After an absence of some time from doing
commentary, I like to look at some of the things I commented on and tell you if
I see any improvement or change in the situation when I return, I will deviate
from that process tonight and do something different. I know that there are
those out there who relish my exposure of the incompetence, corruption, etc. of
this government in action, but this is a time for healing, for peace and for
progress, so I will set the example and stop dwelling on all the bad old news
so that we can move forward, I still however see these stupid letters about the
28 years in the newspapers, written by die hards, excuse makers and liars who
want to excuse the nonsense going on in this country today, nothing that was
done in the 28 years can excuse anything being done today, it is a new
dispensation and we have to look forward, not back. There are drug dealers and
criminals everywhere around us, is it OK if we become one? Of course not!
At this time the country is in suspended
animation waiting for the commencement of the improvements we expect as a
result of implementing the Constitutional changes which were finalised in 2000,
based on the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission which began
its work in 1998. All of the agreed recommendations from the CRC were enacted
and assented to since 2001 and the other changes agreed upon
nearly two years ago between President Jagdeo and Mr. Hoyte and recently revisited
as a result of the Dialog between Mr. Jagdeo and Mr. Corbin, which led
to the signing of the Communiqué on May 6th 2003.
After nearly one month there is very
little to report. The gentlemen met, they decided on a course of action to
implement the changes they agreed to, but the process is taking time. And I
expected that it would take time, there are far too many areas to be
covered especially with the appointment of 7 new Standing Committees of the
National Assembly, the Constitutional Commissions such as the Ethnic Relations
Commission and the Four Rights Commissions together with the Public
I have decided to do a series of
commentaries aided by information provided by the parties involved, to tell
you, in as much detail as possible, and as clearly as possible what the
constitutional changes are, and how these changes will impact on our daily
lives, I will also be looking at the work of the various bipartisan committees
and I will be reporting on their progress.
You will understand that to do this
effectively, I have to understand the constitutional changes in a very
fundamental manner, so that I can relate what is happening in the simplest
possible way. The principle being if I understand it properly and comprehensively
the easier it will be to relate it to a third party, This naturally took some
time, considering the research necessary. I will try to do one commentary on
the Constitutional Reforms and the progress in the implementation of them at
least once per week, in addition to any commentaries requiring the crucifixion
of offending entities/individuals but the promise of one per week is not
written in stone, so bear with me.
First of all let's examine the
Communiqué signed by President Jagdeo and Mr. Corbin. The Communiqué is divided
into nine broad categories, they are:
1. Parliament and Constitutional Reforms.
2. Implementation of the decisions of
the Bipartisan Committees
3. De-politicisation of the Public
4. Appointment of the PPPC and PNC/R
nominees to state boards, Commissions and Committees
5. The appointment of the Disciplined
Forces Commission to give priority to inquiries into the operations of
the Guyana Police
6. Agreements for the electricity
7. The Constitutional office of the
Leader of the Opposition.
8. The Crime Situation.
9. Issues raised by the President.
I would have liked to see a number 10,
the de-politicisation of the Judiciary, but we will keep the pressure up until
we do see it.
So Let us start with number 1. The Parliament
and Constitutional Reform, this exercise is by far the most difficult one
and will require the appointment of 7 new standing committees in the National Assembly,
bringing the total number of Parliamentary Standing Committees to 12.
The seven new committees are classified
in the Communiqué as follows:
(1). The Parliamentary Management
Then we have the four Sector
Standing Committees i.e. there will be four new Sector Committees,
these committees are comprised four PPPC Parliamentarians, and three opposition
parties' Parliamentarians and the committees will be responsible for:
(2) Natural Resources
(3) Economic Services
(4) Foreign Relations and
(5) Social Services.
(6) The Appointive Committee.
(7) The Constitutional Reform Committee.
seven new committees are intended to strengthen the consultative/democratic
Ladies and gentlemen tonight I will
tell you what these seven new committees are intended to do.
Number one of the seven new committees
in the National Assembly is the Parliamentary Management Committee; this
committee was established in accordance with the St.
