The Fiscal Management and Accountability Act1145 14 Jun, 2012
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, I have studied Mr. Greenidge’s motion, I have read it over and over again, and I have listened to the debate carefully in terms of the presentations. One particular clause in the motion states:
“WHEREAS the continued maintenance of the aforesaid Service Commissions in the schedule of the budget agencies seriously compromises their independence in the discharge of their functions,”
Not one speaker of this House that stood to defend this motion has in anyway stated in what way the service commissions are compromised in the discharge of their functions by their being listed in the schedule as budget agencies. As you can see from the Prime Minister’s amendment to the motion, we take seriously the discussions held at the inter-parliamentary political party dialogue, what is sometimes called in the press the tri-partite dialogue.
But as you may know, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure Members of the House also, one of the issues raised by the Opposition had to deal with constitutional bodies including the service commissions. During the discussions on Sunday 22nd April at which Mr. Granger, Dr. Roopnarine, Mr. Greenidge, Mr. Harmon and Mr. Carberry were present - I would forgive Mr. Ramjattan as he was not present for the AFC – we, the government, had explained that these matters required constitutional amendments, and that constitutional amendments were not majority decisions but, in fact, two-thirds majority. And, therefore, these matters would require consensus in the House or some agreement before we went in this direction. The Government offered that these matters should go to the parliamentary Constitution Reform Committee (CRC) which is headed by no other person than Mr. Granger, Leader of the Opposition. I am not aware that a meeting has been convened by the CRC; it could be because I am not a member. But to try to say, as did Dr. Roopnarine, that the Prime Minister could have brought a bill here while we had made an agreement as a group of parties that we were going to take a particular course, and Mr. Greenidge’s motion actually predates that decision – his was 5th April and the meeting was 22nd April. Certainly, having that understanding there was no nay, no negative in the discussion, nobody saying, ‘no, we do not agree with that’. There was that silence, and sometimes one believes in meetings that silence, a smile, a nod, a shake hand, is a non-verbal way of communicating or saying one has no objection. This motion, despite all I just mentioned comes on the floor and, therefore, takes over what was an understanding, if not an agreement, at the meetings on 22nd April, during the budget talks. But this motion attempts to deal with an issue that is a constitutional matter.
The Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) deals with the bodies described as budget agencies and states that it includes the Police, Public, and Teaching Service Commissions. The whole argument is that we need to discuss impartially. What do we mean by autonomy, independence and impartiality? What do these words mean? In the Constitution reform process, a number of Members in this House, in particular Dr. Roopnarine and Mr. Nagamootoo, were Members of that Commission. I sat on the Human Rights Task Force and not on the oversight body or anything like that. But the focus on how one gets independence of the service commissions, for example, was the challenge in the appointment, because previously the service commissions were appointed basically by the President and, therefore, they were thought to be the President’s men. The model that was designed in the Constitution Reform Process; the model that was adopted by this House in the Eight Parliament, which has become part of the constitutional provisions, tried to find a formula that would make sure there was transparency in the way in which the service commissions were created. So the first aspect to do with impartiality, that the persons who were selected were persons who had gone through a process, this Parliament went further in the Constitution by creating a resolution that had a consensually agreed mechanism of how the process would take place in the Committee of Appointment for commissions. It put teeth or substance into the constitutional model that was being proposed. So the mandate of the Constitution on the service commissions focused on the National Assembly’s parliamentary committee, a special committee named in the Constitution that would say to the President, “here are the nominees to the service commission, including the rights commissions”.
Second, it included the model where the Leader of the Opposition and the President had to agree on a name. The examples are in the Judicial Service Commission, Article 198(2)(a), meaningful consultation; Article 200(1)(a), also meaningful consultation, and Article210(1)(a) also dealing with the three service commissions. They all talk about meaningful consultation. There is only one commission where the President has a nominee in addition to. In fact, in the Police Service Commission the President has no nominee in his own right, although in the Oversight Committee documents it shows that that exact model for the Judicial, Public, and Police Commissions was to be replicated between the three commissions. In fact, in the drafting and bringing the matters to Parliament for adoption the nominee of the President was omitted. In the Police Service Commission, which for any government is a sensitive body the President, and by extension the Government, has no nominee. The Teaching Service Commission was never included under the service commissions that are in the constitutional articles in terms of the appointment by the Committee of Appointment. The Teaching Service Commission was completely separate. The Leader of the Opposition and the President would sit down and agree to “x” number of names, and names would come from the trade union body, etcetera. That is how it is done. The first emphasis was how to get an assurance that the hand of the Executive, in the selection of the members, was taken out. That has been done and upheld from 2003 to now.
Furthermore, another component was built in, that the Committee of Appointment had to consult civil society on the nominees that came to the Committee of Appointment. So for those who never sat on the Committee of Appointment - Deputy Speaker, Mrs. Backer, is not here; but Mrs. Holder, rest her soul, was an active Member in that body - we had to come to the Parliament with a list of entities we were going to consult on the Public Service Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, and the Police Service Commission. This House said, “Yes, go ahead and consult those entities”. Those entities then submitted their names and the Committee when there was more than the amount of names required, in terms of what the Constitution advised us we could name, we then sometimes made agreements or voted. Those matters came to the House. So the one leg or pillar to do with independence, autonomy, impartiality, fairness, comes from the process of the selection.
