THE Prime Minister has just announced the setting up of a Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform. According to him, this Committee, which is headed by AFC Chairman and prominent Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes, is tasked with laying out “the scope of work and the priority areas to be reformed and how the reform process will do its work.” Apart from Hughes, other members of the Committee include Professor Harold Lutchman, former Deputy Prime Minister Haslyn Parris, Attorney General Basil Williams, Government Legal Advisor Geeta Chandan-Edmond, and Attorney-at-Law Gino Persaud.
That the Government has moved on this issue with some haste is indicative of the seriousness it attaches to constitutional reform. This is in sharp contrast to the previous Administration, which showed scant interest in the matter.
In 2011, the APNU had campaigned heavily on this issue, but did not advance it as part of their agenda after the election. But at the 2015 election they again made it the centrepiece of their campaign. This time they were part of a larger coalition with the AFC, and this time around the coalition won the elections.
While the AFC has not been very vocal about constitutional reform, its Chairman who now heads the Steering Committee, has been a very enthusiastic supporter. He had even, on behalf of the party, put forward some proposals for public comment. He therefore brings to the chairmanship a passion about and commitment to the issue.
One of the reasons advanced for the reluctance to vigorously pursue constitutional reform in the past is that such an undertaking needed the support of the PPP. It was reasoned that while it is in office the PPP was not interested in such an exercise, largely because the areas that are being targeted for reform could result in a reduction of executive power. Further, Power Sharing or Shared Governance, which is being pushed by the coalition, had not been embraced by the previous Administration since it assumed power in 1992. How the coalition plans to push constitutional reform without the PPP’s support is yet to be seen.
Haslyn Parris was a key player in the last constitutional-reform process. So he brings institutional memory, in addition to a sound understanding of the Constitution. And Professor Lutchman returns to a subject that he has written on extensively. It would be interesting to see how much scope the Committee would allow for the reform process. Would they recommend tinkering, or would they go for comprehensive reform? Only time will tell. In the meantime, the Government should be commended for sounding the first bell.