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Guyana’s constitutional reform process lagging; secrecy shrouds APNU-AFC local govt talks

Left to right: Executive members of the Alliance For Change, Audwin Rutherford, party Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan, Catherine Hughes, David Patterson and party Leader, Raphael Trotman.

Constitutional reform, one of the major campaign promises of the governing coalition, is not a priority agenda item for talks between A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance For Change (AFC),  top AFC officials said Friday.

AFC Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan said the parliamentary agenda is stacked with “other matters and we (National Assembly) haven’t been meeting as regularly” for “good reasons”, also causing constitutional reform to be pushed back.

“That has stalled the process somewhat but, as we had indicated in a prior press conference, that we are going to as fast as possible ensure the passage of that Consultation Bill and so that the process of constitutional reform can start by the Commission then going to the various across the country so I think it could be done before the next elections. I suppose, then, that we’d have to fast track it from now on,” he said.

General and regional elections are due in 2020.

Ramjattan cited the need for adequate contributions from APNU, AFC, human rights association and ordinary people,  on what a reformed Guyana Constitution should look like is desirable and should not require numerous visits. “You do not necessarily have to have a thousand visits all across the country. People, if they are interested in constitutional reform, can send in their proposed amendments,” he said.

A steering committee on constitutional reform, which was established in August 2015, presented its report on April 30, 2016,  a Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission Bill was tabled in the National Assembly in July 2017 and a bipartisan Constitutional Reform Committee has since been established.

AFC executive member, David Patterson acknowledged that the process has been slothful, and he added that constitutional reform is one of the nine points listed in a February 27, 2018 letter to Chairman of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), President David Granger for talks between AFC and APNU.

At the same time, Patterson said constitutional reform was not high on the agenda of APNU-AFC talks that would essentially focus heavily on matters related to local government elections slated for December, 2018. “It is part but it’s a prioritized list…Yes but there is a prioritized list of items which we are discussing and it’s no secret that the local government elections is high on it because that is the most immediate,” Patterson said.

The AFC skirted questions on whether it has secured a formal or informal commitment from APNU on whether it would support an amendment to provide for post-election coalitions.

Meanwhile, the AFC shrouded its talks with APNU on local government elections in secrecy, saying that it could not even discuss what it wants out of those talks and what can be the disadvantages of contesting the polls separately.

“These are sensitive matters that I do not want to give my personal opinion on and you’d appreciate that; that is for the deductions by you members of the press. Not every thing you can get out of a politician on what’s the pro and con,” he said, adding that APNU and AFC contested the May 2015 elections and together changed the government after 23 years.

Ramjattan said the AFC has already stated that it prefers a coalition and “that means that we think that it is a positive again” but he declined to say what would be the possible drawbacks of contesting the local polls separately. “We don’t want to get int cons,” he said, with Patterson adding “we are in the middle of discussions”.

“That which will make us satisfied. There is a process going on; we don’t want the prejudice the negotiations,” Ramjattan said when pressed on what his party wants out of the LGE talks with APNU.

Previously, the AFC had raised concerns that it had been somewhat sidelined in the 2016 local government elections as far as the identification and selection of candidates were concerned.

The two sides are due to have a second round of talks this weekend.