Secondly, there has never been, as far as I know, a complaint by the service commissions that they are being denied money; denied what they want and so forth.
Thirdly, I have listened to the speakers, in the Oversight Committee Report of 2000, page 40-45, section 9.1.32(2) it states an interesting thing, that with particular reference to commissions of a protective nature as opposed to those of an appointive nature, for example, the Judicial Service Commissions common secretariat for like position should be considered. It goes on to talk in the next paragraph about commissions being established, developing procedures, mechanisms etcetera, to ensure, to minimise, undue influence by the Executive and the consequent public participation of partisanship in their functioning. So there is a difference between the different commissions that have been addressed in the Constitution. But, lo and behold, for this Parliament one of the commissions that is a protective commission, not an appointive commission, in the Constitution, is the Ethnic Relations Commission, a constitutional rights commission, and is immunised in the Constitution from the Executive and it is protected in terms of autonomy under various articles of the Constitution. And it is included in the Third Schedule of the Constitution.
Here we have a Parliament in the Budget Debate that takes a body that fulfils all the mandates of the Constitution, is already on the Third Schedule, is already protected, already immunised, already an agency that is not a Budget agency and is collecting its money separately as is the Women and Gender Equality Commission and the Rights of a Child, then suddenly by a vote in the Parliament it is wiped out to a dollar.
This is where the contradictions lie. We talk with fork tongue. Here you are saying in this House to the public that if we take these Service Commissions and remove them from budget agencies and amend the Constitution and put them on the Third Schedule they will be immunised and protected and autonomous from interference from anybody, the Executive and the Legislature. Lo and behold, a month ago, this House by majority vote reversed you own positions that you have espoused in this House today.
This is regrettable that we are behaving in this manner. I have heard people talk about members of the House who are public service members. When I first came to this House in 1992 there were Members on the Opposition’s side who were doctors, lawyers, and public service employees. Nobody could complain on the Opposition’s side by the fact that they were public servants, that when they were arguing with me as the Minister of Health, because I was the Minister and there were doctors on that side who were arguing against me. Did they feel, one day, any oppression or anything that would hurt them as public servants and professionals? I am talking about my personal experience.
Today, Ms. Vanessa Kissoon is a teacher, and Ms. Dawn Hastings, Ms. Marcello, Dr. George Norton are all members of the health sector, I believe. Ms. Kissoon is teaching. Ms. Ally, my dear Chief Whip colleague over on the other side, whom I have been getting along with and having a good battle but enjoying each other’s company, I believe from time to time. Ms. Ally was a Principal in the teaching service and a teaching service member for a decade or more and you are Member of this House. Did you feel any retribution as a teacher for all of that?
On our side we have Dr. Vishwa Mahadeo... [Interruption] Well you talked too late; you are retired now. You should have made your complaint when you were there rabble-rousing. You were never stopped when you went and picket outside. You were never in anyway victimised as some people have said in this House today.
We must be careful with what we do, and we have to deal with things in a much more judicious way. We are to be careful. I have heard talks about cronyism and dictats of the Executive and subservient to the Administration and all these things. I have heard a phrase of which I am quite titillated, because I will ask the person what he means by it, “advisors in disguise”, because I am one advisor who is not in disguise. I am not one of those new terms that come around. In fact I am on pay, but that is a different issue.
The issue is that in this Motion you are talking about service commissions that are operating and have been appointed by this Parliament, the names of which have gone to the president, the President have appointed them and they have been meeting. Ultimately when we look at the issue... There was a debate in the House in the Ninth Parliament. Is it the Commission that is supposed to be impartial or the Commissioner that is supposed to be impartial? Is there are difference between the two. Ultimately the issue was that the Commission in its actions and deliberations is fair, even-handed and balanced. It did not matter who you placed on it, but that in their effort they upheld the Constitution. People can uphold the Constitution; I firmly believe it, despite what their political affiliates may be.
The Inter-American Convention against corruption pays a lot of attention in the review of countries in relation to the Public Service, the hiring, promotion, disciplining et cetera. At no point in the Inter American Commission’s reviews of countries who are ratified, like Guyana, have they ever raised the issue of where these agencies are in the Budget. Their main focus in terms of transparency and accountability is in the way in which these commissions are established, whether they have resources or whether they are being starved for resource, what are the procedures, the system, the manuals, the mechanisms by which they operate, do they advertise for the jobs, is it based on meritocracy, is it based on need et cetera.
The issue of the public service rules are all these issues that guide us. I do not know how countries like Grenada and Montserrat with tiny populations, with sometimes only one gene bank and everybody is related to each other somehow, that in Guyana with 770,000 people, if we try to delink everybody it will be impossible. All you have to do is look at the death announcement on CN Sharma or whoever is putting it on, and you would suddenly see people who you have known for a long time and who they are related to in the village and their second, third and fourth cousin who you knew. You will find out who are reputed husbands and wives, how a man who you thought had three children has ten. This is the society we live in. We cannot be in such a way to not recognise that this country has to be able to use what it has to the best that it has and the belief that the people that we work with are going to be generated by the best intentions, regardless of where they come from.
