Guyana is embarking on an experiment in new forms of governance. Taken together, they will give opposition parties a greater and more meaningful role in the legislative and executive process.
Last week, the Appointive Committee was convened. Chairpersons and deputy chairpersons were elected to some of the sectoral committees which are destined to play a substantial role in the business of parliament. The four committees cover natural resources, foreign relations, social services and economic services. These committees will, if their powers are similar to those of their counterparts elsewhere, have among other things the right to hold public hearings on matters within their portfolios at which persons can give evidence and reports can be made. There is at this moment, for example, in the United Kingdom a parliamentary committee enquiring into the government’s reasons for participating in the war against Iraq and two former government ministers, Robin Cook and Clare Short, have given evidence. The scope of these committees for reviewing government’s actions represents a substantial innovation.
The Parliamentary Management Committee also met and has appointed a chairperson. Their precise powers are still to be defined but the anticipation is that this committee will seek to ensure that the business of parliament is carried out expeditiously and efficiently and that time is set aside for members’ questions. This committee may also, one assumes, offer guidance on what laws should be referred to select committees for discussion.
It is also worthy of note that two of the bi-partisan committees that had emerged as a result of the dialogue between President Bharrat Jagdeo and then Leader of the Opposition Desmond Hoyte have been reinstated and have been meeting. The Depressed Community Needs Committees is to provide a report of its programme and the Local Government Reform Committee which had held a number of public consultations is also to submit a report with recommendations. Efforts are being made to finalise the composition of the Disciplined Forces Commission which is scheduled to carry out an investigation into the operations of the police force.
In addition to this, persons have been named to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) which is empowered to investigate complaints of discrimination. Other commissions are to be set up including one on Children’s Rights and one on Indigenous People. It will help if the ERC can start functioning as soon as possible to provide some impetus for the others.
The doubt in the minds of some critics is that given the recognised problems of limited human resources these new bodies may not function as well as one might like them to. But that is a problem that affects every institution in the country, from Parliament to the courts of law. It has to be factored into the equation. Ultimately that may be one reason for not having too many more commissions.
There can be no doubt that whatever the limitations all these developments represent in principle a broader representation in the framework of government, a devolution of power. They constitute a major step in the direction of more inclusive governance. They may not satisfy the demands of those who believe that executive power-sharing is the only answer, but they break new ground and can give the major political players a lot of valuable experience of working together in the various committees and getting a clearer insight into the problems of government, especially with a depleted public service.
These reforms are to be welcomed and hold out the hope for more transparent government. Work remains to be done in defining the powers of the sectoral committees and the parliamentary management committee and to ensure that the necessary administrative and other facilities are put in place. A start has been made, however, despite the setback with the procurement law. What is needed now is implementation and the gradual development of a political culture for these new inclusive institutions.