Constitution Reform Commission Bill passed

The APNU+AFC opposition on Monday left the dome of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre moments before the important debate of the Constitution Reform Commission Bill 2022 got underway.

This move was condemned by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC, who explained that the constitutional reform efforts require the support of two-thirds of the National Assembly or in some cases, a referendum.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall

The bill is one of the fundamental expressions of the PPP/C Government’s commitment to modernise the legislative agenda of Guyana.

The attorney general described the bill as a sacrosanct and secret pact between citizens and the state, outlining the state will administer and elaborate mechanisms to guarantee their civil liberties, fundamental rights and freedoms.

However, even as the attorney general was about to make his contribution, the APNU+AFC opposition walked out of the national assembly.

To get the required two-thirds majority, opposition Members of Parliament must give their support.

“We cannot travel the other half without the other half. I hope that the empty benches to which I am speaking is not a forbearing of what is to come in relation to this process,” he lamented.

On July 8th, the government presented the Constitutional Reform Commission Bill to the national assembly as the first tangible step in advancing the process of reforming Guyana’s constitution, the country’s supreme law.

The bill caters for the establishment of a 20-member commission appointed by the president.  The commission will comprise five members nominated by the government and five members by the opposition, as well as representatives from the Guyana Bar Association, the labour movement, the National Toshaos’s Council, the private sector, as well as women, youth, religious organisations, and farmers.

The commission will also implement reforms relating to elections and the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), taking into consideration its composition, method of electing its chairman and members, and its jurisdiction over the national registration and electoral processes.

The bill also provides for the establishment of the Constitution Reform Commission and its membership.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira

Once enacted into law, it will provide for the commission to receive, consider and evaluate submissions for the changes to the constitution. Those recommendations will then be submitted to a standing committee for consideration by the national assembly.

“This fundamental document Mr Speaker in an evolving society, driven by democratic principles and tradition, necessarily requires constant review to ensure that as our society evolves, as the aspirations of our people change, as our country transforms that, that sacred pact between the state and the citizen reflects those transformation and reflects those changes,” the Attorney General told the house.

Minister Nandlall reminded the house that the government’s model for constitutional reform is laid out in its manifesto promise. That process, he noted, must be done through a consultative process as mandated by the commission.

“Constitutional reform, therefore, has rightfully been a forefront issue on our government’s agenda, and we have always underpinned a fundamental principle in respect of constitutional reform, and that is, it must be driven by public participation,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker and opposition member Lenox Shuman commended the government for the work done on moving ahead with the process of constitutional reform.  

He was assured that indigenous organisations will be included to ensure the full participation of Amerindians in the process.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira and Member of Parliament Sanjeev Datadin also supported the bill.

The bill was considered in the committee clause by clause and passed without amendments.