Constitutional reform unlikely before 2020 – outgoing US Ambassador

…calls for power-sharing between Executive, Opposition

Outgoing United States Ambassador to Guyana, Perry Holloway, believes the much anticipated Constitution reform is highly unlikely before the 2020 General and Regional Elections.
The need for Constitution reform has long been highlighted and during its campaign trail leading up to the 2015 elections, which got it into office, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition had committed to have these reforms. In fact, the current Administration has come in for harsh criticism for not fulfilling this campaign promise.
The Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission Bill was laid in the National Assembly in July 2017 and has since been languishing before a parliamentary committee.
The Bill seeks to establish a 15-member constitutional reform consultative commission. It identifies 100 communities in each administrative region for consultations and hearings to be conducted by the Constitution Reform Commission, with a view that “no one be left behind.”
However, Ambassador Holloway is of the view that the people and the Government of Guyana are not serious enough about amending the Constitution, which is modelled after the British. He noted that the people will have to decide whether they want these reforms and take steps to proactively pursue it.
“I had seen a little uptake in the recent months… don’t know if that’s going to go anywhere or not… So whether you do it or not, that’s for the Government and people to decide… But if the people are not willing to twist your Government hard enough to do it, then the people have spoken,” he stated.
According to the outgoing US Diplomat, it seems that the political parties – the People’s Progressive Party and the APNU/AFC coalition are currently focused on the big elections coming up in 2020 and as such, believes Constitution reform might not be on their minds at this point in time.
“I don’t think there is a lot of oxygen out there for Constitution reform, that’s my personal opinion; not to say there aren’t persons out there who don’t care about it, there are many people who care about it. But to do it, you will have to get both sides together… After the next election, there’s no election for five more years, so maybe that will be a good opportunity for constitutional reform but I mean that’s for the Government to decide,” the Ambassador contended.
Asked by Guyana Times what areas should be given top priority if efforts are to be made to reform the Constitution, Ambassador Holloway suggested that Guyana should get rid of the “winner takes all” model of the executive and adopt more of a power-sharing approach to governance.
“The Constitution of Guyana gives the executive a ton of power, a lot and so that’s neither good nor bad… But it’s the fact, and as I said it’s a winner takes all system so therefore, there is little for the Opposition to do except oppose. You have an Opposition now that was in power and you have in power now a former Opposition but still some of the activities are quiet the same – just different people in different parties… Maybe that’s the way the people like it and that’s fine but if not, the only way you’re going to get rid of that is changing it,” he contended.
According to the US Diplomat, while he does not know if shared governance is the answer the country is looking for, this model certainly decreases opposition type behaviour. On this note, he urged the Government and the Opposition to come together and work towards the interest of Guyana and its citizenry.
“Work more together because you never know who will be in power in 2020. It could be one side or another. The last election was only won by 5000 votes give or take. Work more together… This is a country where 50 per cent of the population is under the age of 26. They are the future leaders, the future everything of Guyana and if you are not providing them the education, the training they need then it’s not going to work out so well,” he advised.
Ambassador Holloway went on to talk about the political climate in Guyana, noting that there is an apparent “race fight” going on. Drawing the issue close to home, he noted that being from South Carolina in US, racism still exists to this day.
While acknowledging that the “winner takes all” system gives full control to the executive, the US Diplomat believes, however, that this is an issue that both the Government and Opposition will have to work on together to tackle.