APNU+AFC absent from key debate on constitutional reform
A key debate on the government’s Constitutional Reform Commission Bill 2022 got underway on Monday in the National Assembly, moments after members of the APNU+AFC opposition walked out of the House.
This much-anticipated Bill was scheduled for its second reading on Monday as lawmakers gathered at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at Liliendaal, Georgetown.
This is the first sitting of the National Assembly after the annual recess.
The Bill proposes the establishment of a Constitution Reform Commission to review the country’s supreme laws through countrywide public participation. Constitutional reform itself has been long discussed by political parties, but the incumbent administration has taken credit for initiating the reform process now.
Before the Bill was read, however, Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton sought to move a motion to facilitate the creation of a “clean voters’ list and to prevent voter impersonation.”
There have been repeated calls for this clean voters’ list ahead of next year’s Local Government Elections though the associated concerns have been addressed by members of government, other political parties, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and ruled on by the High Court in a 2019 judgment handed down by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George, S.C.
This motion was not allowed by House Speaker Manzoor Nadir on the grounds that it was “not of the urgency that requires this debate”.
Subsequently, the Opposition Leader and other A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Parliamentarians exited the chamber and as such, are absent from the key debate on the Constitutional Reform Commission Bill.
Nevertheless, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall SC moved the second reading of the Bill and started the day’s debate.
According to him, constitutional reform is a fundamental process for an evolving society that requires widespread participation- from the country’s political leadership but also the general citizenry.
He also reminded that constitutional reform has been a “platform promise” of all political parties that contested the 2020 Regional and General elections.
“As I speak, I am speaking to empty benches on the other side,” Nandlall however lamented.
This, he said, is particularly worrying given that constitutional reform efforts require the support of two-thirds of the National Assembly or in some cases, a referendum.
To get the required two-thirds majority, Opposition Parliamentarians must give their support since the government has only a one-seat majority.
Though Nandlall believes the government has done much work in moving the reform process along, he said that people must demand that their representatives fully participate in this process.
“We cannot travel the other half without the other half.
“I hope that the empty benches to which I am speaking is not a forbearing of what is to come in relation to this process,” the Attorney General stated.
Despite the absence of most of the Opposition lawmakers, the Attorney General boasted that this Bill enjoys parliamentary consensus since it was agreed to by the nine members (five government parliamentarians and four opposition parliamentarians) who encompass the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform.