APNU/AFC promised meaningful constitutional reform as part of their first 100 days’ agenda. President Granger entrusted Prime Minister Nagamootoo with the responsibility for constitutional reform. Almost four years on, with an allocation surpassing more than $100 million in Budget 2018, and after spending many millions, the Prime Minister is forced to find excuses for doing nothing so far. In defending himself, he passed the buck by claiming there is a Special Select Committee in Parliament that is responsible for constitutional reform.
When Nagamootoo was entrusted with the responsibility for constitutional reform, soon after his appointment as Prime Minister in 2015, the question of the role of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee for Constitutional Reform was raised. Many believed then that it was a move to side-step, bypass and sabotage the Parliamentary Special Select Committee.
In fact, the present Parliamentary Special Select Committee, which is chaired by Basil Williams, has met only twice in almost four years. Its first meeting was in 2015, when its only agenda item was electing its chairman. The second meeting took place on December 7, last Friday. It was hurriedly called, with virtually no notice, and at a time following the last day of the budget debate. It is not surprising, therefore, that the members from the Opposition could not attend. It was a farce, and was called only to avoid further embarrassment.
The duty to set and call meetings, to decide on the agenda etc., is solely the responsibility of the Chair. Other members can make recommendations, but in the end, it is the responsibility of the Chair. It is despicable that the people’s business in this important parliamentary body has been totally neglected. The Prime Minister never said anything, and never requested that the Parliamentary Special Select Committee meet. In fact, it was only after the PM was forced to defend himself for the sloth in the management of constitutional reform that a meeting was then called.
While the responsibility to convene meetings belongs to the Chair of the Committee, the Prime Minister, as the Government’s point person for constitutional reform, was obligated to ensure the committee met.
But the neglect in the present parliament is not new. The committee also existed in the 10th Parliament, between 2011 and 2015. The committee was chaired by the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr. David Granger. That committee met two times, in 2011/2012, and then zero times in 2013, 2014 and 2015. So the Parliamentary Special Select Committee, between 2011 and 2018, has been chaired by the APNU+AFC leaders, and has met a total of four times. Two of those meetings were short meetings, just to appoint the chairman in 2011, David Granger, and in 2015 Basil Williams.
The only substantive business meeting that the committee has had since 2011 was in 2012, when I was asked to make a summary of all the constitutional changes made and those outstanding recommendations that were made in the Ramkarran-led Constitution Commission of the 1990s, and the work of the Oversight Committee that led to several constitutional laws that were the most far-reaching reforms made since 1980.
Nagamootoo, with hundreds of millions in hand, and with this being perhaps his only substantive responsibility as Prime Minister, never once tried to get a more active committee. He behaved in almost four years as if there was no Special Select Committee.
Suddenly, the Prime Minister and APNU+AFC recognise that constitutional reform is the job of the Special Select Committee; but neither Nagamootoo nor APNU+AFC was ever serious in pursuing constitutional reform. If they did, they would not have waited for almost four years to call a meeting of the body, which by law is responsible for reviewing the Constitution and making recommendations for changes. My report to the Special Committee, with a list of the outstanding issues from the previous Public Constitutional Commission, has been on the table since 2012. It has been ignored; totally ignored.
The Parliamentary Special Select Committee is a standing committee made up of eight members, five from APNU+AFC and three from the PPP. But, unlike other parliamentary committees, the members can request participation of civil society members, and can conduct consultations anywhere in Guyana. This mandate is enshrined in the Constitution and in the Standing Orders of Parliament. APNU+AFC have sabotaged the work of the committee for more than seven years now, and Nagamootoo was tasked with side-stepping the committee since 2015. Now that he and APNU+AFC have been exposed, he is seeking to hide behind the committee. I can bet that after this week, the Parliamentary Special Select Committee will again be dormant.