– “We need to move away from beer garden talk and find out from the people what reforms they would want to see.”
By: Kiana Wilburg
Since the prorogation of the Parliament, the pressure for constitutional reform has increased, with some political parties putting forward their own menu of necessary changes to certain articles.
One such party is the Alliance For Change (AFC), whose Chairman Nigel Hughes had recently put forward his party’s constitutional reform proposal, which includes tempering the powers of the President along with his immunities to suit.
Even business mogul, Dr. Yesu Persaud recently spoke to the urgent need for constitutional changes, particularly the powers vested in the Executive.
However, Opposition Leader, David Granger believes that considering the political state of the country, it is also important to examine other parts of the Constitution and not just the powers of the President. While he shares Dr. Persaud’s view, Granger said that there is “nothing new about that.”
The Leader of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) said that as far as Constitutional Reform is concerned, it has become a very popular topic nowadays, but “we need to move away from beer garden talk and find out from the people what reforms they would want to see.”
Granger recently told the media that everyone has a package of reforms in their back pockets. He reminded of some who opined that Guyana should return to the 1970’s Constitution. Granger then emphasized, “We cannot have a cut and paste constitution.”
He asserted, “We can’t have one that just selects a bit from South Africa, a bit from India, and a part from the USA …There are like hundreds of suggestions coming up and the problem is that many of the reforms which have been recommended as of 2001 have not yet been implemented, so we need experts. We also need to go back to the people to find out what the people themselves want and not what was discussed in a beer garden or some coffee house.”
The Opposition Leader said that attention should also be given to the experiences of the Tenth Parliament over the last few years, particularly because they have brought out some new issues which the Constitution will have to remedy, such as the matter of prorogation.
On that premise, Granger said that a more careful look at the Constitution needs to be taken as opposed to what some have been suggesting.
“I respect Dr. Persaud but we need to go to the people and we need to get experts in public law to redraft the Constitution. There is no point at this stage of Guyanese history to be cherry picking issues, saying ‘oh there is a good clause here in the USA and a good one here in India and another there’ … we finish with that. We need to hear the voices of the people in this country. There are too many “experts” who have never written a Constitution in their life and suddenly dictating what needs to be done,” Granger expressed.
He expressed that he was in the Pomeroon area recently, and after listening to the plight of the citizens there, with regard to their living conditions, he observed that more attention needs to be paid to Local Government.
“A lot of problems exist there and everyone is talking about presidential powers but they don’t speak on the way communities are administered, and this is what the Local Government system is meant to remedy. Everyone knows the President must do this and the President must do that but the people are suffering at the bottom because the system is not working for them…we need to do a deeper Constitutional consultation,” Granger commented.
The APNU leader then said that his coalition will continue to push for constitutional reform.
Chairman of the AFC, Nigel Hughes had outlined that one of the important things the Constitution speaks to is the distribution of power and how it should be exercised. Referring to Article 51, the Attorney-at-law had said that supreme democratic power should be vested in three organs; the Presidency, Parliament and Cabinet.
He had emphasized that a worrying problem exists in that equation.
“What you have is the President being a part of the parliament and then when you go to Cabinet, you have him there, where he has supreme executive power. So in effect, he has power of all three organs of the state.
“He dominates them, and this is long before we come to discuss his immunities from suit, which means that in the exercise of his executive power, he is not answerable to the court or anyone and can only be removed by grave misconduct, ill-health or loss of confidence in him by the House.”
Hughes had said that the current structure of the Constitution gives the President absolute power to govern, and that the AFC has advocated for this to be addressed with urgency, for power, he had opined, must be distributed evenly.
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