Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has lashed out at members of civil society and the international community over their silence on the numerous egregious breaches of the Constitution made by the Coalition Government – “breaches that have been exposed by the political Opposition via statements and positions iterated by our Members of Parliament (MPs)”
Jagdeo, over the weekend, responded to queries from the media corps on the People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/C’s) position on constitutional reform and the participation of international bodies in the process.
According to the PPP General Secretary and Opposition Leader, the party “expects those advocating for constitutional changes to be just as strident in their criticism and condemnation of these breaches.”
Prime Minster Moses Nagamootoo, in August last, ahead of the annual parliamentary recess, tabled a Constitutional Bill which would pave the way for the formation of a commission to aid in the consultation process on constitutional reform—the work of the statutory Parliamentary Constitutional Reform Committee.
According to Jagdeo, the PPP/C remains open to the process of constitutional reform – a process that is locally driven, and one that will see the involvement of the widest possible cross-section of stakeholders, including collaboration from international bodies.
This position obtains since the PPP, according to Jagdeo, believes “the process of constitutional reform was always seen as one that would be continuous, an intention that was enshrined in Article 119 (A) of the Constitution.”
He was adamant, however, “We have to ensure that the process by which we arrive at any proposed changes, if any to the Constitution, must be transparent and must find acceptance among all stakeholders.”
Jagdeo is adamant the numerous breaches that are currently perpetuated by the David Granger-led Coalition Government “are not limited to matters affecting the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the judiciary, and the functioning of the statutory bodies.”
Jagdeo, in his commentary on the constitutional reform talks, reiterated that the PPP is “prepared to work with civil society, international partners and others through a transparent, nationally-led process that involves all sections of Guyanese society, in determining whether changes should be made to our Constitution.”
He cautioned, however, “We are very concerned about the silence surrounding the daily breaches of our Constitution by the Coalition Government.”
Jagdeo’s public adumbration comes on the heels of the Turkeyen and Tain talks sponsored by the University of Guyana at the Pegasus Hotel on Thursday last, which delved into Constitutional Reform in Guyana.
Prime Minister Nagamootoo was booked to make a presentation, but was instead seen mingling at a cocktail reception on the East Bank of Demerara.
Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, represented the Coalition Government, while a presentation was made by Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall.
During his address, persons in the packed conference suite questioned the need for constitutional reform, and pointed to the last such exercise which obtained in Guyana in 2001, when about 200 fundamental changes were made to the then constitution.
“Has our society evolved so drastically over the ensuing 17 years to precipitate the monumental constitutional reforms which are now being contemplated? …I do not see cogent and compelling reasons being advanced for constitutional reform,” according to Nandlall.
He observed that numerous local and international bodies have been clamouring in the public space in recent times for Constitutional Reform in Guyana.
According to Nandlall, “I get the clear impression that some believe that the term ‘constitutional reform’ has a particular intellectual ring to it, and abuse and misuse it as the panacea for every wrong in this society.”
The former Attorney General has since questioned whether the most recent push for constitutional reform is in fact being influenced by external forces.
Within recent times—as observed by Nandlall — “We have seen and heard public calls for constitutional reform emanating from various quarters.”
He noted that while the recently formed local group RISE identifies constitutional reform as its very raison d’être, the Carter Centre desires to see constitutional reform.
The British High Commissioner has expressed his government’s disappointment at the slow movement towards constitutional reform. A team visiting recently from the United Nations advocated for constitutional reform.
Constitutional reform was a major plank of the APNU/AFC’s manifesto in the 2015 General and Regional Elections.
According to the former Legal Affairs Minister, “the nature and magnitude of constitutional reform must be driven and determined by the society itself in which the constitution operates.
“I apprehend that the reform contemplated by the calls to which I have referenced are manifold and of a fundamental nature,” he said.
He noted that in the current context, the deliberate violation of, or non-compliance with, the provisions of the constitution in governmental affairs by public functionaries do not equate to ineffectiveness or unworkability of the scheme of our constitution, justifying an ill- considered rush to constitutional reform.