The Citizen Initiative has set out clear objectives for constitutional and governance reform

The Citizen Initiative has set out clear objectives for constitutional and governance reform

Dear Editor,

I would like to address two issues.  The first is a letter by the Ethnic Relations Commission PRO, Mr. Shiv Nandlall ‘correcting’ an article in Stabroek News in which it is claimed that The Citizenship Initiative is the only party to have responded to the Commission with regard to correspondence they sent out to all parties regarding a proposed Code of Conduct.

Mr. Nandlall writes:

“In light of the inaccuracy mentioned in the article, and which is already in the public domain, the ERC is forced to state that the Citizenship Initiative was not the lone party that responded but the PPP/C.”

The clear assertion here is that TCI did not respond to the Commission’s correspondence, something which is completely false.  As is supported by e-mail records, the ERC’s e-mail from Special Assistant to the Chairman, Ms. Oma Devi Sukhu was sent to our Presidential Candidate, Ms. Rondha-Ann Lam on Monday, January 13th at 4.40 PM.    The attached documents were a letter addressed to Ms. Lam from ERC Chairman, Rev. Dr. John Oswald Smith calling for our commitment along with other parties to a peaceful election, a minimal five-point code of conduct, and an invitation to make suggestions on said code by the 17th.

The letter ended with the information that: “A meeting is expected to be schedule [sic] under the auspices of His Excellency the President for the realisation of the intent of this letter.”

Ms. Lam responded acknowledging receipt of mail at 3.27 PM on Tuesday, January 14th.  She subsequently had a telephone conversation with Ms. Sukhu that both acknowledged receipt of the mail and our commitment to the signing of the proposed code of conduct as is.  Our commitment to same was repeated to a second ERC staffer who called to invite us to the Commission’s movie premiere last week.

We have from the beginning called for codes of conduct during the elections and were awaiting the scheduled meeting of parties to sign off on the proposed ERC code, and propose our much more detailed code complementary to the ERC’s, including our proposals on campaign finance transparency and equality in state media access, issues that fall outside of the remit of the Commission and hence could not be included in their code.

Therefore, when it was that the ERC claimed that only one party had responded to its call, our natural and reasonable assumption was that one party was us, and I stated as much on my Facebook page.

I humbly suggest that Mr. Nandlall consult with his colleagues in the Commission and correct his ‘correction’ since his letter implies that TCI in general and yours truly in particular can be considered guilty of misinforming the public.    Our integrity as a party competing in these elections is not something we take lightly.

Secondly, with regard to Stabroek News’ otherwise sound editorial on ‘Major parties and constitutional reform’, it is not true that ANUG is the only emerging party to offer a structured, detailed proposal for shared governance in particular or constitutional reform in general.  TCI has – as opposed to any other party in this current race – set out clear objectives for reform, as has in fact been covered in part by this paper.  At our last press conference, we set outlined the key aspects of our plans for CR.  These were:

