Reforming Guyana’s Constitution in time for next elections “ambitious”- Chairman

Last Updated on Wednesday, 3 April 2024, 14:01 by Denis Chabrol

Retired Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh receiving his instrument of appointment as Chairman of the Constitutional Reform Commission from President Irfaan Ali.

The Chairman of Guyana’s 20-member Constitutional Reform Commission, Retired Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh on Wednesday said reforming the constitution before the 2025 general and regional elections would be tight.

“That would be ambitious and it would be an ideal and it would depend on- because remember this Commission has to go all across the country- we are already in March so it’s a very thin line,” he said when asked by Demerara Waves Online News.

Justice Singh did not want to pronounce on it because “it is too earl, but he noted that the Constitutional Reform Act requires the commission to “set a time frame for the goals that we set ourselves.”

The CRC Chairman said the body needs to meet to sort out a number of administrative issues to “ensure the smooth functioning of the commission.” “We don’t want hiccups along the way so that would be my first game,” he added.

A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) representative on the CRC, Vincent Alexander was confident that the Commission would be able to complete its work before the next general and regional elections that the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration had said would be held in November 2025. “I think we are in a position to schedule our work in such a manner as to make a deadline because, as I understand, the government seems to have the intention of having the elections in November of next year which gives us over a year to do the work,” he said.

Mr Alexander said “it is feasible” for Guyanese to go to the polls with a further revised constitution.

In December 1994, a National Assembly Special Select Committee to review the constitution first met in 1996 and conducted 50 public meetings countrywide  but it did not finish its work before the 1997 general and regional elections.

In terms of APNU+AFC’s priorities for the constitutional reform process, Mr Alexander agreed with President Irfaan Ali that race relations and the electoral system should be high on the CRC’s agenda. “I think that the President correctly identified the key priorities; the electoral system, for one, for he spoke about, the ethnic issue he spoke about so I think he placed his hand on the key issues. The issue, now, is whether they have the will to confront those issues,” Mr Alexander, also a Commissioner of the Guyana Elections Commission, told Demerara Waves Online News.

APNU+AFC has been been pushing for electoral reforms that would allow for fresh house-to-house registration, which would require a constitutional amendment, and the use of biometrics at polling stations to avoid voter impersonation and multiple voting.

Dr. Ali said constitutional reform would focus on several key issues against the backdrop of several changes. “Political, societal and technological changes may present new challenges and opportunities that were not envisioned by the framers of the original Constitution or by its subsequent reforms,” he told 17 of the 20 CRC members shortly after administering their oaths of office.

He highlighted those in his remarks to the bipartisan body which includes five representatives of the governing People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC), four from the opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) as well as eight others representing labour, Indigenous People, private sector, women, youth, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, legal fraternity and farmers.

Emphasising the need for the constitution to remain relevant and “clear and accessible language” so that ordinary people can participate in the democratic process, Dr Ali said that document must address new challenges and emerging issues while still upholding the core principles and protecting the rights of citizens.

The CRC Act 2022 empowers the commission to examine fundamental rights of citizens, Indigenous People’s rights, rights of children, eradication of discrimination, enhancement of race relations, promotion of ethnic security and equal opportunity, safeguarding minority rights, electoral reforms; economic, political and cultural rights; fiduciary responsibility, bolstering integrity in public office and functioning of the National Assembly and Local Government. “As you will observe, these areas are wide-ranging but not exhaustive of the scope of the work of the Commission,” he said.  He charged the CRC to execute their work with utmost diligence and dedication, striving to foster an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect.

“Your ability to work together and achieve consensus will not only advance the cause of constitutional reform but also serve as an encouragement for greater political and social inclusion,” the President added.

Prominent Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes, who is a CRC member, had chaired a steering committee on Constitutional Reform which had presented a report to then Prime Minister Moses Nagamoootoo under the APNU+AFC’s administration in 2016.

The National Assembly states that early in 1999 an Act of Parliament established the Constitutional Reform Commission. It successfully completed its tasks and submitted its report to the National Assembly by the due date of 17th July, 1999. The Commission made 171 recommendations for constitutional amendments. All amendments, with the exception of those requiring a referendum, have been passed into Acts of Parliament.

The PPPC members: –
Mr Anil Nandlall
Ms. Gail Teixeira
Dr Frank  Anthony
Pauline Campbell-Sukhai
Kwame Warren McCoy

APNU/AFC Members: –
Mr Vincent Alexander
Mr Sherwood Lowe
Mr Ganesh Mahipaul, MP
Mr Nigel Hughes

A New and United Guyana, the Liberty and Justice Party and the New Movement members:-
Mr Timothy Munro Jonas, Attorney-at-Law

The Labour Movement: –
Mr  Aslim Singh

The National Toshao’s Council:-
Mr  Derrick John

The Private Sector:-
Mr Ramesh Persaud

Women Organisations:-
Dr Kim Kyte-Thomas

Youth Organisations:-
Daniel Josh Kanhai

Christian Organisations:-
Keoma Denzil Griffith

Muslim Organisations: –
Mr  Imran Ally

Hindu Organisations: –
Mr  Radha Krishna Sharma

Christian Organisations:-
Keoma Denzil Griffith

Mr  Adrian Anamayah

Guyana Bar Association: –
Mr  Kamal Ramkarran