Constitution reform report submitted to Speaker

Stabroek News
November 2, 1999

The constitution reform process returned to the National Assembly yesterday when the Special Select Committee on the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) handed over its report to the Speaker at 4 pm.

The committee was established by the National Assembly to consider the CRC's report and recommendations and to submit its report by October 31.

The report will be formally laid in the Parliament on Thursday November 11, when the Assembly reconvenes and according to Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud, a full debate on it will be scheduled during which the issues referred by the 11-member committee for resolution would be addressed.

On Saturday, Persaud guided consideration of a draft of the report during a four-hour session, which ended with a consensus on the contents of the report. At the end of the session members expressed their appreciation of the atmosphere in which the discussions had taken place, the support given them by the secretariat of the committee and the other members of staff of the National Assembly and their legal advisers, Chief Parliamentary Counsel, Cecil Dhurjon, SC, and Roxanne George, assistant director of public prosecutions. They also praised the support given to their work by the media.

The contents of the report, prepared by the secretariat, did not generate much heated discussion save on the issue as to whether or not the report should include the strongly held positions advocated during the discussions or whether they would agree to elevate these to consensus positions.

Among the issues which generated this sort of discussion were the recommendations by the commission on the electoral systems to be used at the general and regional elections and the elections for local government bodies below the level of the region; the period of by which a suspect should be taken before the courts; and the

number of non-elected ministers and parliamentary secretaries who could be appointed.

In relation to the commission's recommendation on the electoral system for the elections below the level of the region, the committee agreed to the consensus position that the timely retention of an expert on electoral formulae was necessary. In relation to that on the electoral system for the general and regional elections, no agreement was possible.

As a result, the committee approved the commission's recommendation that the electoral system should be based on proportional representation while at the same time guaranteeing geographical and gender representativeness. But it agreed to include the representation by some members that the retention of an electoral expert was needed to ensure completion of the constitution reform process to allow fresh elections to be held under a new constitution by January 2001.

With regard to the proposal about the rights of detained persons the committee agreed that it would approve the recommendation that required a detained person to be taken before the courts within 72 hours, but that account would be taken of those special circumstances where it would not be possible to take a detained person before a court within the stipulated period.

Before the report is handed over today, the committee will meet to approve the minutes of its meeting on Friday, which was held immediately after the National Assembly had adjourned. At that meeting, the release issued by the PPP/Civic which accused PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte, of trying to impose an electoral system on the process was raised.

However, while they noted that at no time did any of the parties represented on the committee try to impose any system on the process, it was felt that the committee could not take action on the exchange which was between two political parties.

The members of the Special Select Committee were in addition to Persaud, Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, Feroze Mohamed, Bernard DeSantos, SC, Eddi Rodney, and Philomena Sahoye-Shury, who represented the PPP/Civic; Lance Carberry, Raphael Trotman and Deborah Backer who represented the PNC; and Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and Manzoor Nadir representing the Alliance for Guyana and The United Force respectively.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples