Facing severe domestic and international censure over its failure to deliver on its Manifesto promise to initiate constitutional change to address our political logjam, PNCR Executive member Gary Best sought to shift the blame to the Opposition PPP. He claimed, “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]”.
This has to be one of the most blatant attempts at a cover-up since the Watergate Tapes. The APNU/AFC Manifesto had declared “The Constitution, in its current form, does not serve the best interest of Guyana or its people”. It then detailed seventeen far-reaching changes that included the President being elected directly and separately from the Members of Parliament and Executive power shared between the President, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, with the PM being the person who received the second highest number of votes in the Presidential poll.
A six-member Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform (SCCR) was duly established by PM Nagamootoo in August 2015, took extensive submissions and its final report was handed over to him on April 30, 2016. He promised to submit it to Cabinet but a cryptic comment by President David Granger in June 2016 showed that he opposed the changes. He claimed Constitutional Reform should not come from individuals “sitting in a room” and pontificated sedulously, “We need to go to the people, find out what the people think; we need to have consultation and we need to listen to them”.
Never mind that the SSCR had actually recommended a detailed, wide-ranging process to effectuate constitutional change. To wit, that after the report being read in the National Assembly, it would be passed on to the Parliamentary Standing Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC), which would have worked with legal experts to prepare a draft of the proposed changes. After circulating this document to the political parties and the widest possible array of civil society organisations, the CRC would have been expanded by representatives of these groups, and they would, in turn, repeat the earlier process. Their report would then be submitted to the National Assembly for debate and ultimate ratification by one of the methods included in the present Constitution, most likely a referendum.
But even Granger’s red herring proposal for “hearings” was not followed up even though Nagamootoo requested and received $80M for “consultations”. Instead, the report was read in Parliament a year later in June 2017; submitted to the CRC and from there never saw the light of day. While the CRC is bi-partisan, it is chaired by the AG and has a majority of Government MPs, including Khemraj Ramjattan. A year later in May 2018, following UNDP and Carter Center missions in 2017 to place constitutional change on the Government’s agenda, pressed for an explanation, Ramjattan claimed:
“There are good reasons why there are other matters before Parliament and we haven’t been meeting regularly for good reasons and that has stalled the process somewhat. But as we had indicated prior, we are going to, fast as possible, ensure the passage of that (constitutional reform) Consultation Bill so that the process of constitutional reform could start by the Commission going to the various areas across the country. I think that it will be done before the next election and we have to fast-track it”.
Nothing changed in the following year and a half since the PNC-led Government’s frantic efforts to subvert the present Constitution to remain in office.
The PNC’s spokesperson, Best, was simply being mendacious, since the Bill never reached the floor of the National Assembly for the PPP’s vote.