Consensual Constitutional Reform Commission Bill to be tabled in National Assembly

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At the next sitting of the National Assembly, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, will be tabling the Constitutional Reform Commission Bill 2022 that speaks to the composition of the commission.

According to the Order Paper sent by the Parliament Office ahead of the August 8 sitting, the Constitutional Reform Commission Bill 2022 – Bill No, 18/2022 is “A Bill intituled An Act to establish a Constitution Reform Commission and to provide for its membership, its terms of reference and for other connected purposes.”

Speaking with this publication, Nandlall explained that the Bill is being tabled with the agreement of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition members in the Parliamentary Constitutional Reform Committee.

“At the last meeting that we had of the Constitutional Reform Committee, the Opposition attended and they expressed their agreement to the Bill. They offered one amendment, which the committee accepted and they expressed their agreement. So, the Bill is a consensual Bill,” Nandlall, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee, indicated.

Last month, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government went ahead and submitted its proposals for the composition of the Constitutional Reform Commission.
Government had proposed that the commission be established by law and that the members be appointed by the President.

It was submitted that 50 per cent of the commission’s membership come from both sides in the National Assembly and the other 50 per cent be nominated by a number of important stakeholder organisations such as the labour movement, religious organisations, the Private Sector Commission, the Guyana Bar Association, the National Toshaos Council and organisations representing women and youth.

Additionally, the Chairperson of the commission will be appointed by the President in his deliberate judgement.

According to the Attorney General, this is in line with promises made by the PPP/C in its 2020 elections manifesto.

“The commission has the power to determine its own procedure and to create its own work programme. But the underlining principle is that the commission will carry out public consultations,” Nandlall explained on Saturday.

Previously, the Legal Affairs Minister had pointed out that the Bill would have other consequential provisions to ensure that the commission is able to discharge its mandate. These include the terms of reference, the financing arrangement as well as how the procedure of the commission will unfold.

“Hopefully, we find consensus and we can push the process forward because this is very important and not much work has been done having regard to the time that has already elapsed since Parliament began to sit,” the Attorney General had stated last month.

However, while both Government and Opposition sides have now arrived at a consensus on the Bill to be tabled, only weeks ago they were engaged in a public spat over the work of the Parliamentary Committee.

Government’s members had complained about the poor attendance by the coalition members at several committee meetings.

The Opposition members on the Parliamentary Standing Committee For Constitutional Reform are Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton, AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan, Amanza Walton-Desir and Raphael Trotman. Along with Nandlall, the Government’s side also include Education Minister Priya Manickchand, Public Service Minister Sonia Parag, Culture Youth and Sport Minister Charles Ramson Jr and Government Member of Parliament Sanjeev Datadin.

Previously, Ramjattan had stated that if the Government is serious about moving the process along then it should go ahead with it especially since the Opposition, himself in particular, had already indicated support for moving forward.

As a result, the Government’s side had submitted its proposal for the composition of the Constitutional Reform Commission.

At the time, AG Nandlall had stated that the Opposition demonstrated that they are not prepared to discharge the mandate of their responsibilities. He explained that the constitutional reform process requires a parliamentary majority in order to have the constitutional amendments.

“It is our expectation that the Opposition and the Government will, as far as possible, work consensually because in the absence of bipartisan cooperation, not much can be achieved in a constitutional reform process. But the Opposition has shown, demonstrably in other areas, that they are not prepared to discharge the mandate of their responsibilities,” the AG contended.

According to the Attorney General, the coalition Opposition has been displaying this behaviour since the PPP/C Administration took office in 2020.

“Is it that on every location where the Government requires or is required to engage with the Opposition, the Government must await the Opposition? Endure the incompetence and ineptitude that seemed to permeate the Opposition? I don’t think that a Government should be burdened like that. We are committed to discharging the mandate given to us by the people of our country. We have a manifesto, a pact with the people of Guyana and we intend to deliver on that programme. Part of that programme is constitutional reform.”

“If it is that the Opposition wishes to dilate, if it is that they wish to default, if it is that they wish to procrastinate or simply refuse to carry out their mandate and their promises, well that’s a matter for them. But the Government can’t allow that to cripple us and prevent us from moving the country forward,” Nandlall had outlined.