No merit in PNC's conspiracy theory --Persaud

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
October 16, 1999

Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud yesterday rejected allegations by PNC members of the Special Select Committee on Constitution Reform that there was a conspiracy to frustrate the completion of the constitution reform process.

The PNC members--Lance Carberry, Deborah Backer and Raphael Trotman--walked out of the Special Select Committee meeting on Wednesday in frustration at the alleged failure of the committee to take a structured approach to its work and to reach decisions on the recommendation of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) on the electoral system. The PNC considers it important that a decision be made on this issue if elections under a new constitution are to be held by January 17, 2001.

Carberry, Backer and Trotman have said that they would not return to the committee until they have received assurances that its work would be done in a transparent and timely manner.

Persaud told reporters at a press conference he hosted with committee members Bernard De Santos and Dr Rupert Roopnaraine at Parliament Buildings that the conspiracy theory was "...without merit, and has no foundation in reality."

Persaud, who chairs the 11-member committee, called the walk-out by the three PNC members on Wednesday "most unfortunate, unnecessary and disruptive of the smooth working of the committee." He has asked them to return and "to refrain from making statements that are unhelpful to our work."

"I hope that the PNC will continue the constructive engagement on constitutional reform in fulfilment of its obligations under the Herdmanston Accord."

Pressed as to his willingness to try to persuade the PNC team to return, Persaud said that he was willing to make every effort to do so.

Roopnaraine said that he had made several calls to PNC General Secretary, Oscar Clarke, in an effort to get the PNC members to return but had not been able to contact him.

Persaud reiterated his confidence that the committee's work would be completed by the mandated October 31, deadline, pointing out that a work programme prepared by the secretariat had structured the work to ensure this outcome.

Roopnaraine, who said that he shared Persaud's view that the committee's work could be completed on time, stated that it was unfortunate that the PNC members had not taken the opportunity to consider the work programme which had been prepared by the secretariat at his request.

Persaud, explaining the basis of his belief that the work could be completed on time, noted that of the 182 recommendations, consensus had been reached on 165 of them. Agreement on most of these, he said, could be reached very quickly.

Persaud said that the even though they had only completed 46 of the 182 recommendations, he was confident that with the increase in the number of meetings and longer hours of work they could complete the rest of them.

He said too that the secretariat was already in the process of recruiting writers to help in the compilation of the report.

Persaud said that the work of the Special Select Committee had been amply fortified by the secretariat and he was supported by Roopnaraine in acclaiming its work.

Roopnaraine said he felt that there were very few contentious recommendations and that one of them was on the electoral system.

He said that there was a divergence of views in the committee on this issue but agreement could be reached with a little more discussion.

Noting the claim by the PNC members that the committee was resisting the recruitment of an expert to design an elections system in accord with the recommendation, Persaud said that the experts could only be recruited on the basis of the decision by the Parliament as to what sort of electoral system it wanted.

The recommendation calls for the electoral system to have the characteristics of proportionality, while at the same time guaranteeing gender and geographical representativeness.

Meanwhile, though the PNC members stayed away, the committee met yesterday and completed its consideration of a report from the work group headed by Roopnaraine.

Among the recommendations approved was the right and duty to work which would guarantee among others the integrity of the public service, safeguard public servants from executing or condoning irregular acts on the basis of higher orders; protect them in their freedom to advise the executive and from sanctions of any kind without due process.

Also approved were four of the seven recommendations on the Auditor General including that which exempts the Auditor General from inclusion as an adviser to any Cabinet sub-committee; requires the report of the Auditor General to be submitted directly to the National Assembly via the Speaker and the removal of any qualification to the constitutional independence of the Auditor General.

With respect to National Security, the committee approved the recommendation of the insertion of a general purpose clause in the constitution. That clause it is recommended should provide that the state's defence and security policy shall have as its objective the defence of the country's national independence and the preservation of its sovereignty and integrity and to guarantee the normal functioning of institutions and the security of citizens against armed aggression.

The Select Committee will meet again on Monday when it is scheduled to accelerate its work in accordance with the work programme drawn up by its secretariat.

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