Composition of parliamentary committees still unresolved
February 23, 2003
Despite agreeing to the two proposals calling for the establishment of the parliamentary management committee and the implementation of the agreed constitutional reforms there have been no new proposals to break the impasse that has prevented them from being put in place.
Stabroek News understands that the government indicated its support for two of the resolutions in the motion brought by PNCR leader Robert Corbin, during the back-room negotiations on Wednesday while the ten-hour parliamentary debate was underway.
The government has reportedly asked the representatives of President Jagdeo and Corbin to work out the arrangements for breaking the impasse over the parliamentary management committee and the sectoral committees.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Reepu Daman Persaud is President Jagdeo’s representative and the PNCR has chosen Parliamentary Chief Whip Lance Carberry.
They have met once since Corbin accepted President Jagdeo’s invitation to discussions. It was expected that the representatives would have met again last week but that meeting is now more likely to take place this week.
The government and the opposition parties have agreed on the wording for the motion setting up the committee and detailing its functions. What they are yet to agree on is how the committee will be composed. At a press conference on Thursday at the Office of the President, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Reepu Daman Persaud restated the government’s proposal, which is that it should have six members, one of whom will chair and the combined opposition would have five members. The position of the opposition parties is that they should have the same number of seats on the committee as the government and that the Speaker of the National Assembly should chair the committee. By convention the party with the largest block of seats in National Assembly nominates the Speaker who is then elected because of its majority.
However, the government points out too that the Standing Orders provide that parliamentary committees should reflect the composition of the National Assembly.
On the agreed constitutional reforms as they relate to the establishment of the parliamentary sectoral committees which would review government policies in the natural resources, economic services, social services and foreign affairs sectors the impasse is again over their composition.
There is agreement on their composition and function and how they should be chaired. What is at issue is whether government ministers should sit on them. The opposition parties say the concept of Cabinet responsibility precludes ministers from chairing or being a member of the committees.
A hint of the government’s position was given by Minister of Agriculture Navin Chandarpal during his contribution to the debate on Corbin’s motion. He said that since one of the functions of the sector committees is to give guidance to the sectors then the Ministers should form part of the membership of those committees.
During the dialogue process with the late PNCR leader Desmond Hoyte, President Jagdeo had proposed that in return for leaving the ministers off the committees the PNCR should support an amendment to the constitution to allow for more technocrat ministers to be appointed. The constitution provides for no more than four technocrat ministers. So far the government has only appointed three technocrat ministers.
They are the Attorney General, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism Manzoor Nadir, who unlike his other two colleagues is an elected member for The United Force and is allowed to vote in the National Assembly.
There is agreement on the Ethnic Relations Commission, which should have been set up by December 31, 2000. The nominees of the groups to be represented save that for the Trades Union Movement have been submitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly. The constitution however requires the Commissions for Indigenous Peoples, Women and Gender Equality, the Rights of the Child and Human Rights to be represented on the Ethnic Relations Commission but the arrangements for setting up these commissions are yet to be concluded.
Establishment of these commissions requires that the various secretariats to service them be set up and that they be equipped with the relevant human and material resources to function effectively. Similar arrangements too would be necessary to support the work of the sector committees.
Besides these there are the Service Commissions - Police, Judicial, Teaching and Public Service - which the impasse has prevented from being established as a result of the PNCR’s boycott of the work of the National Assembly.
Parliament, through the appointive committee, has to consult with the interest groups to be represented on these bodies. The appointive committee, established by recent amendments to the constitution, is yet to be constituted.