The national interest

Stabroek News
September 22, 1999

The battle to reform the 1980 Constitution has shifted to the Parliamentary Select Committee. In the discussions in the Constitution Reform Commission some progress could be discerned - although the extent of that progress is open to debate - as reflected in recommendations pertaining to the electoral system, the judiciary, the parliament and the public service, among other areas.

It was clear that these recommendations survived because of the presence of civil society representatives on the Commission, who took seriously their mandate of trying to ensure that the proposals received at the public hearings were taken into account.

These recommendations are now before the Select Committee and it seems as if the political parties are trying to ensure that the desires of Freedom House, Congress Place, Unity House and Rodney House are reflected in its report. However, save for Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, who represents the Alliance for Guyana, the discussions so far paradoxically suggest that members of the Select Committee actually have but nodding acquaintance with the submissions of their own parties to the Commission. Also it appears that they took little, if any time, to acquaint themselves with the rationale which underpins the recommendations made by the Commission.

One would have thought that the representatives of the parties which took the reform process seriously would have debriefed those members of their parties who served on the Commission if only to get a feel for the thinking of the Commission.

The discussions to date on the Commission's recommendation on the electoral system have been far from edifying. Even the most superficial reading of the literature on electoral reform would reveal that the system of proportional representation which underpins our electoral system is but one variant of PR. Yet some members of the Committee continue to argue as if it is the only one.

Then there is the question of the organisation of the Committee's work. There seems to be a rather cavalier approach to ensuring that it has all the resources it needs to be able to complete its task by the October 31 deadline set by the National Assembly.

The size of the Committee's task and the rigid deadline it has been set would dictate that it approaches its work in the same highly organised manner as the Commission did.

This is the only feasible way in which the one hundred and seventy recommendations of the Commission could be brought to the point where a team of legal draftsmen could be employed to draft the reformed constitution.

The Select Committee has to realise that it has a pivotal role to play in this reform process on which rests the hopes of the nation, as the other measures of the Herdmanston Accord have failed dismally in contributing to a return of the society to normality.

The assumption to office of President Bharrat Jagdeo offers the hope of a new era of politics, but the responsibility for the realisation of that hope rests equally on the governing and opposition parties. That responsibility requires that the governing party drop its defensive posture and become more positive in its overtures. On the other hand the opposition parties need themselves to look for opportunities for working with the government whether they recognise it or not, if only to ensure that the interests of their constituencies are taken into account when policies are being decided.

The nation deserves parties which put the national interest first, and if the governing and opposition parties want to continue to enjoy the support of the people they need to start with their work on the constitutional reform process. If they fail to grasp this opportunity future generations would regard them as having consigned our country to backwardness and despair.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples