July 13, 1999
The Constitution Reform Commission completes it work this Saturday. The interesting profile of the Commission in the Sunday paper showed several positive features.
Mr Deryck Bernard, one of the PNC commissioners, was quoted as saying that the commissioners had developed a collective personality across party and cultural lines which had resulted in common views about the process. He praised the chairman, Mr Ralph Ramkarran and the secretary Mr Haslyn Parris and said the good relationship between them had filtered down to the rest of the commission. He said the entire process had given him a lot more confidence in the capacity of Guyanese to solve their problems.
Mr. Shahabudin Mc Doom, who represented the Muslim community, said the composition of the commission was a prototype of the upper house of parliament his community was calling for in a bicameral legislature. Mr Harrichand Mahadeo, who represented the farming community, said the commission was an oasis in the desert of gridlock. The dialogue had stalled, he said, and this process had shown the way and served as a model as it sought to fulfil the mandate of the Herdmanston Accord. Mr Faizal Jafarally who represented the youth called for a parliamentary government with a ceremonial president. Mr Miles Fitzpatrick, the president of the Guyana Bar Association, developed this theme of a non-executive president not involved in party politics but with the authority to appoint the constitutional commissions and other bodies and persons. The symbolism of such a president as representing the national ideal was very important he said. A party leader as president could not perform that role. Dr Frank Anthony, a PPP/Civic commissioner stressed the need for an effective Bill of Rights which should address issues of privacy and sexual preferences. Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, representing the Alliance for Guyana, repeated his call for a national government "with a shared executive and a multi-party cabinet to reconcile this nation and transform Guyana into a truly democratic society". Mr Aubrey Collins of The United Force also expressed support for a power-sharing concept.
From all accounts the commissioners have engaged in several long debates on various topics. Though they have not always achieved consensus there was some give and take and quite a lot was learnt in the process. Indeed the Reverend Keith Haley who represented the Christian community said that a continuous enlightenment had been taking place among the commissioners in dealing with each other. He said he was convinced that at the conclusion of the process he would be a better person as it had provided several challenges to his own Christian beliefs. "I have been forced to examine my own beliefs and reasons for doing things. It has helped me to look again within".
Mr Ramkarran has from all accounts been a patient chairman and much has been learnt in the various exchanges of views.
Though the commission may not come up with all the recommendations some had hoped for there could be important progress in areas like the revised Bill of Rights, some new constitutional commissions, a strengthened Auditor General's department and a new system of local government, though it is not clear how the latter will be financed. The Sunday profile was a useful exercise, giving an insight as it did into the thinking and experiences of the commissioners, and it is a pity more publicity of this kind was not undertaken at an earlier stage.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples