The Constitution Reform Commission Act was passed in November 2022. Its membership is comprised as follows: 5 – PPP/C; 4 – APNU+AFC; 1 each representing the following: LJP-ANUG-NM; Guyana Bar Association; Labour Movement; National Toshaos’ Council; private sector; womens’ organisations; youth organisations: Christian organisations; Muslim organisations; Hindu prganisations; farmers. The chair and deputy chair shall be elected from among the members. The structure reflected the Constitution Reform Act of 1999.
The Commission has a wide mandate as follows: fundamental rights; rights of indigenous people and of children; discrimination in all its forms; improving race relations and promoting ethnic security and equal opportunity; measures to ensure that the views of minorities in the decision-making process and in the conduct of Government are given due consideration; implementing reforms relating to elections and the Elections Commission taking into consideration its composition, the method of electing its chair and members and its jurisdiction over national registration and the electoral process; measures to protect the economic, social and cultural rights: measures to strengthen the independence of the judiciary; safeguarding public funds and enhancing integrity in public life; enhancing the capacity and effectiveness as a deliberative body of the National Assembly; improving the capacity and effectiveness of the local government system.
It is to be noted that inclusive governance, a PPP/C Manifesto promise on constitutional reform is omitted.
The Commission is charged with consulting the widest possible geographical area, with as many persons, groups, communities, organisations and institutions as possible, including religious and cultural organisations, political parties, youth organisations, high school and university students, women’s organisations, private sector organisations, professional bodies and the media. The Commission shall have power to conduct any inquiry or investigation within its terms of reference that it considers necessary. Without this specific provision in the 1999 Act, this type of consultation took place. Some 4,000 submissions were considered.
The 2023 Budget has allocated $150 million to constitutional reform and the Attorney General announced that it will commence at the conclusion of the inquiry into the elections, hearings of which are due to conclude in March 2023.
The Manifesto of the PPP/C for 2020-2025 on constitutional reform states: “Ensuring people’s participation in revising the Supreme Law of our land. We are aware that issues concerning constitutional reform, particularly in relation to a national, inclusive governance model, management of elections, fiduciary accountability, enhancing rights of Guyanese and ensuring constitutional language is simple have been raised and discussed in the public domain.”
The provision in the Act which sets out the mandate of the Commission, as set out above, does not include “a national, inclusive governance model,” as promised in the Manifesto. The big question is: will the PPP/C members, and those who support them, allow discussion in the Commission on a system of inclusive governance which the PPP/C supported not only in its Manifesto but also in public statements, but which it did not see fit to specifically include in the Commission’s mandate? If such a negative situation arises – hopefully it would not – it is open to the Commission to infer from its broad mandate that inclusive governance is an appropriate subject for discussion in order to contend with many of the mandated issues including “promoting ethnic security and equal opportunity” and ensuring that the “views of the minorities in the decision-making process and in the conduct of Government are given due consideration.”
The issue of inclusive governance has been on the political agenda since the late 1980s and, in one form or another, long before. It has assumed urgency in the recent past so much so that the PPP/C recognised it in its Manifesto and committed to it. It is not known whether it is by accident or design that it was not specifically included in the mandate provided by the Act. But time will tell whether discussion will be tolerated in the Commission on inclusive governance. If not, there would be no conceivable reason for constitutional reform, as set out below.
The matters provided for in the Act have largely been dealt with already in the Constitution by the 1999-2002 reforms. The institutions which have been created, such as the constitutional commissions and the sectoral parliamentary committees, are not functioning either at all or optimally. Article 13 of the Constitution that provides for consultation is not functionally implemented. The problem, therefore, outside of inclusive governance, is not the constitution, but implementation of its provisions. Other matters provided for in the Act are more appropriately dealt with by legislation.
Fulfilling a Manifesto promise to implement constitutional reform is not sufficient unless that promise includes the purpose or reason for the promise, namely, inclusive governance. It must be assumed that when the PPP/C made the promise in its Manifesto, it was of the view that inclusive governance was not provided for in the constitution and reform was necessary to include it. It is expected, therefore, that notwithstanding the questionable omission in which the process is going to be conducted, that inclusive governance will be a major issue in the constitution reform process, as it is in the PPP/C’s Manifesto.