Parliament refers constitution report to select committee
- reform proposals expected by Oct 31
By Patrick Denny
August 10, 1999
Parliament yesterday moved the constitution reform process forward by referring the report of the CRC to a Special Select Committee for its consideration.
The Special Select Committee is required, based on the motion approved by the Assembly, to submit its proposals for a reformed Constitution by October 31, 1999.
The motion which was moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud, enjoyed the support of all the parliamentary parties.
It also praised the work done by the Chairman of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC), Ralph Ramkarran, the secretary, Haslyn Parris and the staff of the Commission for completing the report within the July 17 deadline set by the Herdmanston Accord.
In moving the motion, Persaud noted that the mechanism which it proposed for advancing the process of the consideration of the report was the result of informal consultations among the parliamentary parties.
He observed that as a result of his involvement on the Commission he is now irrevocably convinced that Guyana still has the ability to create the sort of environment desirable for its development which allows opposing political parties to work together in the interest of the country.
Persaud noted that it had not been possible to reach agreement on all the recommendations and that the report was the result of discussions conducted in a true spirit of give and take and compromise.
Winston Murray, a PNC front-bencher, declared his party's "unreserved support" for the bill and like Persaud, praised the Commission and the staff of its Secretariat, "whose dedication to duty would have been no small factor in the output of the commission"; and the various organisations local and foreign "who have helped in financing and in other ways to make the work of the Commission successful."
In singling out Ramkarran and Parris for special praise, Murray observed that they, among others, had "worked with selfless dedication to fulfil the mandate of the Commission within the timeframe set by the Herdmanston Accord".
Observing that they were from the two major political parties, Murray said it raises the question whether the success of their co-operation could "not truly be the beginning of the making of a serious effort by all of us to truly ensure that we dedicate the necessary energies and time to bring about a reformed constitution within the timeframe set by an Act of parliament for the holding of general elections not later than January 17, 2001."
Murray also observed that his party "knows and accepts that the finished product is far from ideal," but said that the PNC "respectfully submits that the achievements of the Commission in some very important areas should not be underestimated."
Murray observed too that for a great number of Guyanese, "there is need for visible and significant movement in the area of constitutional reform and that, while the document may not be ideal in terms of dealing with all matters that need to be looked at, it marks, we believe, an important beginning and presents an opportunity which all political parties and the wider society should grasp to ensure that we put ourselves on the road for a successful reformed constitution under which general elections could be held."
Murray explained that the method chosen by the political parties in dealing with the commission's report was motivated by the need for urgency in the constitutional reform process to the extent that "we have decided to forego at this time a debate in the National Assembly in order to put this matter directly before a Select Committee of this House for its deliberation."
He noted too that the Select Committee had been set a very tight deadline by which it must submit its report to the National Assembly. "We believe that the timeframe, if worked to assiduously, can provide enough room for the political parties within the Select Committee to come to clear recommendations for the National Assembly to act on."
Murray noted that meeting the January 17, 2001 deadline would be in many ways "an acid test for the members of the National Assembly", pointing out that the Commission, which had members from outside parliament, had been able to keep its deadline.
He said that now that the ball was truly in the political lap of the Assembly he hoped that its members "will demonstrate the same capacity which the broader commission demonstrated in working towards and achieving the timeframe set for the deliberations of the Select Committee and for the work of the Select Committee to be brought back to the National Assembly."
The United Force's Manzoor Nadir, in his presentation supporting the motion, said his party's concern was the need to move the Constitution Reform Commission one step further and for proposals for a draft constitution to be put forward by the Select Committee. He noted that both of these concerns had been met by the motion.
Nadir stressed that those who worked so hard in the Commission and the public at large "need to see that we in the political arena and in the National Assembly are also serious about the constitution reform process."
"I feel strongly that the recommendation to produce a draft constitution for the National Assembly's consideration is a signal step to the public that the National Assembly and the politicians are serious about getting the basic law of Guyana right."
The Alliance for Guyana's Dr Rupert Roopnaraine in his presentation supporting the motion also singled out Ramkarran and Parris for praise.
He attributed the success of the Commission to Ramkarran's "extremely wise counsel and wise chairmanship" amply aided and abetted by the extremely efficient Mr Parris".
In referring to the deadline set for the completion of the work of the Select Committee, Dr Roopnaraine cautioned that the Assembly should not underestimate the complexity of the work it had to do.
He explained that the complexity arose from the hierarchy of the Commission's recommendations some of which were merely criteria and principles the National Assembly might take into account in the construction of relevant recommendations. Others, he said, the Commission recommended that the National Assembly should conduct further research on them.
Dr Roopnaraine, who was a member of the Commission, also noted the rare degree of unanimity, civility and consensus which the parties worked with as well as the use of informal consultations to bridge the gap between members where immediate agreement was not possible.
"I believe that these were clear signs of an extremely healthy political culture on the Commission and my own very sincere hope is that this will in fact carry over into the work of the Select Committee and later on into the work of the National Assembly when it finally receives the report."
Dr Roopnaraine also recommended that the Special Select Committee should be empowered to hold its sittings in public with the suspension of Standing Order (SO) 73(5) which provides for these to be held in private. Persaud in winding up the debate said that consideration would be given to extending the openness with which the process until now had been conducted to the work of the Special Select Committee.
Dr Roopnaraine said that the relaxation of SO 73(5) would allow the continued involvement of the Guyanese people in a process which they have followed and in which they had participated with enthusiasm.
He said that he hoped that the October 31 deadline would be adhered to with the same tenacity and discipline as displayed by the Commission.
At yesterday's sitting too, Speaker of the National Assembly, Derek Jagan, refused a request by PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte, for a debate under the heading of matters of urgent public importance related to the imminent accession by Finance Minister, Bharrat Jagdeo to the presidency.
The Speaker explained that Hoyte's request had not reached him within the specified timeframe to allow him to fully consider the matter and that on that ground alone he could refuse the application. But he said that he had been advised that Jagdeo's appointment was being done according to the Constitution and on that ground he was turning down Hoyte's request.
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