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Referendum on Constitutional Reform likely

Left to Right: Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Chairman of the Preparatory Committee, Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes and other Committee members Professor Harold Lutchman and Attorney-at-Law Gino Persaud.

Guyanese may have to go to a referendum to decide the future shape of the country’s constitution if the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) does not support all or part of the process.

Attorney General, Basil Williams said a referendum is the next option if the PPPC does not lend its support to the A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition in the 65-seat National Assembly to change several of the deeply entrenched provisions that could only be changed by a two-thirds majority.

If the 33-seat coalition is to get its way in some instances, it will require the support of the PPPC which has 32 seats in the House.

Williams said if the PPPC does not lend its support, it would leave government would no other option but to call a referendum in fulfillment of its “major plank” during campaigning for the May 11, 2015 general and regional elections. “The only alternative would be to go for a referendum,” he said.

Already, the High Court has ruled that certain aspects of Guyana’s constitution like term-limits on the presidency cannot be amended by Parliament but only by a referendum.

Asked how government hoped to guard against the politicization of a referendum, he remarked “I trust that we don’t have to go to that state and that we are more enlightened now,” he said.

A steering committee on constitutional reform, under the chairmanship of Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes, has been established by government through Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo. Other members of the Committee are Attorney General Williams, Professor Harold Lutchman, Attorney-at-Law Gino Persaud, Attorney-at-Law, Geeta Chandan-Edmond and former member of a previous Constitutional Reform Commission, Haslyn Parris.

Much needed reform of Guyana’s constitution has been kick-started with the appointment of a preparatory committee that would file a number of recommendations on how the process should be conducted.

The Committee has been given until December, 2015 to decide on the manner, nature, conduct, mandate, time-frame and budget for a Constitutional Reform Commission. “This is the preparatory stage to define the scope of the work as well as certain time frames and modalities,” said Prime Minister Nagamootoo.

After the preparatory committee completes its report, the Prime Minister will report to a Cabinet sub-committee on Constitutional Reform and the wider Cabinet before the final decisions are taken.