PNC to stay away until assured of timeliness, transparency

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
October 15, 1999

The PNC said yesterday that its walk-out of the Select Committee on Constitution Reform meeting on Wednesday was in frustration at the lack of a structured approach in its work.

The party said it was frustrated too by the failure of the committee to agree on an approach to having an electoral system designed to accommodate the characteristics of proportionality as well as guarantee geographical and gender representativeness.

These were some of the main reasons, its representatives on the committee--Lance Carberry, Raphael Trotman and Deborah Backer--gave at a press conference yesterday for their walk out of the committee. They said that they would return when the committee has indicated that "it has seriously taken on board the idea of transparency and the idea that it must complete its work in a timely fashion."

At a press conference yesterday at Congress Place, the three PNC parliamentarians said that they refused "to concur silently with a process that has these deficiencies and have, therefore, chosen the method of a walk-out to alert the general public to what is taking place."

However, they said, the PNC remained committed to the process and was prepared to support any effort that would allow the work of the committee to be concluded in a timely manner.

Carberry who leads the delegation on the Select Committee said that a document circulated by the secretariat of the committee stated that the work could be completed by the legislatively mandated October 31, deadline. The document, he noted, indicated that work on only 41 of the 170 recommendations from the commission had been completed.

The document pointed out that if the deadline was to be met, the committee would have to make much use of "behind the chair" meetings in reaching decisions; appoint a sub-committee to participate in the drafting of the report; 'guillotining' its discussions between October 13 to 22; strive not to recommit too many issues; and be committed to holding fast to the October 31, deadline.

"The PNC will continue to hold the PPP responsible for ensuring that the deadline of 1999 October 31, is met for the submission of the Report and Recommendations of the Select Committee to the National Assembly," Carberry said.

He explained that from the beginning the PNC representatives had been pressing for a structured, output-oriented approach by the committee to its work, but that this approach was strenuously resisted. "Instead, there have been repeated attempts to re-cast or re-interpret the recommendations of the CRC; and the committee has, therefore, as of 1999 October 13, completed work on only 23 of out 170 Recommendations."

Another frustration, Backer explained, was that in response to their request for information about staffing of the secretariat and the responsibilities of the various members of staff, the committee was provided with a list of officers attached to the secretariat and an undertaking that the resources of the Parliament Office would be made available to assist the secretariat. Among the persons so listed, she said, were the Sergeant of Arms, his assistant, a book repair assistant, and a compound attendant.

Carberry stressed that despite constitutional reform being a serious undertaking, the government seemed bent on doing so on a shoestring.

Carberry said too that the intention of the National Assembly was for the committee to consider all 170 recommendations.

With regard to the frustration over the failure to reach agreement on an electoral system, Carberry pointed out that if elections were to be held by January 2001, under a reformed constitution, there was need for agreement to be reached on the electoral system and the Elections Commission in sufficient time to ensure all the required systems, legal and other procedures and arrangements, could be put in place.

He explained that the recommendations from the Constitution Reform Commission required that the electoral system under which new elections are to be held should combine the characteristics of proportionality while at the same time guaranteeing geographical and gender representativeness. To design such a system, he said, necessitated the engagement of an expert on electoral formulae to advise how it could done. Yet, he said, there have been concerted efforts to frustrate the timely engagement of such an expert. Carberry, stressing the importance of settling the electoral system, noted that the PNC "is committed to the ideals of an inclusive democracy through the empowerment of the electorate.

"Therefore, we cannot accept the holding of national elections under a reformed constitution that does not sufficiently possess the characteristics of proportionality and geographical and gender representativeness, and ensures the accountability of the elected to the electors", he said.

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