Govt, Opposition submit nominees for Constitutional Reform Commission

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

Efforts are moving along to have the much-anticipated Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) established, with the main political parties naming their nominees to sit on the highly-anticipated Commission.

Last month, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, said that letters were dispatched to the various stakeholder bodies to submit their nominees to be appointed to the Commission. They were given one month from January 10, 2024, to provide their names.

As that one-month deadline nears, the various political parties have submitted their nominees.

Ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo disclosed during a press conference on Thursday that they have nominated AG Nandlall; Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira; Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony; Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai; and Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, Kwame McCoy, to be Government’s representatives on the Commission.

Similarly, Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton at his weekly press conference on Thursday also revealed the nominees named by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition to sit on the Commission. They are the Opposition Commissioner at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Vincent Alexander; Economist Sherwood Lowe; Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Ganesh Mahipaul and Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes.

In addition, the Joinder Parties – comprising A New and United Guyana (ANUG); the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), and The New Movement (TNM) – which hold one seat in Parliament have also submitted their nominee to the Government in the person of ANUG’s General Secretary, Timothy Jonas, SC.

Constitutional reform was promised in the PPP/C Manifesto in 2020, where it was further outlined that consultation with the populace and important stakeholders and a broad-based Constitutional Reform Commission would drive the process.

The way was paved for the establishment of the CRC and the commencement of the reform process following the passage of the Constitutional Reform Commission Bill in the National Assembly in November 2022. Back in August of 2022, the Government presented the Constitutional Reform Commission Bill 2022 in the National Assembly. That Bill sought the establishment of a 20-member CRC to review the country’s supreme laws.

The 20-member Commission will be drawn from political parties (five from the ruling party, four from the main Opposition and one from the Joinder Parties), with 10 persons drawn from religious groupings, the Private Sector, the Guyana Bar Association, the National Toshaos Council, the labour movement, women’s organisations as well as nominees representing farmers and youths.AG Nandlall had pointed out that, “It’s not going to be a politically-dominated Commission. It’s going to be half politicians and half civil society. The work of the Commission will be driven by public consultation.”

The Legal Affairs Minister had stated that once the Commission was in place, a comprehensive consultation process would begin with citizens on critical laws that needed to be reformed.

There had been concerns over the delay in setting up the Commission, which the Government had committed to have in place before the end of 2023. However, Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Teixeira told reporters at a press conference in January that the delays in setting up the Commission had to do with the Government’s attention being focused on Venezuela’s aggression towards Guyana.

“It was just overtaken by time… The Venezuelan border issue really consumed an enormous amount of time for the Government, for the Attorney General, for the lawyers and also caused a lot of angst by the community… These are not easy things to justify in terms of how Governments work, but, in fact, this is what does happen,” the Governance Minister noted.

Nevertheless, Teixeira reassured that “I know both the Attorney General and the President are committed to setting it up as soon as possible, and I will work with both of them in whatever way possible to bring it about”.

According to the provisions of the CRC Bill, the Commission will review the Constitution to provide for the current and future rights, duties, liabilities and obligations of the Guyanese people. It is mandated for that purpose to receive, consider, and evaluate submissions for the alteration of the Constitution, and report its recommendations to the standing committee for transmission to the National Assembly.

The Commission is tasked with consultations for the reform process to continue, whereby a report will be prepared and sent to the standing committee. The committee will then refine the submissions into amendments for the National Assembly.

Last year, the Government had earmarked the sum of $150 million in the 2023 National Budget for constitutional reform activities.

This year, additional monies have been allocated towards the establishment of the CRC, including the rental of a building to house the Commission. During the Consideration of the Budget 2024 Estimates last month, AG Nandlall disclosed that the Government had identified the building on Middle Street, Georgetown that was used for the conduct of several Commissions of Inquiry, as the office for the CRC.

“I can safely say that just after these budget proceedings are concluded, His Excellency shall move to appoint the Constitutional Reform Commission, and this is the building in which that Commission will be housed. It is already furnished and ready for occupation by the secretariat and the Commission,” Nandlall had indicated last week.