PM solely responsible for delays in constitutional reform – Ramkarran
…questions why he neglected to exercise his authority to push the Bill
Although Prime Minister Moses Nagamotoo has said that the blame should not be placed solely at the feet of the coalition Government but the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform, political analyst Ralph Ramkarran has a different view.
He said in his weekly column, Conversation Tree, that no member has apparently requested the Chair, Attorney General Basil Williams, to convene a meeting of the Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform to discuss the Constitution Reform Commission Bill.
“The failure of the Standing Committee to conclude its consideration of the Bill – which it has had since July 2017, when it was tabled in the National Assembly and
had its first reading – suggests that the Parliament’s business, and hence that of the nation, is being neglected or worse, being hindered by the Committee,” Ramkarran, a former Speaker, observed.
The Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform was set up for the purpose of continually reviewing the effectiveness of the working of the Constitution and making periodic reports thereon to the National Assembly, with proposals for reform as necessary.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform consists of: Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, Education Minister Nicolette Henry, Public Service Minister Rupert Roopnaraine, Opposition Member of Parliament Adrian Anamayah, Opposition MP Priya Manickchand and Opposition MP and former Attorney General Anil Nandlall.
According to Nagamootoo, the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Committee two years ago and the Committee has only met once. He noted that the Committee was supposed to look at the document and report back to the National Assembly, but nothing has come out of it.
“I have never heard any calls, not even from the Opposition, for this committee to meet and without the Commission, there can be no constitutional reform,” he said recently, stating that he remained hopeful that the Committee would make serious considerations of the Bill.
But Ramkarran said that the Prime Minister was not powerless and under the Constitution of Guyana, he is the Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly. “If a Bill in his name is before the Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform, and there is delay in considering it, he cannot pass the buck. He cannot blame the Committee,” he asserted.
The former House Speaker further argued that as Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business, Nagamootoo has the authority to direct Williams to
convene a meeting of the Committee to consider the Bill.
“If he needs help, the Prime Minister can invoke the assistance of the Cabinet or of the President. If the Prime Minister is unwilling to take such steps, he has to take responsibility, rather than appealing to the public for understanding,” Ramkarran remarked.
Further, Ramkarran said if the Standing Committee failed to address the Bill, the Prime Minister could request the National Assembly to proceed with consideration and passing of the Bill at a second reading. He said, “There is no rule or practice that requires a Bill to be considered by a Standing Committee prior to it being debated in the National Assembly. And there is no rule that prevents the Prime Minister to request the second reading of the Bill.”
Another observation made by the political analyst is Nagamootoo has not explained why after the Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform having failed to consider the Bill, he has in turn neglected to exercise his power and authority to push the Bill along the parliamentary process.
“If the Prime Minister and the Government considered constitutional reform leading to inclusive governance to be an important matter, they would have caused the Bill to be tabled in the National Assembly long ago and not allow the Standing Committee to upend the parliamentary process, embarrass the PM, derail [A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change] APNU/AFC’s election promises and delay progress.”
It was recently revealed that the Office of the Prime Minister has spent millions of dollars on constitutional reform. This revelation came out of questions that were posed to PM Nagamootoo, who is also the First Vice President, by the parliamentary Opposition.
In his response, Nagamootoo revealed that $21.4 million of the sum has been spent as of August 2018. Of this amount, $5 million went towards constitutional reform “activities”. However, observers are questioning what exactly this allocation was used for, as there seems to be little movement on an issue the Government based part of its 2015 campaign on.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo also spoke recently on the issue, saying that he was not too convinced about the spending and constitutional reform should be broad-based. Jagdeo said Government was perhaps not serious about advancing constitutional reform.
Also, outgoing United States Ambassador to Guyana, Perry Holloway believes the much-anticipated constitutional reform was highly unlikely before the 2020 General and Regional Elections. Ambassador Holloway is of the view that the people and the Government of Guyana were not serious enough about amending the Constitution, which is modelled after Britain’s.