A step forward
February 18, 2003
The National Assembly will be convened tomorrow on the initiative of the main opposition party after a boycott by that party of almost one year. It could be a major step forward depending on what takes place.
Several issues have been raised by the leader of the People’s National Congress (PNCR), Mr. Robert Corbin, in his letter last week to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran S.C., which he seeks to debate in a motion. These include the electricity crisis, the establishment of the parliamentary management committee and the implementation of the other agreed constitutional reforms, and the implementation of all decisions made in the Hoyte/Jagdeo dialogue process. He also seeks to move the assembly to establish a select committee to mount a public enquiry into the functioning of the police force, and to set up an emergency fund and rescue programme, managed with the involvement of the opposition parties, to address the plight of the unemployed and particularly the unemployed youth in many villages. Finally, the motion calls for the government to end its opposition to arbitration as a means of settling disputes in the public sector and to engage the public service in proper wages and salaries negotiations.
The Standing Orders of the National Assembly give private members’ business precedence on Wednesdays and allow the Assembly to be convened during an adjournment if the Speaker is told by the government that the public interest so requires or is himself of that opinion. Standing Order 23(2) provides for a 14-day period before a Private Member’s motion is placed on the Order Paper but this time-requirement can be overcome if the Standing Orders are suspended to allow the debate on the motion. The government’s reaction to Mr. Corbin’s letter has been positive and so the stage seems set for the debate to commence. This is a very wide-ranging motion and many of these issues require some level of discussion to see if a compromise can be reached. One suspects, therefore, that if the Standing Orders are suspended and the Speaker allows the debate on the motion to begin immediately, after a few speakers on both sides have had their say on the various issues the Speaker will adjourn the debate for a short period, perhaps to next week Wednesday, to provide the parties with the opportunity to discuss the issues involved.
As regards the composition of the various parliamentary committees, one must hope that a compromise formula can be found after the long delay. If that is achieved, these new features have the capacity to rejuvenate parliament and to make it a more effective instrument in the search for inclusive governance by involving opposition members both in the management of the business of parliament and in holding hearings on proposed legislation and other matters.
Several of the other issues in the motion provide an opportunity for creative responses. For example, in keeping with the President’s own recent proposals that the opposition appoint shadow cabinet ministers who could liaise with their government counterparts, the opposition could appoint such ‘shadow’ ministers to deal with the relevant ministers on the electricity issue, the setting up of an emergency fund and the labour question. Those ‘shadow’ ministers could be fully briefed and could also make suggestions and inputs.
What we have here at the very least is evidence of a willingness by the PNC/R to re-enter the normal political process and restore some level of normality. The government’s initial reaction has been positive and with goodwill on both sides this could be the beginning of a process that could give citizens some hope again after the dreadful times they have endured for so long.