When the Trade Unions and the Public Service Union would give you “x”-amount of people, the different unions gives you different names. It is not the Committee of Appointment’s responsibility to say whether that is an A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) guy, a (inaudible) guy, or a PPP guy. We are not interested in that, and we should not be interested in that. In the Committee we are dealing with civil society nominations. So, we cannot have our cake and eat it. You keep changing the goal post all the time. When we sat and said let us find a way to make sure the process was transparent and it could be subjected, we agreed to that. I ask Mr. Greenidge when he closes off to explain to me the point I have made. Here was the Ethnic Relations Commission on the Third Schedule, an independent body taking from the Consolidated Fund, whose autonomy has been slashed to smithereens by this National Assembly and given one dollar. Where is the autonomy, when a body can be beheaded and unable to carry out their constitutional mandate? Where is the autonomy? You tell us in your motion that this has to do with autonomy. The cake is in the eating.
You all took a body that fulfils all the things you are talking about which you want for the service commissions. We could say very clearly, I do not care if you can count a hundred, you did it once. That is enough. What flows through my mind, Mr. Speaker, goes down this route as Mr. Greenidge’s Motion asks us to – what guarantee do we have, assuming we complete the Constitutional Amendment 2/3 and all these things to put them on the schedule. Assuming we do all of that, what guarantee do we have that the Opposition when the times comes around will not reduce those budgets to a dollar. The greatest threat to the autonomy of these bodies is on that side of the House, not this side of the House.
It has been a long debate, and I would just like to emphasise before I sit down, that the public out there reads in the papers about the penuries and the talks and the honour that should be all of ours. The public expects us to be honourable men and women, they expect that, and so they should. When we sit at the IPPD and we say that this is a constitutional issue and it is from April 5th that this Motion has sat on the House. It had to wait until the Budget was over. We came to decision on April 22nd. Today is now June 13th. It appears and it makes me wonder that maybe these things we talk about in the Parliamentary Party talks is of no consequence, because, ultimately, whatever we agree or do not agree to, motions come to this House that premeditates and tries to ramrod a decision in anticipation of what discussions where before that. I call on you to be honourable. We are honourable people.
We have another case of it coming up with the Parliamentary one, the Hon. Member Mr. Ramjattan, and I hope he will do the honourable thing. Because, the parliamentary issue that is in his motion is on one of the subcommittees of the Parliament Constitution Subcommittee. We started some work, certainly not as intense as we would like. All of a sudden out of the blues, Mr. Ramjattan’s motion comes speeding pass, throws into the House and will be debated. We cannot keep shifting the goal post. You either decide that what we are going to do is that we are going to go through the procedures and sit in committee. What really are you worried about? You head the Constitutional Reform Committee; you have the majority of members in all the Committees.
The dilemma is this. A motion coming to this House, calling on the House to do what it is doing is not a legislative instrument. It is not binding, and it would not be binding because it cannot be binding. It is a motion. What you need to do is a constitutional amendment. Therefore, either this is grandstanding or this is an attempt to go on record and say that the Government is not doing anything. The point is that regardless of what you say this matter can only be addressed by constitutional amendment. Here is the dilemma; two-thirds majority is needed. That means we have to work at it. I have been in this Parliament long enough to know when we worked together as Opposition and Government, and we brought constitutional amendments into this House after the 2003 constitution reform process. We were able to bring it with a two-thirds majority. There were long discussions and long meetings with crafting language and getting the ‘is’ and the ‘I-s’ and the dots and crossing the ‘T-s’ correct. Some sitting in this House know very well what I am talking about. The will to do it is what is important.
Mr. Greenidge’s motion is amended by the Government to uphold what were the discussions between the APNU and the Government on April 22nd. If you rejected it, you are rejecting a lot of things. Always remember that unless we get the two-thirds majority, as the experience of the Government when we were in the Committee of Appointment and we agreed to the list of enteritis for the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) in 2007. We had unanimous approval in the Committee of Appointment. Nobody was missing or absent. We brought the list of entities for the ERC in 2007. When it came to the House, in the midst of the debate the Opposition raised an issue of a particular wording which we agreed to remove and which we did. When it went to the vote the two-thirds was lost. We must not as I say, throw the baby and the bathwater out all the time. [Mrs. Backer: Depends on who the baby is.] No, you never throw out a baby.
This motion I believe is misdirected and written for the politics of the moment. The politics of the moment in terms of expediency and opportunism will judge everyone. For this motion I appeal to Mr. Greenidge that it is misdirected. It has no legal status; it will achieve nothing. In fact it is wrong. The amendment we brought, we uphold, and we ask the APNU in particular, not the AFC because they were not present, so they can pretend to be free agents in this House today, but we call on the APNU, particularly those who were present on that Sunday where we had a discussion on this issue and where the issue of these matters going to the Parliamentary Constitutional Reform Committee for discussion and consideration with the intent of coming forward with recommendations will be upheld. Thank you very much. [Applause]
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