Appointment of Chancellor, Chief Justice
Debate on problem proviso deferred
Hoyte urges Jagdeo to withdraw it
By Patrick Denny
June 8, 2001
Debate in Parliament on a controversial proviso on the naming of top
legal officers was deferred yesterday in the wake of a letter by PNC/R
leader Desmond Hoyte to President Bharrat Jagdeo saying it was a "grave
breach of faith and of trust".
He told reporters then that if the proviso was not withdrawn his
party would not support the bill that required a two?thirds majority
for all but two of its clauses to be enacted.
Consideration of the bill was deferred to allow for consultation on
the proposed amendment to Article 127.
The announcement came in the backdrop of chants by a small but noisy
band of PNC REFORM (PNC/R) protestors calling for the proviso included
in the amendment to be withdrawn.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud told the House
that consideration of the bill was being deferred to allow for
consultations with the PNC/R about the proviso included in the
Constitution (Amendment)(No.4) Bill.
Article 127 deals with the appointment of the Chancellor of the
Judiciary and the Chief Justice. The proposed amendment, recommended
by the Oversight Committee on constitutional reform and unanimously
approved by the Seventh Parliament, called for the appointments to be
made after the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition had been
obtained. However, the bill before the National Assembly includes a
proviso that would allow the President to make the appointments,
taking into account the views of the Leader of the Opposition, if
after two months there had been no agreement between the two.
PNC/R chairman, Robert Corbin, told a press conference convened
earlier in the day at the Congress Place headquarters of his party
that the proviso had been unilaterally included by the government
without consultation with his party.
The threat to withhold his party's support for the bill echoed the
request made by PNC/R leader Hoyte in a letter to President Jagdeo on
Wednesday that the provision be withdrawn. He cautioned that if it was
not, his party would not support the bill. In parliament yesterday,
Corbin had tabled a motion to have the issue discussed as a matter of
urgent public importance but withdrew it after he was informed by
Persaud that the bill was being deferred.
The PNC/R's opposition to the bill was based on what it said was an
undermining of the procedure sanctioned by the Constitution Reform
Commission, the Select Committee which considered the recommendation
and the Oversight Committee which approved the amendments that were
based on the recommendation.
That procedure required a consensual process for appointing the two
top officers of the Judiciary.
Corbin rejected the unilateral inclusion of the proviso saying that "it
is difficult to conceive of a grosser act of bad faith and deception
Corbin rejected the argument that the pool from which such
appointments could be made was small, stressing that if a person did
not enjoy the confidence of both sides the appointment should not go
Corbin also referred to the government's tardiness in bringing the
outstanding constitutional amendments to the National Assembly. This
was another issue which was raised by Hoyte in his letter to President
Asked for an explanation for the inclusion of the proviso, a
PPP/Civic parliament essayed the explanation that it was in accord
with the legal principle that the issue should not be unduly prolonged
in the public interest.
The parliamentarian told Stabroek News that a proper reading of the
proviso would show it did not allow the President to act unilaterally
if there was an opportunity that an agreement was possible.
But the PPP/C back?bencher said that the crux of the matter was the
distrust between the two parties, resulting in suspicion of everything
one side or the other did.
In his letter, circulated to the media, Hoyte recalled the process to
which the recommendation from the Constitution Reform Commission had
been subjected and the unanimous agreement reached that "the
Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall each be appointed by the
President acting after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the
Opposition" (Article 127).
That bill ? the Constitution (Amendment)(No.4) Bill 2001 ? was tabled
for its first reading on May 31, by the Minister of Parliamentary
Affairs to give effect to the aforementioned procedure.
"To our utter amazement, we observed that surreptitiously,
unilaterally and without any consultation, the government has tampered
with the relevant clause by inserting a proviso as follows: "Provided
that if there is no agreement within two months the President shall
make the appointment taking into consideration the views of the Leader
of the Opposition"."
Hoyte asserted that "this action is indefensible and constitutes
a grave breach of faith and of trust. My Party and I are therefore
deeply disappointed that the government has elected to proceed in this
manner. In the circumstances, I am requesting that the offending
proviso be withdrawn. Unless this is done, People's National Congress
REFORM will in duty bound be compelled to withhold support for the
Bill which comes up for debate tomorrow (yesterday)." Hoyte also
referred to the agreement which had been reached at his meeting with
Jagdeo on April 24, that "all pending Constitutional legislation
will be passed within one month of the convening of Parliament".
He pointed out that Parliament was convened on May 4, "but,
despite our strenuous efforts to have all the legislation tabled in
the National Assembly to achieve the deadline, this was not done."
He said that the government's action "threatens to undermine our
credibility and jeopardise the success of our ongoing talks".
Among the other amendments in the bill were amendments to raise the
age of retirement from 65 to 68 for judges of the Court of Appeal and
from 62 to 65 for the other judges; removing the power of the
President to extend the tenure of judges; calling on the State to
provide such pay and conditions of service that would remove the need
for judges to return to the Bar to practise after retirement; and
extending the definition of judicial misconduct to include the failure
to write decisions within a period specified by parliament.
Other amendments too address the securing of the independence of the
Office of the Auditor General by putting it under the general
supervision of the Public Accounts Committee.
Among the bills that were deferred were amendments to Article 197 to
include a reiteration of the duties of the Guyana Defence Force and
the Police Force and to provide for the establishment of a Disciplined
Forces Commission as necessary "to examine the composition and
structure of the disciplined forces to give effect to the need for the
composition of the disciplined forces to take account of the ethnic
constituents of the population."
Another bill, the Constitution (Amendment)(No 6) Bill included
amendments which would provide for the establishment of parliamentary
standing committees on natural resources, economic services, foreign
relations and social services. It also provides for the establishment
of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform to "continually
review the working of the Constitution with a view to making proposals