The APNU+AFC government has, on many occasions, violated the constitution and has demonstrated little respect for the document. It has also failed to indicate what it is trying to achieve in the reform process, said former Attorney General Anil Nandlall..
These are all signs of the usual incompetence displayed by the government, he said.
These facts also cause one to second guess this government’s stated position on constructional reform.
Nandlall’s comments represented what his party, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C, had to say recently in the National Assembly on the issue of constitutional reform. Nandlall was at the time contributing to the debates for Budget 2018.
Nandlall noted that Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, during his Budget speech, informed the House that constitutional reform will take place in 2018.
Addressing House Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland, Nandlall said that the PPP always welcomes constitutional reform but does not see it as a one-off event.
He said, “Our Constitution, as our basic document, is organic and alive. It must always be under review, so constitutional reform must be an ongoing process. Under our Government, over a 23-year period, more than 200 changes were made to the 1980 Constitution. So we recognize the importance of constitutional reform.”
Nandlall said that the PPP, however, regards constitutional compliance of equal import, if not greater, than constitutional reform.
“What sense does it make to move to constitutional reform when you do not comply with the constitution in its current form?”
Nandlall said that there isn’t a week that passes when the APNU+AFC Government or someone of its functionaries does not violate the Constitution with impunity. “Repeatedly, challenges have to be filed in the court, seeking judicial rectification.
“We have heads of independent constitutional Service Commissions hounded out of office; ministers writing letters, giving directions on behalf of the President to Service Commissions. Only recently, the Chief Justice was forced to pronounce on this very issue,” said Nandlall.
“Recently we witnessed another vulgar violation of the Constitution by the Minister of Public Security, who writes to the Police Commissioner, essentially suspending him from performing the functions of his office, in clear violation of Article 225 of the Constitution.”
This Article outlines the grounds upon which, and the procedure by which a Commissioner of Police can be suspended from office. Nandlall said that such a mechanism can only be triggered by the President and even then, the grounds for removal and suspension must exist.
“No minister of Government has any authority to discipline, send on leave or, dismiss a Police Commissioner.”
Nandlall said that the violations of the Constitution occur with “seamless ease.”
“Recently, we read in the press the President explaining that it was ‘necessary’ for directions to be given to the Police Service Commission, to halt promotions. That this utterance came even after the Chief Justice pronounced those directions to be unconstitutional, speaks volumes. Statements like these including ‘That is the Chief Justice’s opinion”, demonstrate and illustrate the lack of respect for the Constitution itself and the offices which it creates. So before we embark on constitutional reform, we have to first respect “constitutionalism”.”
Nandlall told the House of a text titled “Election Management- A Compendium of Commonwealth Good Practice”, published by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
He said that in the text, the author said, “Constitutionalism, which is the foundation on which a democracy is built, is the idea that once elected, a government should be legally limited in its powers, and that its authority in continuing to exercise these powers depends on observing such limitations.
The litmus test of constitutionalism is curbing the unfettered (or endlessly extended) exercise of Government power and ensuring respect for the rule of law”…and under the caption “constitutional change” the authors cautioned and I quote “ill-considered constitutional change, especially when driven by short-term or selfish political interest, can destabilize the democratic process.
“Writing or amending the constitution, therefore, should only take place on the basis of a clear national consensus; following wide consultations…such safeguards are there to protect a country from succumbing to arbitrary or undemocratic rule”
Nandlall said that while the government keeps touting constitutional reform, the opposition and the masses have no idea about what this is to achieve. “I am sure that the Minister himself doesn’t have such an idea,” said Nandlall.
He stressed that not even a White Paper has been presented to shed some light on at least the broad objectives.
Further, Nandlall noted that the National Assembly two years ago, approved some $20M upon the request of the Prime Minister to be spent by a Committee “handpicked by the Government to do a report on constitutional reform.”
Nigel Hughes was the head of that committee.
Nandlall noted that the report was done and handed to the Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, “who seized the opportunity to photograph himself in the press. No one has seen or heard about this Report since.
This handpicked committee did not even see it fit to consult with the PPP, the Party that got nearly 50 percent of the votes at the last elections. “This report was not even given to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform. So there is no clear national consensus at all on this issue of constitutional reform.
“We are proceeding along this path blindly as a nation to constitutional reform,” said Nandlall.
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