with the prospect being replaced after three years. On the other hand an efficient minister could be retained across party lines if he is real good."

Also, because of the prior agreement on a national development strategy, GAPE says its proposals will have the advantage of ensuring that the electorate is not "burdened or confused by lengthy manifestoes. Instead, they would have a chance of assessing the quality of their proposals by their adherence to a development plan directed towards attaining progress over many years."

With regard to securing and maintaining the independence of the judiciary, GAPE proposes that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) should be so constituted that the nominees of the Guyana Bar Association are 50 per cent of its membership.

It said that the JSC would "prepare guidelines for the selection of judges which would be strictly observed in their application."

The proposals also provide that the JSC be chaired by the Chancellor of the Judiciary but he would not have a casting vote and the selection of judges would be made by a simple majority of the commission members who favour the appointments.

To attract to the judiciary persons of the highest character and learning, GAPE proposes that among other conditions, judges should enjoy tax free salaries; enjoy tenured employment up to age 70; be ineligible for any national award or and should not be allowed to take up any political or ministerial appointment until after their retirement; should not be allowed to practice at the bar after retirement; and enjoy a pension equivalent to their salary on retirement. The proposal says too that judges should not hold dual citizenship.

GAPE contends that a judiciary of the highest quality is the only guarantee for a well-respected constitution. Also that while its proposal is not a "formula which would guarantee efficient selection" it could only "affirm that the judiciary should keep its mind clear from the disturbance of party feelings and there should be constitutional approbation for its independence."

GAPE says that "it might even contribute to a national sense of rectitude if judges disqualified themselves from voting."