Press Release – Re-habilitating Guyanese Politics by Citizens Assembly on Article 13

What passes for politics in Guyana is so removed from civilized compromise that the recent
announcement of Government’s intention to launch a process of constitutional reform next month
induces only eye-rolling resignation. While a national conversation on our political battlefield is urgently
needed and would be welcomed by Policy Forum Guyana (PFG), a formal constitutional process requiring
60% Parliamentary approval is not a serious proposal at a time when political leaders cannot even shake
hands.
Policy Forum Guyana (PFG) believes a consultative process – a Citizens Assembly – not involving political
parties – on the meaning of Article 13 of the Guyana Constitution would be of far more practical value.
It is a foregone conclusion that whatever the issue, control of a Parliamentary process and its outcome
would remain firmly in the hands of the ruling party from start to finish. Even were that not the case, the
Parliamentary Opposition’s predictable reduction of such an initiative to a parade of all of its grievances,
would be equally unproductive. In other words, the nation should not be exposed to a constitutional
reform exercise which cannot meet minimum criteria of impartiality, independence and national healing.
While welcoming the idea of public discussion, which Guyana so badly needs, PFG believes it is imperative
that this not be yet another exercise doomed to predictable control and failure. The stated intention to
imitate the Constitutional reform process of 1999-2000 is misplaced. That process worked well due to
genuinely inclusive all-party leadership in the persons of Ralph Ramkarran PPP (Chair), Haslyn Parris PNC
(Secretary), and Rupert Roopnaraine WPA. Moreover, the work of the Commissioners was complimented
by the civic Forum on Constitutional Reform which mobilized trade union, faith-based and NGO energies
around reforms. Nothing comparable currently exists in terms of political or civic relationships.
Another little acknowledged factor weighing against genuine consultation is the fact that the Guyanese
economy was shifted by the PPP in the 1990s from total State control to total free market ideology, while
leaving the same deformed Constitution in place. The constitutional reform process of 2000 removed the
more naked powers of a paramount Presidency. By also reforming the electoral system and approving a
system of 40 single-seat constituencies and a National Top Up List of 25 seats the reform process also
sought to undermine the culture of centralized decision-making. However, both parties found this
democratic socialist hang-over to be very congenial and it has remained in place. The electoral reforms
while unanimously approved by Parliament were never subsequently implemented. Under the pretext
that too little time existed to implement the full system in time for the 2001 system, 25 seats were divided
between the 10 Administrative Regions with a National List of 40 seats, a system which has survived until
the present. Neither of the two major parties have ever referred back to these unimplemented reforms.
In this context the central political issue is to find a method of implementing the approved reforms, not
to open up another constitutional reform process to allow the major parties the opportunity to unravel
them again.

Guyana urgently needs substantive deliberation among many different kinds of people woven into the
decision-making process. This process should be funded by Parliament, but entirely outside of party
control.
In other countries, Citizens Assemblies are proving attractive and effective in contexts to which National
Assemblies and Parliaments are unsuited. Such Assemblies have been employed to help reduce complex
subjects to a set of propositions that Parliament can use as the basis for policy-making. France and the UK
used Citizens Assemblies to get to grips with the climate crisis and Ireland held one to help determine the
abortion issue.
Citizens Assemblies consist of a cross-section of citizens being selected carefully by a process known as
sortition to ensure diversity, balance and representativeness. The Assembly comes together over a fixed
period, or a number of week-ends or other suitable period. They are assisted and guided by experts and

aim to draw up a series of recommendations on how to address a complex issue. Scepticism over non-
experts trying to accomplish this is inevitable, but, experience in other places proved otherwise. Empathy

rather than expertise is far more relevant to seeing the plausibility of the other side’s case – which is the
essence of thinking and acting politically.
Policy Forum Guyana (PFG) is proposing that Guyana needs a Citizens Assembly to give direction and
recommendations to Parliament on how to move forward on implementation of the following portion of
Article 13: “providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens in the management and
decision making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that
directly affect their well-being. In pursuing this proposal, the ruling party would reap greater rewards from
trusting the Guyanese people than from controlling them.
Policy Forum Guyana (PFG)
August 4 2022

Contact Information:
PFG c/o Guyana Human Rights Centre, 56B Hadfield St. & Austin Place, Georgetown.
Tel: 227-4908 E-mail: policyforumgy@gmail.com website: www.policyforumgy.org
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