Improving parliamentary procedure

Stabroek News
August 18, 1998

Steps to improve proceedings in parliament will be one of the issues to be discussed in the dialogue between the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and the People's National Congress (PNC). The St. Lucia Statement specifically recorded that the government would explore in consultation with all the parties in the National Assembly the establishment of a Parliamentary Management Committee for the better organisation and functioning of parliament. This would take the business of parliament outside the traditional exclusive control of the government and put it in the hands of a joint committee. There is already precedent for this in several parliamentary democracies including some in this region and this single measure will lead to the solution of other grievances including the fixing of members motions. It is a good step and one anticipates all the parties will support it.

There has already been an improvement. The leader of government business in parliament, Mr Reepu Daman Persaud, has on more than one occasion shown a willingness to consult the opposition on various matters in advance and even to adjourn if more time is requested. Recently, the government responded promptly to a large number of questions tabled by PNC M.Ps on such diverse topics as the Linden Development Authority, the Guyana/Suriname ferry service, the position of minority shareholders in Seals and Packaging Limited, vacancies in the Attorney General's chambers, government's plans for the bauxite industry and supernumerary constables. It was an impressive performance and in keeping with the levels of accountability expected in a functioning democracy. Government ministers must be ready and willing to answer questions about matters within their portfolios. This helps the public, the voters, to judge if they are doing their job and doing it competently. It is the essence of democracy that ministers and government as a whole give an account of their stewardship. Given the quick response achieved in this matter the PNC and members of the other opposition parties can be encouraged to raise questions about other specific matters that may be bothering them such as the award of particular state contracts or alleged discrimination in the allocation of land. Ideally, these issues should be raised in parliament, the key forum in a democracy.

It must be hoped that the parties will proceed rapidly to agree on a joint management committee as part of other steps to improve parliamentary procedure and as part of the broader dialogue on constitutional reform and other issues.