Dissolution of Parliament looms
Still no agreement on election legislation

Stabroek News
February 8, 2001

The date for the dissolution of Parliament looms, with the major parties in the house-PPP/Civic and PNC-still engaged in a disagreement over the legislation to be passed for the holding of elections.

The parties have until February 15, to enact all the necessary legislation required for holding elections under a revised constitution as stipulated by the Herdmanston Accord. They must do so to conform with the orders issued by Justice Claudette Singh as a consequence of her ruling on January 15, that the December 15, 1997 elections were null and void.

Stabroek News understands that Parliament could meet as early as Tuesday.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud, told this newspaper that the legislation to be circulated to the parliamentary parties, following the meeting of the Joint Management Committee (JMC) were those requested by the Elections Commission. These include: a constitutional amendment to allow the removal from the voters roll, names of persons who did not have their details verified during the claims and objections period; requiring the constitution to provide for the expansion of the National Assembly from 65 seats to 66, in the event that a party should win a seat in a regional constituency with a number of votes below the electoral quota for the allocation of a seat.

The JMC reviews and approves legislation dealing with amendments to the constitution as amended by the Constitution Reform Commission. The bills were to have been circulated yesterday, but when contacted Persaud said that they had not yet been sent out to all the parliamentary parties. He said he expected that they would have been dispatched later yesterday afternoon or today.

Oscar Clarke, general secretary of the PNC, said that the meeting agreed "on steps to try to complete presentation of the legislation by February 15, 2001 including legislation required by the Elections Commission as set out in their letter of January 15, 2001 to [Persaud]." He said he expected that the National Assembly would meet on Tuesday and Wednesday.

According to Clarke, the bills outstanding-among other things-related to the establishment of parliamentary sectoral committees, the Preamble to the Constitution, Local Government, the Economy, the Judicature, National Security, Finance and the establishment of a number of commissions including those on Indigenous Peoples, Women and Gender Equity, Rights of the Child and Public Procurement. These, according to Clarke, have all been agreed.

Meanwhile, in a battle of press releases, the PNC and the PPP/Civic each accused the other of delaying the tabling of the necessary legislation. According to the PPP/Civic, "since December 1, 2000 the PNC has withdrawn participation in the process of reviewing draft legislation, which has delayed the process."

The PNC responded that the JMC met on "1st, 5th, 8th and 12th of December and again in January 2001.

"What the PNC has refused to do is to collaborate in any way with an attempt to change drafted legislation to not mirror exactly what was approved by the Oversight Committee [OSC]."

According to the PNC, the draft which the PPP/Civic wanted to change is related to Article 223-the Office and Functions of the Auditor General-which provides for the Office of the Auditor General to report to the National Assembly.

The PNC release claimed that the "PPP/C has resolutely refused to respond to the PNC Reform's written and verbal urging:
- to sponsor a public education programme to facilitate the public being apprised in simple language of the constitutional amendments being made and the rationale therefor;
- establish a timetable for parliamentarians and the general public that would indicate what amendments are to be present when;
- circulate the agreed legislation to all parties represented in the National Assembly to give them a chance to study it, even though we know they have already agreed with the concepts contained therein; and
- finalise the administrative arrangements to cause the Ethnic Relations Commission to become functional."
The PPP/Civic release voiced concern that notwithstanding the scrutiny of the chief parliamentary counsel (CPC), bills sent by the JMC to the Assembly "attracted more amendments on the floor of the House even by the PNC."

It stressed that the need to have the CPC's stamp of approval for all bills going to parliament could not be over-emphasised.

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