STILL TIME FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM


President Granger’s address to the National Assembly completely omitted any reference to constitutional reform.  Since a budgetary provision was made, the Guyanese people were entitled to be told what legislative initiatives to expect from the Government.   

Constitution reform was promised by the APNU+AFC Manifesto and Government. The Joint Manifesto of APNU+AFC provides for “Priority areas to be addressed.” The first item in this section is “The introduction of a Meaningful Constitution Reform Programme geared towards improved governance and fair representation.”

The very next section is entitled “Programme of Action.” The first item is the “Establishment of a Constitutional Reform Committee with a mandate to complete consultations, draft amendments and present same to the National Assembly for approval within nine months.” Under the topic of “Constitutional Reform” the manifesto states that “Areas which we will recommend for consideration of the Committee include 1. The President should be elected by a majority of electors. 2. There should be separate elections to the presidency and national assembly. 3. Executive power should be shared between the President, Prime Minister and the Cabinet. 4. The Cabinet should comprise members of the parties which have achieved at least 15% of the vote at the national elections. 5. The supreme organs of democratic power should be the President and the National Assembly. 6. The Prime Minister shall be the person who secures the second highest votes in the presidential elections. 7. The executive powers and responsibilities of the Prime Minister should be increased to include some executive powers and responsibility over the Cabinet.”

The detailed analysis of the manifesto is designed to show the high importance that the APNU+AFC attached to constitutional reform. But the public is constantly being teased by the Government. A committee was appointed to advise the Government on the process it should follow. The report was never published. It was later suggested that a Bill was drafted to establish a Constitution Reform Committee, but the Bill has never seen the light of day. Last year’s budget provided several million dollars for constitutional reform but nothing has happened.  What the President did not say in his address to the National Assembly, or in previous addresses, is whether his Government will fulfill its promise on constitutional reform to the Guyanese people. It still has time to complete the process.

The AFC has it within its power to ensure the fulfillment of the manifesto promise on constitutional reform, if it decides to do so. It has indeed suffered serious setbacks in its relations with APNU, the main one being the sidelining of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo. The Cummingsburg Accord provides that “The Prime Minister shall have responsibility for: Domestic Affairs and Chairing the Cabinet; Recommending Ministerial appointments and providing the organizational structures of ministries for the approval of the President; Appointing Heads of Agencies and non-constitutional commissions, subject to the required and agreed democratic mechanisms and appointment; Domestic security.” None of these are demonstrably being observed.

Notwithstanding the reduced the influence of the AFC, manifested by APNU’s decision not to accede to its demands, whatever they may have been, in relation to the sharing of seats in the local government elections, the AFC still has clout. I made this suggestion once to exercise that clout. I make it again. The AFC’s ministers should leave the Government, sit in the back benches, support the Government if they wish, but insist on constitutional reform in return for their continuing support.

The AFC has nothing to lose. It is destined to remain an appendage to APNU exercising little or no independent influence. The votes it gained from the PNCR in 2006 the AFC returned to APNU in 2011. And the votes it obtained from the PPP in 2011 trickled back in 2015 and has now all returned. APNU began to undermine the AFC from the day the Government took office in 2015 by reneging on promises to increase the Prime Minister’s powers. It now knows that the AFC is so weakened that it feels it can safely discard it for the local government elections. The only course likely to sustain the AFC as a respected, if not viable political force, is to secure constitutional reform for the Guyanese people. In addition, history will recognize this service to the Guyanese people. Its failure to do so will be held to be its failure to the Guyanese people. The Cummingsburg Accord will be recognized as a failure comparable to the failure of the PNC-UF coalition in 1968 which the PNC orchestrated. This would be just as APNU has orchestrated the failure of the APNU+AFC coalition by the miniaturization, then absorption, of the AFC.

Its failure to do so will open the way for a new political force to lead the way for constitutional reform, the most important issue facing the Guyanese people today, if political stability is to be salvaged in the era of oil.         

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