Opposition lambasted for “walkout” during debate on Constitutional Reform Bill

– as Bill passed, paving way for nationwide consultations

The Government on Monday opened up debates on the Constitutional Reform Bill in the National Assembly. The Bill was eventually passed, but the absence of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) came in for heavy criticism.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall

On Monday, Speaker of the National Assembly Manzoor Nadir informed the House that APNU Member Jermaine Figueira had requested leave to ask an oral question without notice. Nadir explained that the question did not meet the requirement for urgency and as such, the request would not be allowed.
Afterwards, Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton explained that his motion pertains to a clean voters’ list. When the Speaker refused to allow the motion to be heard due to its lack of urgency, Norton immediately led his party members out of the chambers.

LJP MP Lennox Shuman was the lone member of the Opposition present during the debate

Subsequently, speakers who debated on the Constitutional Reform Bill lambasted the Opposition for not making a single contribution to the debate. Attorney General Anil Nandlall, in whose name the Constitutional Reform Bill was laid, reminded that APNU/AFC had made numerous promises about constitutional reform.
“I hope that the people of this country are looking on and are seeing that we have made a promise and we are in the process of delivering on that promise. The other side made a similar promise a decade ago. From 2011 to 2015, though in Opposition, they controlled the National Assembly with a one seat majority vote. They did nothing for constitutional reform,” Nandlall said.
“From 2015 to 2020, they made compelling promises to the people of Guyana to start constitutional reform with great immediacy. Five years after, they did nothing. In the first half of the Irfaan Ali Government, this manifesto promise is halfway down the road. We cannot travel the other side. And I want the people of Guyana to understand that. I hope the empty benches to which I’m speaking, is not a forbearing of what is to come in this process.”

People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament Sanjeev Datadin also expressed concern over the Opposition’s absence from discussions on such a critical matter as constitutional reform.

APNU/AFC MPs during their walkout

“The absence of Opposition Members from this House is alarming. It is worrying and it doesn’t auger well. The genesis of this process and the way it is set out in the rules is that in Parliament, as you well know, there’s a Constitutional Reform Committee that members from both sides of the House, sit,” Datadin explained.
“Interestingly enough, at meetings of that committee, the Opposition members were again absent. In terms of contribution, in spite of many opportunities being given by the Attorney General who chairs that committee… he was openly begging for contributions from the Opposition of any kind. And he received none.”
Deputy Speaker and Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) MP Lennox Shuman, meanwhile expressed disappointment over the actions of his Opposition colleagues. For its part, APNU/AFC subsequently sent out a statement attributing its walkout to their motions not being allowed on the floor because they did not meet the threshold for debate.

Bill passed
The Bill was eventually passed, with only one member of the Opposition present, in the form of Shuman. Among the provisions in the Bill, is the creation of a 20-member Constitutional Reform Commission.
Shuman, in his presentation, had called for the inclusion of an Indigenous representative on the commission. Nandlall assured that the Government is committed to inclusionary policies when it comes to the Indigenous people.
He also assured that the Government would not attempt to influence the work of the commission.
“Government will not attempt, in any form or fashion, to influence the work of the Commission. The Bill, which becomes law, however, mandates the Commission to do public consultations across the country. That is the only mandate they have in terms of how they will regulate their business,” Nandlall explained.
Back in August of this year, the Government presented the Constitutional Reform Commission Bill 2022 in the National Assembly, which seeks the establishment of a Constitutional Reform Commission to review the country’s supreme laws.
According to the provisions of the Bill, the commission will review the Constitution to provide for the current and future rights, duties, liabilities, and obligations of the Guyanese people. It is mandated for that purpose to receive, consider and evaluate submissions for the alteration of the Constitution, and report its recommendations to the standing committee for transmission to the National Assembly.
In conducting the review, the commission will also consider the full protection of the fundamental rights and freedom of Guyanese under law, the rights of Indigenous people of Guyana, the rights of children, eliminating discrimination in all forms, and improving ethnic relations while promoting ethnic security and equal opportunity.