Agreement reached on land sharing, two-term presidency

Stabroek News
October 13, 1999

The special parliamentary select committee on constitutional reform is still struggling to find agreement on how to deal with a recommendation that the electoral system should provide for geographical representation.

It has, however, managed to forge consensus on the Constitution Reform Commission's (CRC) recommendations dealing with the presidency and land allocation.

It is also seeking to find a compromise between the positions of the PPP/Civic and the PNC on the number of non-elected ministers and parliamentary secretaries who could be appointed.

When the committee returned to the geographical representation issue on Monday, it found that the representatives of the PPP/Civic and the PNC were still at odds as to whether expert opinion was needed to advise on how this requirement could be accommodated in the reformed charter as recommended by the CRC.

Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, argued for the issue being left to the legal draftsmen to determine, once the National Assembly approved the commission's recommendation. On the other hand, the PNC's Lance Carberry argued for the committee to be guided by the opinion of electoral experts who would recommend to it how the electoral system could be designed in accordance with the terms of reference the committee would provide.

The matter was unresolved when the meeting was adjourned to today.

The committee, in dealing with the recommendations of the presidency, managed as a result of compromise to agree on the two-term limit recommended and found a ready consensus on the other qualifications which have to ne met by a person seeking election to that office. The qualifications to be met require a person to be a Guyanese -- that is either born in Guyana or born outside Guyana of Guyanese parentage and to have been continuously resident in Guyana for a period of seven years before the elections. It also decided to direct the legal draftsmen that the term continuously should be given a commonsense meaning so as to allow for a person to travel for short periods on business or for other personal reasons.

The committee also found consensus on the recommendation that wherever consultation is provided for in the constitution that it should be meaningful with the definition of meaningful being left for an interpretation by the court.

With regard to the appointment of non-elected ministers and parliamentary secretaries, the parties are considering a proposal by Alliance for Guyana (AFG) representative, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, to bridge the gap between the positions of the PPP/Civic and the PNC. That proposal provides for the appointment of no more than four ministers and three parliamentary secretaries. The PPP/Civic's position, which The United Force (TUF) representative supports, calls for no more than five ministers and two parliamentary secretaries. The AFG representative had originally supported this position but made his proposal in an attempt to break the deadlock.

The PNC's position calls for no more than three ministers--Finance, Foreign and Legal Affairs--and two parliamentary secretaries. The committee will return to this issue at its next meeting when the representatives will indicate the results of their internal consultations.

On the issue of land allocation, the committee has decided by a majority that a State Paper would be submitted to the National Assembly within three months of the commission's recommendation being accepted by the National Assembly. The PNC wanted a specific date for its submission.The recommendation provides for the State Paper to be underpinned by the need for transparency and equity in the distribution and allocation in conformity with good land-use principles, practices and management.

It also provides for the establishment of an independent authority which would be charged with the investigation of complaints, including discrimination in the distribution process and the providing of redress in proven cases.

Monday's meeting also saw concern being raised by the PNC representatives about the pace at which the committee's work was proceeding and the capacity of its secretariat to provide the necessary support which would allow the committee to complete its tasks by its mandated October 31, deadline.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples