Power sharing not proposed for revamped constitution - Commission completes discussions

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
July 15, 1999

The Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) on Tuesday completed its discussions on the issues in the constitution on which it will make recommendations to the National Assembly. Power sharing was not among those issues.

When power sharing came up for discussion on Tuesday, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, the representative of the Alliance for Guyana (AFG), did not press for a debate explaining that one reason was the newspaper reports that spokesmen from the two major parties had indicated that the People's National Congress (PNC) and the People's Progressive Party (PPP)/Civic had intended to discuss a proposal constructed by the Working People's Alliance - a component of the AFG - with the seriousness it deserves.

Deryck Bernard, one of the PNC representatives on the Commission, indicated that his party was open to discussion on all issues.

Aubrey Collins, who represents The United Force (TUF) on the Commission, said that he had been asked to look at the proposal in the absence of the TUF leader, Manzoor Nadir, but had not done so as yet.

Commission secretary, Haslyn Parris, also got the approval of the Commission to acknowledge that it had seen the AFG proposal as well as others from the public on the issue and would recommend to the National Assembly that it was an issue worthy of further consideration.

Parris who spoke to Stabroek News after the meeting, said that the Commission had discussed the structure of parliament, the electoral system and the presidency, all being issues which touched on power sharing.

Commission chairman, Ralph Ramkarran SC, explained to Stabroek News that no amendment to the constitution was needed to introduce power sharing since the President could appoint whomsoever she/he chooses as a minister.

At the meeting on Tuesday too, the Commission, after recommitting for review its decision to recommend a Commission on Women and Children decided to recommend separate commissions which would share a single secretariat.

The CRC's decision was influenced by compelling arguments put forward by former chairman of the National Commission on Women, Magda Pollard and women's rights activist, Vanda Radzik.

Pollard, in her presentation to the Commission, observed that the decision to recommend a single commission for women and children was a retrograde step which would signal to women that their concerns would not be addressed in the way they deserved.

Also, she said that the establishment of a single commission was not likely to promote the urgently needed role that women would have to play in Guyana.

Radzik, in her presentation noted the role of men in helping to promote women's rights. Also, she said a single commission for women and children such as the Commission had decided to recommend would not be in keeping with the hopes and aspirations of the Guyanese people. Nor, she observed, would it enhance the rights of women and children in the future. She also argued that children deserved a separate commission.

In discussion with Pollard and Radzik, Miles Fitzpatrick SC, urged that the two commissions remain as the CRC had decided, explaining that the vibrancy with which children's rights would be pursued would benefit from its association with the women's rights activists.

Vidyanand Persaud, who represents the Hindu community, maintained his objection to a constitutional commission for women, explaining that there were several pieces of legislation which had been passed in recent times guaranteeing women's rights.

Pollard in response to Persaud's presentation explained that all but one of the pieces of legislation to which reference had been made were related to the reproductive rights of women.

When the vote was taken on separate commissions for women and children, only Fitzpatrick and Persaud of the nineteen commissioners present voted against the proposal.

Also reviewed by the CRC was its decision not to recommend for enshrinement of a youth commission in the constitution. However, while it was not persuaded by the agreements of Faizal Jaffarally who represents Youth organisations on the Commission to reverse its decision, the Commission did agree to recommend the statutory establishment of a youth commission, appointed by a consultative process.

Other decisions taken by the CRC were the retention of the exceptions in the form presently expressed in the constitution. There was some concern that the Commission had recommended a number of things that would not ordinarily be in a constitution and the manner in which the present exceptions are listed would be inconsistent with them.

However, persuaded by the arguments of a brief presented to the Commission by Bryn Pollard SC, the CRC decided to recommend that the form of the exceptions be retained but that account should be taken of the new type of fundamental rights forwarded for inclusion in the constitution.

And with respect to the submission received from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), the Commission decided that in line with its recommendation on national security, it would propose to the National Assembly that the constitution should enshrine the existence of the Guyana Police Force and the GDF, their further impartial role and their basic functions taking into account the views of both organisations.

The Commission, based on submissions by Randolph Kirton who represents the trade union movement, decided unanimously to include the right of workers to demonstrate peacefully by amending Article 147(1) of the constitution.

Also by amendment of the same article, the Commission also unanimously agreed that the right to strike and the right of trade unions and employers to conclude legally binding collective bargaining agreements should also be similarly enshrined.

The Commission also decided unanimously to recommend to the National Assembly that it should recognise the need to examine the issue of ancestral rights and indentureship rights and to put a mechanism in for their realisation if needs be.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples