Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly Bill 20122142 17 Dec, 2012
Mrs. Lawrence: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Before I proceed may I thank you for your ruling. This particular Bill is requested to go to a special select committee. Within that committee, I know we will be able to deal with any issues which may presently lie in the Bill that will cause any conflict with our Constitution. Despite that, it is my belief the timing of the second reading of this Bill, entitled Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly Bill 2012, Bill No. 8 of 2012, is most appropriate. The headlines of several newspapers and television newscasts have all alerted the Nation to a predicted head-on collision between the Government and the Opposition. Additionally Sir, your warning to the Office of The President in relation to the President’s threat of not assenting to bills passed by this esteemed body…
Mr. Speaker: One second Mrs. Lawrence. I never warned; I cautioned that we ought to avoid a constitutional crisis. I would not in any way indulge in warnings to the Office of the President or any other constitutional office holder.
Mrs. Lawrence: Thank you, Sir. It was described by the Stabroek News of Saturday 20th October, 2012 as, and I quote, “A further sign of tension between the two branches of Government”.
This Bill No. 8 of 2012 must be placed in proper perspective. It has its origin not in the report of Sir Michael Davies but from agreements made by the major political parties in Guyana since 1997, by subsequent constitutional reforms passed in this Hon. House, and by decisions made and recorded in the 6th May, 2003 Communiqué between the then President Jagdeo and then Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Robert Corbin, as well as their follow-up meeting on 18th July, 2003. It was as a result of consensus that this Parliament be reformed to reflect the spirit and intention of our Constitution, that this Parliament requested the assistance of the Commonwealth Secretariat. It was our request that resulted in the engagement of Sir Michael Davies, Senior Parliamentary Staff Advisor, by the Commonwealth Secretary General, to carry on an assessment of the needs of the Guyana National Assembly. The Report of Sir Michael Davies which followed that engagement presented many recommendations for the improvement of the functioning of this National Assembly of this Parliament, including reinstating its independence and restoring its constitutional role as one of the three arms of the State and not an appendage of the Office of the President. It is obvious that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and more particularly the Office of The President, determined to maintain their unconstitutional domain of the legislature, conspired with the PPP legislators to ensure that a Guinness Book record of gestation was established in giving birth to a newly reformed National Assembly through the implementation of some of the recommendations of the Davies Report.
Mr. Speaker, human beings have a gestation period of nine months from conception. I am advised also that elephants have a period of 22 months. I am not aware of any longer gestation period, but even if there were longer periods I am sure that there is none that lasts for fifteen years. Even if we take the 6th May Communiqué as the time of conception we are talking about nine years. If we want to be generous and take the conception as the date the recommendations were presented to this Parliament in 2003 that will still make a gestation period of nine years. Perhaps, the PPP in their quest for claiming records during their 20 years of Government may want to add this to their achievements. These recommendations were endorsed by the previous PPP nominated Speaker of this House, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran, who had urged speedy implementation. Additionally, the Davies Report was endorsed by this entire National Assembly, except for some minor objections by the PPP. What, therefore, is responsible for the prolonged delay in implementing many of its recommendations, including the one that this Bill is attempting to implement? I have already given the answer. I believe that it was a conspiracy. However, the saying goes, ‘better late than never.’ Perhaps the passage of this Bill will help to prevent the head-on collision that the media has predicted. And, perhaps, it would be the first test as to whether The President would hold good on his declared intention of not assenting to bills passed in this House. Time will tell, and the people of Guyana will be the judges.
I am of the opinion, and I am sure it is obvious to all thinking Guyanese, that if the recommendations provided in this Report received the attention which it ought to have, we would not be experiencing some of the challenges we are presently experiencing. I need to re -emphasise to this Hon. House that the Michael Davies Assessment Report and Recommendations were not foisted on us by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. Rather, they are recommendations unanimously agreed by all in this House after prolonged discussion, negotiation and agreement. Today, however, we have an opportunity once again to change the present counterproductive and unconstitutional path we are currently on. We can endorse one of the recommendations of the assessment of the needs of the Guyana National Assembly by Sir Davies by supporting this Bill No. 8 of 2012 and sending it to a special select committee.
Our Constitution endorses the universal doctrine of the separation of powers and contemplates a clear separation between Parliament and The Executive. This Bill No. 8 of 2012 seeks to give Parliament, through the Office of the Clerk, the authority to manage and administer its affairs without being under the external direction from The Executive as presently exists. Sir Michael Davies on page 18, paragraph 61 stated, and I quote:
“I paid a great deal of attention to the question of human resources which are inevitably the making or breaking of an efficient institution. I learned that the Clerk of the National Assembly has no power to appoint, dismiss or promote the staff who works for the Assembly.”
On the other hand, the crafters of our Constitution envisage that the Assembly should have independent staffing. Paragraph 2 of Article 201 states, and I quote:
“The Public Service Commission may, by directions in writing, subject to such conditions as it thinks fit, delegate any of its powers, or, in relation to any office on the staff of the Clerk of the National Assembly, to the Clerk.”
One does not have to be a legal expert to conclude that the drafters intended to provide for the separation of the parliamentary office staff from all other Government bodies under the Public Service Commission and make it independent. If there is any doubt about my interpretation paragraph 5 of the said Article 201 makes it very clear that before the Public Service Commission, or any Member thereof, exercises any of its powers in relation to any office on the staff of the Clerk of the National Assembly or any person holding or acting in such an office the Commission or that Member shall consult the Clerk.
It is obvious that even without this Bill it is unconstitutional for the Public Service Commission to act in relation to any staff of Parliament without consultation with the Clerk. This Bill is, therefore, merely seeking to regularise our constitutional provisions.
Mr. Speaker, the Davies Report documents many breaches which occur in respect of the aforementioned. Hence this Bill seeks to endorse the confidence shown in the Clerk of the National Assembly by the crafters of our Constitution, and those Members of this House who gave safe passage to our Constitution in its present form, by endorsing the Clerk of the National Assembly as the employer of the staff of the National Assembly. The Report also highlighted that a big difference exists between the institution of Parliament and the Government Department which demands different treatment. This is as a result of the constitutional relationship which should exist between the Executive and the Legislature. This difference is recognised in several Commonwealth Parliaments, for instance, India, Belize, Canada the US and the United Kingdom to name a few.
Mr. Speaker: Mrs. Lawrence, you said several Commonwealth Parliaments and then you included the United States (US). You will have to exclude them from that.
Mrs. Lawrence: Oh, yes. During April of this year the Trinidad and Tobago Government saw it fit to invite the Commonwealth Secretariat to provide a needs-assessment of their Parliament with emphasis on the present staffing procedures. Studies have shown that the effectiveness of parliaments is important to the efficient working of the democratic process of lawmaking, oversight of the Executive, financial control, et cetera. Where Parliaments lack capacity through limited resources, or inefficient expert staff, to support members across parliament’s whole range of work, it inevitably affects the balance of power with the Executive.
Pages 18 to 20 of Sir Davies Report outline the many unhealthy issues which presently exist regarding staffing. Hence, his recommendation that the Clerk of the National Assembly should become the employer of the staff of the Assembly and have complete control over all aspects of their employment. His arguments for building of a parliamentary cadre must be welcome by those who have served in this House for a long period and have had the experience and disappointment of losing a staff member who had acquired intimate knowledge of the work of a committee. Such Members would certainly endorse Sir Davies’ recommendations.
In concluding, we have had agencies delinked from the Public Service. For example, we have had the entire Ministry of Agriculture delinked from the Public Service and had appointment and discipline shifted from the Public Service Commission to a board largely appointed by the Minister. Consequently, the recommendation for the parliamentary staff to be treated likewise is not unchartered waters for us in Guyana. What is needed is the political will. The question is do we have it. [Mr. Nadir: You never had it] Sir, may I remind the Hon. Member that there are some things about Guyana, especially our history, even though those documents were destroyed - one cannot find it on Google but - there are other people in Guyana who saw it fit to keep those documents. So I ask that this Bill of 2012 titled, The Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly, Bill No. 8 of 2012 be sent to a select committee for further consideration, and that the committee submit its recommendations to this House. I beg that this committee do not create another Guinness record in implementing this legislation; that the Clerk of the National Assembly becomes the employer of the employees of the National Assembly.
Thank you, Sir. [Applause]
Mrs. Lawrence (replying): Yes, Mr. Speaker, I ask that this bill standing in the name of the Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly Bill, Bill No. 8 of 2012, be sent to a Special Select Committee. Thank you, Sir.
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