...makes no mention of this during recent address to Parliament
President David Granger addressed Parliament on Thursday last about his government’s agenda for 2019. But clearly absent from the agenda he provided was the burning issue of Constitutional Reform. In fact, the President completely omitted any reference to this subject matter during his address.
This salient fact was pointed out by former Speaker and Attorney-at-law, Ralph Ramkarran during his recent writings. Since a budgetary provision was made, Ramkarran said that the Guyanese people were entitled to be told what legislative initiatives to expect from the Government on the issue of Constitutional Reform.
He stressed that 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:
“Areas, which we will recommend for consideration of the Committee include: The President should be elected by a majority of electors; there should be separate elections to the presidency and national assembly; executive power should be shared between the President, Prime Minister and the Cabinet; and the Cabinet should comprise members of the parties which have achieved at least 15% of the vote at the national elections…”
Ramkarran said that the detailed analysis of the manifesto is designed to show the high importance that the APNU+AFC attached to Constitutional reform. He said however that the public is constantly being teased by the Government.
Ramkarran noted that a committee was appointed to advise the Government on the process it should follow. He stressed however that the report was never published.
The former House Speaker said, “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.”
In this regard, Ramkarran pointed out that the Cummingsburg Accord provides that “The Prime Minister shall have responsibility for: Domestic Affairs and Chairing the Cabinet; Recommending Ministerial appointments and providing the organisational 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.” He said that none of these are demonstrably being observed.
Notwithstanding the reduced 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, Ramkarran said that the AFC still has clout.
“I made this suggestion once for the AFC 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.”
The former House Speaker said that the 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. He said that 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 recognise 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 recognised as a failure comparable to the failure of the PNC-UF coalition in 1968, which the PNC orchestrated.”
Ramkarran said that this would be just as APNU has orchestrated the failure of the APNU+AFC coalition by the miniaturization, then absorption, of the AFC.
He opined, “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.”