Legislation passed for constitutional tribunals By Johann Earle
Stabroek News
May 14, 2004

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Parliament yesterday passed almost identical pieces of legislation to establish tribunals to hear appeals to decisions handed down by the Public Procurement Commission and the various human rights commissions.

The Public Procurement Commission Tribunal Bill (No.2/2004) and the Rights Commission Tribunal Bill (No.3/2004) were first presented in the National Assembly on March 15 by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Reepu Daman Persaud.

They make provision for the constitution of the two tribunals, their powers and procedures and matters relating to appeals from decisions of the commissions, including an appeal to the High Court.

Persons with grievances concerning decisions made by the public procurement commission and the gender, children and indigenous commissions can approach the tribunals if not satisfied.

According to the two pieces of legislation, an appeal could be made to the tribunals from any decision by the commissions.

The Public Procurement Commission Tribunal Bill seeks to give effect to Article 212 AA of the Constitution and the Rights Commission Tribunal Bill to Article 212 K of the Constitution.

The bills were passed after the National Assembly resolved itself into committee to consider them clause by clause.

They were then passed with minor amendments after being read a third time. The PNCR MPs were absent for yesterday's sitting.

In putting forward the two bills for their second reading Persaud said that the legislation emerged from the Constitutional Reform Process. He added that most of the measures would take some time before their full impact could be felt. "It is up to us to make them work."

He said that when the measures in the bill are examined, one finds that they adequately provide for justice to be done and the ordinary man was taken into account when the bills were being drafted.

Sheila Holder, an MP for GAP/WPA, said that the Public Procurement Commis-sion Tribunal Act fulfils the constitutional requirement. According to Holder, she hopes that in one year's time progress would have been made.

Leader of Rise, Organise and Rebuild Guyana (ROAR) Ravi Dev, in rising to support the bills voiced the concern that while the government makes rules, on the establishment of the organisation to govern those rules, persons are chosen not because of the qualifications but because of the loyalty to the governing party. He said that he hopes the government accepts the most qualified persons for the positions on the tribunals who will serve not only the government of the day but will take the whole country forward. "If we are serious about making changes we have to put our money where our mouth is."

Clause 8 of the bills states that aggrieved persons can bring their appeals to the tribunals within thirty days from the date that they receive a decision.

But notwithstanding this, the bench of the tribunals may entertain an appeal after the expiry of the thirty days "if [they] were satisfied that there was reasonable cause for the delay."

Clause 3 of each bill states that the tribunal would consist of a chairperson to be appointed by the President who shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and shall be a person who holds or has held the office of a Judge of the Court of Appeal; or is qualified to be appointed as a Judge of the Court of Appeal or holds or has held the office of a Judge in the High Court; or is qualified to be appointed as a Judge in the High Court; or is a fit and proper person with experience in procurement, legal, financial and administrative matters in the case of the Public Procure-ment Commission Tribunal Bill and a person with experience in Human Rights matters for the Rights Commission Tribunal Bill.

Further, the president will appoint two members to each of the tribunals who will act in accordance with the advice of the Public Service Commission from among four persons qualified in matters relating to human rights, or in procurement, legal, financial and administrative matters, as the case may be.

According to the bills the bench of the tribunals "shall have the power of a Judge of the High Court to summon witnesses, and to call for the production of books, plans and other documents, and to examine witnesses and parties concerned on oath." The bills state also that every person summoned to attend and give evidence or to produce documents "shall be bound to obey the summons served upon him as fully in all respects as a witness is expected to obey a subpoena issued by the High Court, and shall be entitled to like expenses as if he had been summoned to attend the High Court on a civil trial and such expenses shall be paid by the party summoning the witness."

Persons not heeding the summons or leaving the sitting without permission, or refusing without sufficient cause to answer will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment of six months. This also applies to persons who wilfully insult any member of the tribunals or interrupt the proceedings.

The bills said that the members of the tribunals "shall be appointed by instrument in writing for a period of three years".

If a person is a member of the Public Procurement Commission, the Ethnic Relations Commission or any of the Rights Commissions, that person is disqualified to be a member of the two tribunals.

Though the bills for the tribunals were passed some of the commissions they relate to are still to be set up. Notable among these is the Public Procurement Commission which has been the subject of a long-running dispute between the two major political parties.

Before the passage of the two bills yesterday, the Minister of Fisheries, Other Crops and Livestock Satyadeow Sawh presented the Drainage and Irrigation Bill which seeks to provide for the establishment of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority for ensuring that water resources are located, evaluated, conserved and utilised for the greatest national advantage.