The National Assembly yesterday approved a number of measures to give effect to two of the agreements reached between President Bharrat Jagdeo and PNCR leader Robert Corbin earlier this month.
Among them was a bill which amends Article 197 A of the Constitution to widen the scope of inquiries which could be conducted by Disciplined Forces commissions to include matters of public order, public safety and public welfare as well as matters relating to the defence and security of the nation.
Today, the Assembly will meet to consider a motion setting out the terms of reference for the Disciplined Forces Commission to inquire into the operations of the Disciplined Services with emphasis being given to the inquiry into the Police Force.
The motion calls for the Commission to submit an interim report on its findings and recommendations on the Police Force to the National Assembly within three months.
The Assembly delayed consideration of this motion so as to allow Article 197 A to be amended first.
When it commenced its sitting almost a full hour after its scheduled 2 pm start, the Assembly approved by a 46-0 margin the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2003 that was piloted through its Second and Third Readings by Attorney-General Doodnauth Singh following the suspension of Standing Order 46(3) on a motion moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud.
Apologising for the delay, the Speaker attributed it to the slew of measures generated by the May 6 communiqué signed by Jagdeo and Corbin and to a blackout which had affected the work of the Parliament Office in getting the motions printed.
When he introduced the bill, the Attorney-General said the amendment to the Constitution was being tabled with the agreement of the parliamentary opposition and was required by articles 66 and 164 of the Constitution.
The amendment, he explained, would allow the Disciplined Forces Commis-sion to be set up to call and examine witnesses and exercise all the authority of a commission appointed under the Commission of Inquiry Act.
Supporting the bill, PNCR front-bencher Winston Murray recalled that for some time now the PNCR had been urging the government to mount an inquiry into the operations of the Police Force under the Commission of Inquiry Act but was persuaded that the inquiry could be accommodated by the amendment to Article 197 A.
He said that both the PNCR during its administration, and the present administration, had grappled with the issue of the composition of the defence and security forces and the PNCR was happy to support such an inquiry conducted by a properly constituted body. The ethnic make-up of the forces is one of the issues to be looked at.
GAP/WPA parliamentarian Sheila Holder, who also supported the legislation, said that the amendment addressed areas of major public concern and that the bill had become necessary because of the government’s hesitancy to single-handedly grapple with the intrinsic problems plaguing the Police Force.
She asserted that if the President had before now invoked the Commission of Inquiry Act as the parliamentary opposition had been advocating, remedial action could have already been taken to arrest the decline of the Police Force.
The delay in taking action, she said, allowed the problems to worsen, public confidence in the Police to erode and questionable methods of policing to be introduced.
ROAR parliamentarian Ravi Dev also supported the bill and echoed the Attorney-General’s view that with expansion of the scope of its powers the Disciplined Forces Commission would be able to address the problems facing the country today.
One of the other measures approved yesterday was a motion moved by Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy and seconded by PNCR Chief Whip, Lance Carberry, setting out the consensual mechanisms for the nomination of members of the various Rights Commission by entities named in the legislation that established the Women and Gender Equality Commission, the Rights of the Child Commission and the Indigenous Peoples Commission.
The other was a motion also moved by Ramsammy and seconded by PNCR frontbencher, Deryck Bernard, establishing the sectoral committees on natural resources, economic services, foreign relations and social services and the responsibilities of the various ministries that they would scrutinise and review.