Increasing the powers of parliament
October 5, 2000
In its final report the Oversight Committee on Constitutional Reform noted that though the Constitution Reform Commission had not accepted proposals for various forms of power sharing it had reduced the powers of the president and enlarged the powers of the national assembly, thus "partially shifting the centre of gravity away from the president and towards the national assembly, correcting what so far has often been perceived as a disabling imbalance in the distribution and exercise of governmental authority".
One of the principal means of achieving this has been the recommendation as regards standing committees. At present, Article ll9 provides that subject to any provision made by parliament, the president may appoint standing committees consisting of such persons as he may deem fit for the purpose of examining any aspect of national life and making recommendations or otherwise reporting to the government or to parliament. The new Article ll9A will provide that the National Assembly shall establish a Parliamentary Standing Committee for reviewing the effectiveness of the working of the constitution and making periodic reports to the assembly, with proposals for reform as necessary. Article ll9B will provide that the assembly shall also establish parliamentary sectoral committees with responsibility for the scrutiny of all areas of government policy and administration including natural resources, economic services, foreign relations and social services. The chairperson and deputy chairperson of each committee shall be elected from opposite sides of the assembly.
This does represent the important devolution of substantial oversight functions to parliament including, significantly, the opposition. If these committees function in a vibrant and efficient manner it will quickly lead to a new level of transparency and accountability on the part of the government as ministers and senior administrators can presumably be questioned on the stewardship of their portfolio.
The implementation of this recommendation will be an important step forward. Many were disappointed with the efforts of the Constitution Reform Commission and in particular their failure to grapple with what they perceived to be the core issues raised in the Herdmanston Accord. This was mainly due to the fact that the two main parties were not persuaded of the need for fundamental change or radical new experiments. But if this can be put aside it must be recognised that the commission has put forward some important and useful recommendations which can lead to a real increase in the quality of governance, so vital to national progress and development.
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