Lucia accord and passed in the National assembly on Friday May 2nd 2003. This Committee
will seek to implement the constitutional reforms pertaining to the functioning
of the parliament, summed up as follows. the Business of the National Assembly
and such other matters as the committee may wish to consider and includes other
matters referred to it by the national assembly; it will comprise 5 members of
the PPP/C, 3 members of the PNCR, one member of GAP/WPA and one member of ROAR,
in other words 5 members of the PPPC and 5 members of the Opposition it is
therefore a balanced Committee. This Committee will be chaired by the Speaker
or the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly but who will not be entitled to
vote, I expect that some of the matters this committee will handle and which
are contained in the modifications to the Constitution are (a) That
Parliamentarians must be capable of speaking intelligently in the assembly and
to take an active part in the proceedings (b) That the speaker need not be an
elected member of the assembly but can be a member in addition to the
constitutional 65 members of the assembly. (c) The appointment of the Deputy
Speaker and how he/she will function. (d) Neither the Speaker nor the Deputy
Speaker can be a Minister of the Government or a Permanent Secretary. (e) The
appointment and functioning of the clerk and deputy clerk of the National
Assembly. Especially worthy of note is section 58.1 of the new constitution
which precludes certain persons from being members of the national assembly, if
such a person takes part in the business of the national assembly with the full
knowledge that he is not entitled to do so, he can be fined by the high court.
Holding citizenship of any other country is an example.
The four Sector Standing Committees
are the real democratic advances visualised by the dialog and the
Constitutional Reform process, these committees (i) Natural Resources
(ii) Economic Services (iii) Foreign Relations and (iv) Social
Services; will examine the functioning of government at the executive level
and they will have the authority for example to  Determine areas of
Government activity for scrutiny or specific examination  Request the
Minister assigned responsibility for the sector to submit written or oral
information, including government documents and records about any specific
area of government policy and administration  Review existing legislation on
government policy and administration for any of the sectors.  Summon persons
to give evidence, scrutinise government documents, papers and records: 
Visit any Government activity or project in Guyana as agreed and arranged by the Committee.  In the discharge of
their mandate utilise the services of experts, specialists and other sources of
advise they determine. Establish a timetable for the conduct of their work
 Make recommendations to the National Assembly on legislation or any other
action to be taken on matters falling within their purview. Submit periodic
reports to the National Assembly on their work and  Invite comments from
the Minister assigned responsibility for the sector, on their recommendations
These Sector Committees were the main
bone of contention for the deadlock in the Parliament for nearly one and a half
years between the PPP/C and the PNCR, if these Sector Committees can examine
the functioning of government on a day to day basis, to the extent laid out in
the terms of reference I have outlined for you here, then MP's who are
Ministers and who can end up being investigated by one of these committees
should not sit as members of the committees, since he/she may in all likelihood
end up on a committee investigating himself/herself. This reminds me very much
of the United States congress'
ability to conduct congressional hearings to examine the functioning of the
executive or any sector of it. As my 3 year old daughter would say, "I yike
These sector committees allow the
Parliament to investigate the functioning of the Government and its officials
as it is happening, examine any legislation being crafted, query the
performance of any Minister who functions within the four sectors, not months
or even years after the event at which time the blunder, adverse decision,
incompetent management etc of any Minister is already a fait accompli, and had
resulted in an action by him/her that lead to dissatisfaction in the country as
a whole, or any sector of it.
If you do nothing else ladies and
gentlemen keep your eyes and ears open to the functioning of these four Sector
Committees, they are the most important single step forward in nearly 40
years of self rule, and establishes accountability of the executive to the
legislature. If this works, it can lead to the peace and progress we have
sought, in futility, for so long. Any matter discussed in the Parliament is
automatically placed in the public domain so this is very close to having a
freedom of information act without actually being identified as such.
It will fulfil Dr. Jagan's promise of
having a fair and transparent government. So on behalf of the long suffering
Guyanese public I am exhorting the members of the national assembly, on both
sides, make it work! No duplicity, no hiding of documents; no refusing to
make full disclosure, no unreasonable demands, these acts can only torpedo the
What I do not see, and I would
have liked to see it, are the penalties [spelt out in the clearest possible
manner] for not complying with requests for documents, information etc, that
the Sector Committees may require to perform their functions.
The sixth and seventh standing
committees are identified as follows along with their functions. They are self
explanatory and need hardly any elucidation as to their function.
The Appointive Committee will
"address matters relating to the appointment of members of Commissions"
established under constitutional article 119C.
The Constitutional Reform Committee
will "as an ongoing exercise review and reform the Constitution to
strengthen and deepen the democratic process" under constitutional article