ATTORNEY-GENERAL and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C., has opined that the opposition has been actively working to systematically stymie the work of the Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform.
He made this disclosure on Sunday on his Facebook page following the most recent meeting of the committee.
The legal affairs minister reminded that bipartisan cooperation on behalf of all the political parties in the National Assembly is an essential element of constitutional reform.
According to Nandlall, just two opposition members showed up to the meeting, which meant that no decisions could have been made on pressing issues relating to the development of a constitutional reform bill, which is to be taken before the National Assembly.
He noted that the opposition members on the committee requested and were given time since April 22 to put to the committee their proposals in relation to how the committee should move forward with constitutional reform.
“After this meeting, all the government members were present, two opposition members were present only, one on Zoom and one in person. Again, I reiterated the request for proposals with the promise to submit on April 22. We are now in the month of July and three months after we are yet to receive any proposal whatsoever from the opposition,” he said.
He disclosed that at a subsequent meeting on June 17, 2022, the opposition with just one member present did not present any proposals. A proposal was at the time put forward by the government members for the establishment of a broad-based constitutional reform commission resembling the commission that was established to do it in the 1999-2001 constitutional reform process.
“I put to the committee a bill that the government is proposing to be the law that will establish the Constitutional Reform Commission. Indicating in the bill, how the commission is going to be made up and what the functions of the commission are going to be and how the commission is going to be staffed, and find out other matters incidental to or in relation to the function of the proposed constitutional reform commission. Nothing has been forthcoming from the opposition,” the Attorney-General said.
Nandlall explained that the proposed commission would consist of 50 per cent membership comprising the opposition in the National Assembly and the government and 50 per cent from civil society organisations.
He noted that the committee asked the opposition members for two weeks to submit their proposals or to make counter-proposals to the bill which were put forward, but nothing was forthcoming.
He stated that among the excuses at the most recent meeting was that Leader of the Opposition Aubrey Norton was unavailable. Another member made claims of being unaware that there was an outstanding obligation on the part of the opposition to make proposals as she was recently appointed to the committee.
“I don’t know how …available Mr Norton is and what priority on Mr Norton’s agenda is the issue of constitutional reform. What I do know is that having regard to the public disclosures and public promise and public pronouncement and commitment on the issue of constitutional reform, it ought to be a high priority item on the agenda that is not being manifested in the output at the commission, at the committee level.”
He reminded that the government has made provision for constitutional reform in the 2022 budget. He stated that the highest priority for the commission presently is to get a bill into the National Assembly before it goes into recess in August, so as to allow work to continue on this significant constitutional issue.
“The government will not accept responsibility for the process grinding at a slow pace. We are ready to push the process and that is what we have been doing, or else we would not have had any progress at all. But as I said, it is of crucial importance that we have bipartisan participation,” Nandlall said.