Proposed constitutional reforms would give greater control to parliament

Stabroek News
April 3, 2001

A Public Procurement Commission and bipartisan parliamentary committees, proposed in the reforms to the Constitution, are intended to ensure that the executive operates responsibly and transparently in its governance of the country.

At present, policy decisions, administration and the review of contracts are in the almost exclusive realm of the executive. The National Assembly has few powers to scrutinise government policy and administration. But both main parties have stated their enthusiasm to quickly pass the necessary amendments along with the subsequent laws, for the establishment of the relevant committees and commissions. Parliament would then acquire substantial controls over the executive.

The final report of the Oversight Committee on Constitutional Reform recommends that Article 119b of the new Constitution should now read:

"There shall be parliamentary sectoral committees established by the National Assembly with responsibility for the scrutiny of all areas of government policy and administration including:

natural resources; economic services; foreign relations and social services."

To ensure that opposition parties are equally represented on these committees: "The chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of each parliamentary sectoral committee shall be elected from the opposite sides of the National Assembly."

Public procurement

There have been many accusations of corrupt practices in the awarding of contracts and other purchases.

Crucial to the Parliament's new powers would be the establishment of a Public Procurement Commission, "the purpose of which is to monitor public procurement and the administration of public procedures in order to ensure that the procurement of goods, services and execution of works is conducted in a fair, equitable transparent competitive and cost effective manner according to the law and such policy guidelines as may be determined by the National Assembly."

This will include monitoring the performance of procurement bodies such as the Central Tender Board; recommending to the National Assembly any new legislation in relation to procurement; monitor and review the procurement operations of the ministerial, regional and national procurement entities as well as those of project execution units; investigate complaints from suppliers, contractors and public entities and propose remedial action; investigate cases of irregularity and mismanagement and refer matters to the police and Auditor General.

The commission has wide ranging authority to demand from any government ministry or department information for the purpose of investigation.

The commission "shall consist of five members appointed by the President after such members have been nominated by the Public Accounts Committee and approved by not less than two thirds of the elected members of the National Assembly." The chairperson and deputy chairperson shall be elected by the commission, which will also establish a secretariat comprising its officers and employees along with a chief executive officer.

Limiting presidential appointments

The four existing commissions - judicial, public service, teaching and police service - will also be more independent by taking away the president's exclusive powers to make appointments. Primarily, a parliamentary standing committee will be established to make limited appointments to the commissions:

In the case of the Judicial Service Commission, whose independence from the executive has in the past been questioned, the President will continue to appoint the chancellor as chairman along with the chief justice and the chairman of the Public Service Commission, only "after meaningful consultation with the leader of the opposition" as opposed to just "consultation."

The next member must have held office as a judge and will be appointed in the same manner.

But the remaining one or two members - non practicing attorneys - will be appointed by the National Assembly after "meaningful consultation with such bodies as appear to it to represent attorneys-at-law in Guyana."

The Public Service Commission consists of six persons - three members appointed by the president after the same meaningful consultations with the opposition leader - and two members appointed by the president upon nomination by the National Assembly after it has consulted such bodies as appear to it to represent public officers or classes of public officers. The sixth member will be appointed by the president "acting in accordance with his own deliberate judgement."

The Teaching Service Commission would now have seven members instead of six. The president will appoint one member nominated by the Guyana Teachers Association, another three after meaningful consultation with the leader of the opposition; and two persons nominated for appointment by the minister assigned responsibility for local government after that minister has consulted with local democratic organs or bodies. "The chairperson and deputy chairperson of the commission shall be selected by and from the members of the commission using such consensual mechanism as the commission deems fit."

With the Police Service Commission, the chairman is appointed by the President after meaningful consultation with the opposition leader. The chairman of the Public Service Commission is automatically on the board. Four members - as opposed to the previous one - are appointed by the president upon nomination by the National Assembly after it has consulted such bodies as appear to it to represent the majority of the members of the Police Force; and another three appointed by the president after the same meaningful consultation.

Any presidential appointment of the commissioner or deputy commissioner of police must be preceded by meaningful consultation with the leader of the opposition. Previously, the president had only to consult the Police Service Commission.