Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Equal rights
(Aired 5 June 2003)

  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 Procurement Commission.

    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 Service.

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 Force.

6. Agreements for the electricity sector.

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 Committee.

    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.

   These seven new committees are intended to strengthen the consultative/democratic process.

    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 [1] Determine areas of Government activity for scrutiny or specific examination [2] 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 [3] Review existing legislation on government policy and administration for any of the sectors. [4] Summon persons to give evidence, scrutinise government documents, papers and records: [5] Visit any Government activity or project in Guyana as agreed and arranged by the Committee. [6] In the discharge of their mandate utilise the services of experts, specialists and other sources of advise they determine.[7] Establish a timetable for the conduct of their work [8] Make recommendations to the National Assembly on legislation or any other action to be taken on matters falling within their purview.[9] Submit periodic reports to the National Assembly on their work and [10] Invite comments from the Minister assigned responsibility for the sector, on their recommendations or reports. 

   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 it".

    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 entire process.

    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 119A.