Select committee's work almost complete

Stabroek News
October 27, 1999

In a marathon session on Monday the Special Select Committee all but completed its work on the 182 recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC). It also managed to achieve consensus on all the recommendations considered on Monday in sometimes heated but good-natured debate.

The recommendations considered were those on the right to education, fundamental rights, gender rights, constitutional reform in the future, the Preamble to the Constitution, religion, rights of the child, and finance as it relates to the Auditor General.

When it meets today, the committee will tackle the CRC recommendations on Constitution Commissions and National Security.

One of the issues which stirred debate was the recommendation from the CRC which provided for measures to be taken, designed to increase women's participation in decision-making processes including membership of the National Assembly, in proportion to their numbers in the society. Another was whether secondary education should be made compulsory or that the Constitution should provide for free secondary education but that the compulsion should be limited to a certain age.

One other issue that generated lively debate was whether the terms of reference of the Public Accounts Committee should be extended to include an oversight function in relation to the Auditor General's Office or a new body should be created to perform that function. Also, in relation to the Auditor General's Office, there was some debate as to how it could be insulated from executive control.

In debating the recommendations from the CRC which had been looked at by the work group convened by Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, a numbers of members expressed concern that a quota system should not be identified as the vehicle for increasing the participation of women. The United Force (TUF) leader was one of those who felt that a quota system would pose unsurmountable problems. The Alliance for Guyana (AFG) representative Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and Deborah Backer, one of the three PNC representatives on the committee, took the position that raising the number of women participating in the decision-making process could be phased in progressively over a specified period as determined by the parliament. It was a position that the members of the committee felt that they could unanimously support.

With regard to making secondary education compulsory, some members of the committee felt that while compulsory secondary education was desirable, there was need to take into account cultural practices and other social phenomena such as single parent families which could result in children leaving school to help to augment the family's income. Another consideration, it was felt, that had to be taken into account was the age below which it was illegal to employ a child.

In the end the committee supported a recommendation that would provide that secondary education should be free and that it would be compulsory up to the age of 15.

However, in discussing how best to insulate the Auditor General's independence, the Select Committee agreed that the Auditor General's operations should be overseen by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). To allow it to do so, the committee agreed to recommend that PAC's terms of reference should be extended to include this function.

With respect to concerns about providing the Auditor General's Office with a block vote, the committee approved the recommendation that the operational cost of the Auditor General's Office should be charged directly to the Consolidated Fund. This method of funding the operations of the Auditor General's Office was proposed by the Auditor General in the 1994 Draft Audit Act. It is also in line with how provisions are made for the Auditor general in the Indian and Australian constitutions. Also, they agreed that Section 29 of the Finance and Audit Act, which provides for the appointment of staff of the Audit Office by the Parliament should be included as a constitutional provision.

The committee also approved the recommendations providing for the establishment of a constitutional commission on women and gender equity and a public tender commission.

The committee also agreed that it would recommend to the National Assembly that there should be provisions in the Constitution dealing with the composition of these commissions as well as their functions and procedures.

The Select Committee, which is mandated to complete its work on October 31, is expected to submit its report to the National Assembly on Monday, November 1 when the National Assembly reconvenes after its annual recess.

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