Selection of Law Reform Commission members – an opportunity for progressive governance

Dear Editor,
The Law Reform Commission (Amendment) Bill approved by Parliament on Thursday, February 12, amended the selection procedure for members of the Commission. While the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) welcomes the purpose of the amendment, namely, to ensure a broad-based selection procedure for members of the Commission that goes well beyond its traditional monopoly by the legal community, the modernising spirit, however, is endangered by proposed rules of selection that will frustrate the diversity and momentum being sought.
This problem is not peculiar to the Law Reform Commission. Selection procedures for statutory bodies in general are obsolete, contributing to their being largely ineffective as progressive governance mechanisms. The fundamental defect in the selection process traditionally has been the practice of Governments appointing individuals to national Boards, Commissions and Directorships, without a clear rationale to justified selection. Without such rules or guiding principles, selection for State Boards is vulnerable to the practice of rewarding supporters.
The current process largely mirrors the selection of MPs from party lists, rendering the chosen as accountable only to the leader who selected them rather than the people who they supposedly represent, thereby frustrating the diverse civic energies these bodies are intended to mobilise.
The amended Law Reform Act provides an opportunity to move decisively away from this feeble governance tradition by identifying diverse sectors from which members should be selected. In addition to “organisations that appear to represent the legal profession”, the Act identifies the Private Sector, trade unions, religious organisations and – included during the parliamentary debate – Indigenous peoples.
As indicated earlier, while the aspiration should be welcomed, the key to ensuring its efficacy lies in the criteria for selection. In this regard, the new Act regurgitates procedures which should have been left in the dust long ago. The requirement that members – from outside the legal profession – should have ten years of experience in “banking, commerce or other fields” seems arbitrary. Nor are there criteria for gender, age, or geographic balance.
In fairness to the Attorney General’s Chambers, developing a procedure for selection of participants outside of the legal realm is largely unchartered territory and an issue across all Commissions and Boards. This challenge will appear with increased frequency as the pressure is increasing to progressively involve the civil and business sectors in decision-making processes of the State.
Rather than attempt to either resolve this in isolation for the Law Reform Commission, the Attorney General and Ministry of Governance might want to seize this opportunity to review the whole issue, particularly in light of the fact that similar challenges are down the road in relation to electoral and constitutional reform.
Specialised sub-committees, allowed for by the revised law, provide potential channels to accommodate an ambitious programme of reform without the need to overload the Commission itself.
A suggested first step might be for the Minister to determine the sectors to be allocated places on the Commission taking into consideration the reform agenda to be addressed by the Commission and the interest in those sectors in having a place on the Commission. Secondly, put the onus on the designated sectors to devise and propose to the Minister what a fair, efficient and time-bound selection process might look like. Thirdly, following Ministerial approval of selection processes, each sector then implements its selection.
In addition to ensuring the process is inclusive within each sector, personal criteria applicable to all candidates should be devised, to ensure integrity, competence and willingness to devote the time required.

Executive Committee
Guyana Human
Rights Association