PNC wants 18-month deadline kept

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
July 28, 1999

The People's National Congress (PNC) has reiterated its contention that there should be no deviation from the Herdmanston Accord timetable, under which the National Assembly has 18 months to complete its consideration of the recommendations of the Constitutional Reform Commission for a new Constitution for the conduct of general elections.

The 18 months are to run from July 17, the date on which the commission handed over its report to Chairman of the Special Select Committee on Constitutional Reform, Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud.

To ensure that the deadline is met, PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte, told reporters yesterday at his party's Congress Place headquarters, he had written to Persaud suggesting that the National Assembly remain in session to deal with the recommendations; and that representatives of the political parties in Parliament should meet urgently to consider and agree on a method for implementing these recommendations.

He said that the PNC "would expect the Parliament to work with a sense of purpose, in good faith to get the necessary work done." Asked about charges that the PNC had missed an historic opportunity to press for more thorough changes to the Constitution, Hoyte said that he did not think that the work of the commission suffered and that it "did the best it could do in all the circumstances." He also disagreed that the commission could have benefited from having more time to complete its work, referring to comments he had made earlier to Stabroek News that under pressure more work was done qualitatively and quantitatively than if there was time to dawdle.

Deryck Bernard, who was one of the PNC's representatives on the commission and was present at the press conference, said it was unfair to blame three men on a 20-member commission, on which the PPP had the largest number of members and whose civic allies voted solidly with them.

Bernard said that during the discussions it was a surprise to discover how enamoured the PPP was with the 1980 Constitution. He added that it was the PNC which proposed the major changes to the commission and it was the PPP representatives who voted them out.

Asked if Parliament could make changes not recommended by the commission's report, Hoyte said that in theory it could.

Asked if the recommendations meant that a new Constitution would be drafted, Bernard said that the recommendations that the language used should be gender neutral as well as simple would ensure a Constitution substantially different to the present one.

Bernard also rejected suggestions that the freedom of expression right was whittled away by the recommendation that it should not include hate speech. He explained that there was a strong lobby from the civil society representatives that society should be protected from speeches preaching divisiveness based on race and that a commission had been proposed to deal with these matters.

Pressed on the perception that the commission had avoided dealing with the issue of power-sharing, Hoyte said that it was his belief that no Constitution could address the problem of racial voting. But he said what a constitution could do was put mechanisms in place which would facilitate equal opportunities for all the members of a plural society and allow them to participate in the decision-making process of the society.

He said that was why the PNC was keen on a parliament which was not merely a rubber stamp as he claimed the present one was and had pressed for changes in the local government system.

Hoyte added, "the legislature needs to exercise a greater influence over a wider area of public life such as who is going to be your Ombudsman; who is going to be your DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] and matters like that."

He said it was his view that what had to be done with the Constitution was "to create conditions in which people can feel that they are involved in a very real way in the decision-making processes of the state."

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