Guyanese will be involved in constitutional reform – Ali

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PPP's Presidential Candidate, Irfaan Ali

Contending that constitutional reform is not a one-man show or a “room party”, Presidential Candidate of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Dr Irfaan Ali said that this process must be led by and in the interest of the Guyanese people.

Speaking on a local radio programme “The Political Show” recently, Dr Ali said he supports the continuous relooking of the country’s Constitution.

“We are in for continuous [constitutional] reform but it must originate from the people. It must be done through a consultative mechanism where the people are involved, where the people have a say because ultimately, the Constitution is a reflection of the will of the people” he posited.

According to Ali, there are many areas that need to be relooked at, some of which will be outlined in the party’s 2020 elections manifesto. However, he noted too that the issues must come from the people and not be prejudiced or imposed upon them.

“The Government must not imposed on the people, this is what we want and out of the Constitution reform you might find that people want referendum on certain or particular issues. But we’re willing enough to go the step further and this is the type of constitutional reform that will be meaningful for our country and people,” the PPP Presidential Candidate stated.

Over the past few years, constitutional reform has been before a parliamentary committee.
There is a Constitutional Reform Commission bill that was to be examined by the committee. But there have been accusations made of members of the committee stalling the process.

Constitutional reform was one of the main promises that the APNU/AFC coalition campaigned on at 2015 Elections. However, the Administration has been heavily criticised for not delivering the reforms, which was a top priority in its manifesto.

But at a press conference last month, Executive Member of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) – the leading party in the APNU fraction of the coalition Government, retired Rear Admiral Gary Best sought to deflect the blame for Government’s failure to fulfill its promise, saying that it cannot be done alone.

“We had to get at least two-thirds of the Members [of the National Assembly] to vote for the many clauses and articles that are now in the Constitution. So constitutional reform is not an activity for the party in power, it’s an activity for all the parties in power, and parties that seek to have power… It can’t be done without the cooperation of the other Members of Parliament which are from the PPP [People’s Progressive Party]. So that’s one of the issues with constitutional reform. It has to be a national effort,” he asserted.

Further questioned as to what was done by the coalition to reach out to the parliamentary Opposition to advance the process of constitutional reform, the PNCR Executive contended that there was always an open door policy for discussions on the matter.

In fact, he went on to say that the Opposition had opportunities to bring up the topic, which the coalition had campaigned heavily on. Nevertheless, the PNCR Executive posited that the coalition is still committed to constitutional reform.

“I believe there’s sufficient goodwill on the part of the His Excellency. Maybe we need more time and in the new term of the coalition there will be more willingness on the party of to sit and meaningfully discuss,” he stressed.

With criticisms abounding about the slow pace of constitutional reform, British High Commissioner Gregory Quinn earlier this year had underscored the need for a collaborative and consultative approach.

“We’ve been talking about constitutional reform. In 2016 we funded a project with the Carter Center, which launched a discussion on constitutional reform. Ultimately constitutional reform has to be a Guyanese-led process. There are a lot of people who recognise work must be done on the Constitution.”

“It’s now over to the political parties to decide what needs to be done to move the process forward, if that’s what they want to do… because it has to be a consultative process.

Changing the Constitution takes two-thirds of the 65 seats in Parliament. So it’s not like one party or another can direct. So they need to decide how to move that forward, if they want to move it forward.”