Constitutional Reform

Stabroek News
July 7, 1999

The report of the Constitutional Reform Commission is due next weekend. As the Commission continue their discussions on certain key issues with a view to arriving at recommendations some conclusions can be tentatively drawn at this stage.

Firstly, a power sharing formula is not on the agenda. There is to be no South African or Fijian type experiment, even on a temporary basis. The two main parties have shown no interest in this. Secondly, consensus will not be reached on various issues including, for example, the composition of the Elections Commission. In such cases there will be more than one set of recommendations. Thirdly, though this has not yet been discussed by the full committee, other substantial changes in the system of government are unlikely as neither of the two main parties has included such proposals in their submissions and the executive presidency may well be retained with a unicameral legislature.

Given the limitations of time and personnel (all but a small minority of the commissioners are quite incapable of grappling with the complexity of constitutional changes as the perfunctory reports of some of the sub-committees have clearly shown) what can one realistically hope for? Though no fundamental changes in the system of government seem likely substantial progress can be achieved in some areas. These would include a modern bill of rights that takes into account the South African model, strengthening the role of key institutions like the Auditor General, improving the management of and procedures in parliament (but would this be included in the constitution or secured by amending the Standing Orders), and the introduction of new institutions like a Human Rights Commission and a Race Relations Commission. If some of these are achieved and the l980 constitution is generally tidied up to exclude its unacceptable features, including the autocratic powers of the presidency, the exercise would still have been worthwhile.

Once the report is presented to the National Assembly the four parties represented there, in particular the People's Progressive Party and the People's National Congress, will get down to the job of finally deciding what recommendations they do or do not accept. They have, of course, been represented at very senior levels in the Commission and one imagines that where the Commission has achieved consensus on a topic the National Assembly will accept these recommendations. A new constitution will then be drafted based on what is agreed and will be presented to parliament for approval. For most of the amendments a two thirds affirmative vote will be required. If any of the Articles covered by Article l64 (2) (a) are to be changed (and this includes, for example, Article l which provides that "Guyana is an indivisible, secular democratic sovereign state in the course of transition from capitalism to socialism and shall be known as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana" - this will clearly have to be changed) a referendum would be required for those amendments.

The collateral dialogue process envisaged by the Herdmanston Accord has not yet been actively resumed. The next session is scheduled for the 6th August, l999. As had been argued from the outset constitutional reform could have been discussed in that process thus paving the way for the report. That has not happened.

One year was wasted before the Commission was set up and its operations have been compressed in a tight time schedule. Its report will nevertheless be awaited with interest though one suspects it will not fulfil the implicit assumptions of the Herdmanston Accord.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples