Oversight Committee is next step for constitution reform

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
December 2, 1999

The National Assembly will on Monday discuss a motion to adopt the report of the Special Select Committee on Constitution Reform and to appoint an Oversight Committee.

The report of the Select Committee, chaired by Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud, was tabled on November 11, following completion of its work by the October 31 deadline it had set itself.

The Oversight Committee with appropriate terms of reference and authority is to be established forthwith by the Government in consultation with the parties represented in parliament and with civil society as necessary.

It is to be charged with the responsibility of preparing for the approval of the National Assembly a time-bound plan for the drafting of the new constitution; overseeing and guiding the implementation of the recommendations of the Special Select Committee's report and submitting monthly progress reports to the National Assembly. The first such report is required to be made not later than December 31.

The Committee will also be mandated to give priority to the establishment and functioning of separate task forces "mandated to pursue, in accordance with the target dates of the Herdmanston Accord, the implementation of the recommendations pertaining to reform of the electoral system and the establishment of the Ethnic Relations Commission."

The motion is the result of discussions between the parliamentary parties following the tabling of the Committee's report on November 11.

The establishment of the Ethnic Relations Commission which is to be a constitutional body according to the Special Select Committee's report, is now engaging the attention of the PPP/Civic and the People's National Congress (PNC) in the CARICOM-brokered Herdmanston Accord dialogue process.

Sources close to these discussions say that the functions of this commission have already been agreed and that the two sides were seeking mandates from their executive committees on issues such as the size of the Commission, the method of appointing its members and the sources from which its membership would be drawn.

They say that both sides are working for agreement to be reached on all the issues by December 18. The National Assembly is legislatively bound to complete its consideration of the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) so as to allow for general elections to be held under a revised constitution by January 18, 2001.

The CRC, which was chaired by Ralph Ramkarran SC, submitted its report on July 17. The National Assembly approved the establishment of a ten-member Special Select Committee which set itself an October 31, deadline for the submission of its report. The functions of the Select Committee were to consider the report and to bring to the stage of implementation the various recommendations of the CRC.

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