  1. Drastic reduction of the powers of the president along a spectrum that ranges from the abolishment of the position to the retention of the position but subject to clear and unequivocal mechanisms of censure and removal by the National Assembly.
  2. Establish a mechanism for shared governance, with a formula that gives the representatives of the people a greater say in executive decision-making, and a greater influence over executive decision-making, than obtains at present.
  3. Abolishing the list system to a more direct constituency-based democracy, one that removes the current hurdles for participation by emerging independent political leadership.
  4. The complete structural depoliticisation of the Guyana Elections Commission and establishment of a professional organization with a mandate to ensure that all processes of the institution are subject to public scrutiny.
  5. Deepening constitutional guarantees for the role of women in political leadership, raising the constitutional threshold for party representation in national elections from 30 percent women candidates to 40 percent.
  6. The inclusion of constitutional guarantees for youth involvement, similar to the current gender quota, specifically the constitutional provision that party representation in the national elections must include 30 percent of candidates aged 35 and under.
  7. Constitutional guarantees for basic housing and shelter for all citizens of Guyana, and guaranteed access to land ownership for domestic use, particular as a priority over land acquisition by foreign actors.
  8. A tiered/hierarchical constitutional pathway for the inclusion of dual citizens – particularly Guyanese diaspora – in the national assembly.
  9. The expansion of fundamental rights and the expansion of constitutional protection against discrimination to include persons with disabilities and LGBTQ persons.  Additionally, in keeping with the increasing role of information technology in everyday life, we intend to advocate for the right to WiFi as a basic right, as well as the right to digital privacy, including protections against unsanctioned surveillance and clandestine, non-consensual acquisition of personal data by either private or public entities.     On the issue of shared governance, we proposed using the current constitutional provisions even before we get through to the process of constitutional reform.  For example, we have committed that were we to win the Presidency, we would under Article 102 of the Constitution invite the Leader of the Opposition to be appointed as a Vice-President since Article 184 does not expressly nor implicitly prohibit it.  We’ve also committed to using Article 103(2) to proportionally select opposition members as junior ministers and Article 103(3) to include members of civil society into the machinery of the executive.

That said, the central thrust of the editorial is sound in that both major parties have demonstrated zero interest in constitutional reform and that the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform has been, with the clear collusion of both, an effectively dead committee.

It is not incidental that despite the very public antagonisms between the current Attorney-General Basil Williams and his predecessor Anil Nandlall on virtually every petty issue, both have been mutually silent over the past five years on the failure of the SPCCR on which they both sat with Williams as Chair.  As curious as it was for President Granger to have invested the initial responsibility for constitutional reform consultation to the strangely  named Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform (SCCR) headed by Nigel Hughes, it was equally curious that Mr. Nandlall offered no objection to the establishment of the SCCR being flawed as it was by virtue of the fact that the President and PM were in effect usurping the constitutional functions of the Standing Committee.

With regard to the UN intervention mentioned in the editorial, we are in possession of a copy of the report, dated 24 of February, 2017.  Of all the invaluable information contained therein, one excerpt encapsulates succinctly the mutual attitude of both major players on Constitutional Reform.

“As previously stated, both parties believe they stand to win the 2020 election. And both parties have historically enjoyed (i.e., failed to reform) the excessive executive powers under the 1980 Constitution. The 1999-2001 reform process resulted in numerous constitutional amendments – passed with bi-partisan support – none of which addressed the infirmities related to executive power and unaccountable government. The risk is that both parties might pay lip service to constitutional reform and adopt some amendments on the margins, but in the end fail to pass any of the most needed amendments, thereby maintaining the status quo. As one interlocutor put it while describing both major parties’ view of constitutional reform: ‘If this process dies, no one cries.’”

And that is the essence of why there has been no movement on constitutional reform since 2001 – neither major player is actually honestly committed to the process.   TCI’s commitment, in contrast, is to ensure that the process moves forward swiftly and our road map is very simple.  Come March 3, as a parliamentary party, we will be:

1) demanding a presence on the Standing Committee and ensuring that it meets immediately.

2) reviewing and revising where necessary the Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission Bill of 2017, and then tabling it for debate and passage within three months.  We would like to make it clear that this bill, when passed, merely establishes the Commission that is intended to oversee the consultative component of the constitutional reform process and thus, as opposed to a Constitutional Reform Bill, requires just a simple parliamentary majority for passage.

3) ensuring that the Commission is fully funded and staffed for as long as the process takes, in our estimation not more than three years.

There is no excuse for constitutional reform to take any longer than that and we intend to challenge the lip service of the major players on this issue.

Constitutional reform in the interest of the citizens of this country is a non-negotiable for TCI in terms of offering budgetary support to whatever executive is in place.  The choice left to the two major parties is simple – they either go ahead with the process or continue with their tacit collusion to stymie it.

Yours faithfully,

Ruel Johnson

The Citizenship Initiative


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