…PM says buy-in from gov’t, opposition crucial

PRIME Minister Moses Nagamootoo has defended his handling of efforts by the Coalition Government to push through constitutional reform, even as he noted that the recent troubles regarding the no- confidence motion could have been avoided, had the process been allowed to move forward.

Writing in his Sunday column My Turn, Prime Minister Nagamootoo said constitutional reform cannot be an academic exercise or a bureaucratic escapade, as it involves a process which must start with consultation and consensus. Upon entering office, he immediately set up a steering committee which produced a report.

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Subsequently, a Constitutional Reform Commission was established in Parliament, comprising Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams, who is the Chairman; Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan; Minister of Education Dr. Nicolette Henry; Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman; and Minister of Public Service Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine. Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) on the Commission include Anil Nandlall, Priya Manickchand, Dr. Frank Anthony, and Adrian Anamayah.

However, reform requires the support of at least two-thirds of the House, and while the government is willing, Minister Nagamootoo says that the Opposition has been ambivalent about the process. Just in December 2018, a meeting called by Minister Williams was only attended by the government MPs. He stated at the time that the Opposition continues to stall the work of the committee, which has only met five times since being constituted.

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Seeking to advance constitutional reform in September 2018, the Prime Minister’s Office, in partnership with the United Nations Children Fund (UNCEF) Guyana had released a joint report on the ‘Review of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic in Relation to the Rights of the Children’. PM Nagamootoo had expressed optimism that it will become a base document to be shared with the constitutional commissioners.

PICKING A ROW
Prime Minister Nagamootoo noted that recently, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran, the former Chairman of the Reform Commission and now leader of a new political party, tried to pick a row with him as if he had failed to effect constitutional reform.

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“I did what, in law, should be done; that is, to table in the National Assembly a Bill to set up a Constitutional and Consultative Constitutional Reform Commission. After its first reading, it was, by consent of the parliamentary political parties, sent to the House’s bi-partisan committee that was established under the Constitution to look at matters such as this,” PM Nagamootoo explained.

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He said the committee did not, for some three years, conclude its examination of the Bill. “The facts will show that the APNU+AFC Government had taken an initiative; there is no evidence, however, that the Opposition wanted to review or reform the Constitution; at least not now,” the prime minister declared.

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He said that in a society where any major reform has to receive the support of two-thirds of all the elected members of the National Assembly, it would be futile to get any such changes until the government and the opposition fully buy in to the process. This, he said, has to await the 2020 elections, after which constitutional reform would be placed on the front burner.

“For me, constitutional reform is not a political slogan; it is not a protest note on a placard,” the PM said, adding: “We have seen how a no-confidence motion to remove a democratically-elected government on December 21, 2018 had spawned protracted legal contentions regarding the threshold for a simple, as distinct from an absolute majority, and the role of dual citizens in our national parliamentary system.

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Had the reform process got underway, as I was hoping, certain ambiguities would have been cleared up. The society could have been saved the unnecessary burden of literally marking time, now for just under one year.” Meanwhile, speaking on the recent constitutional awareness programme being run off by his office, Prime Minister Nagamootoo said that by taking the Constitution to schoolchildren, government is hoping to promote a new awareness in our society, that all of our citizens should obey our laws, as our National Pledge commands us to do.

“At the same time,” he said, “we should work towards strengthening these laws, and not blame our Constitution for the political fissures and ethnic polarisation in our society.” He said that as this awareness grows, “I am confident that the major players would amend constitutional provisions to provide for broader inclusion in our governance system to strengthen our democracy and fortify national sovereignty.”

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