PNC walks out of meeting

Stabroek News
October 14, 1999

Representatives of the PNC walked out of yesterday's meeting of the Special Select Committee on Constitution Reform. This followed a statement by PPP/Civic representative, Bernard DeSantos, to the effect that frequent comments by PNC representative, Lance Carberry, about the committee's ability to meet its deadline, were contributing to the deadline not being met.

In the absence of the PNC, the committee continued its consideration of the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission on the parliament and the judiciary. These were consensus recommendations by the commission and were considered by the committee to be non-contentious.

However, the committee agreed that its decisions on these recommendations would be subject to review at its next meeting if the PNC representatives returned.

Carberry and Deborah Backer, two of the three PNC representatives on the committee, walked out after the remarks by DeSantos, one of the six PPP/Civic representatives. Raphael Trotman, the third PNC representative on the committee, was absent at the time but he too left when informed that his colleagues had walked out.

DeSantos had observed, in commenting on Carberry's raising of repeated concerns he had been voicing for several meetings about the committee's ability to complete its work on time, that the frequency of the complaint was not advancing the work of the committee.

Carberry had earlier pointed out to the committee that the PNC had repeatedly raised concerns about the capacity of its secretariat to support the committee's work and the committee's failure to adopt a project-oriented approach to its work. He said too that the failure to adopt such an approach would result in it having to complete its work in the same haphazard manner as the commission. DeSantos also objected to the description of the commission's work as haphazard.

When the Select Committee considered the recommendations on the parliament, the members present--six from the PPP/Civic and the lone one from the Alliance for Guyana (AFG)--agreed with the recommendations that there should be four sector standing committees of the national committees viz, Natural Resources, Economic Services, Foreign Relations and Social Services.

They also agreed with the recommendation that the chairperson and deputy chairperson should could come from opposite sides of the House. However, they were not entirely at one with a proposal from Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, the AFG representative, that the ministers of the relevant ministries should either chair or be a member of the committees, given their responsibility for the scrutiny of all areas of government policy and administration.

But they agreed that the committees should work closely with the ministers in helping to formulate policies and generally ensure the proper working of their ministries for the benefit of the people.

The committee referred the issue of an upper chamber to the National Assembly, deciding that it was an issue which needed a wider discussion than it could provide.

On the recommendations on the judiciary, the members agreed that it should be independent and free from executive control and that the appointment of the judges should be removed, as far as possible, from all political control.

They agreed, as a consequence, with the recommendation that the judiciary should be administratively autonomous and that its funding should be by a block vote from the Consolidated Fund. However, they stressed that there was need for this block vote to be administered in accordance with sound financial and administrative management according to rules and regulations approved by the National Assembly.

Among the other recommendations approved by the committee was that which called for the definition of misbehaviour for the purpose of Article 197(3) to include the failure of judges to persistently perform, in a timely manner, the functions of their office.

DeSantos had explained to the committee that civil litigants had suffered unjustly by the failure of judges to perform their duties in a timely manner.

The committee also approved the recommendation calling for the appointment part-time judges and accepted DeSantos' suggestion that judges who had retired but were still intellectually alert should be included.

It also approved that the recommendation calling for the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to be empowered to appoint the registrar, assistant registrar and the other professional officers of the Supreme Court.

DeSantos also successful argued that the appointment of judges should be subject to Article 111(2) which would allow the President to refer back to the JSC any advice it tendered to him giving his reason for doing so. He had explained that there were cases which would warrant such review, even though he felt that an executive President should not be vested with authority to turn back a decision of the JSC.

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