April 13, 2012
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs [Mr. Nandlall]: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker for you kind complements. I rise to make my humble contribution to the 2012 Budget debates. I begin as my predecessors have commenced their presentations, by expressing my warmest congratulations to the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh and his competent staff for what must have been a very massive undertaking. I wish also to take this opportunity to welcome to this Hon. House the several new Members and to congratulate them on their maiden performances.
I have sat here for several days now listening to the number of presentations made. I believe that the essence of, and this only of my humble view Sir, a budget presentation is lost when one listens to a debate which has transpired.
The 2012 Budget debate is simply a page taken from the developmental agenda of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Administration which commenced in 1993. 2012 marks its 19th year. It is in that context that the 2012 budget must be seen. I get the feeling that there is an expectation that this budget must contain a solution of every single economic, social, political and every other problem confronting the people of this country. No budget in the world can boast of that type of potential.
The 2012 budget is only one page, as I said, of a programme which we on this side of the House hope will transform the economic, social and physical landscape of this country and will result in transformational changes in the lives and livelihood of Guyanese people. That is all that we seek to do in our developmental plan. We have taken 19 years and have reached where we are. In my humble view, and I am confident that the people of this country agree with me, we have made monumental progress. To understand and to appreciate the progress which we have made it is necessary to go back and to examine what we inherited. I know that how that normally evokes great adverse reaction from the other side. Unless we examine where we started from 19 years ago we would not be able to appreciate where we are today.
I consulted three budget speeches of my Hon. Friend Mr. Carl Barrington Greenidge and I have them here. I consulted them to inform myself accurately of the state of the Guyana’s economy.
Mr. Speaker: Incidentally Mr. Attorney General, I would need those records because there is an investigation coming as to National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL). I am glad that you have them.
Mr. Nandlall: I told the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge that I cannot understand why he is experiencing difficulty in accessing these documents. I made a simple request to this Hon. House through the Clerk of the National Assembly and they were duly furnished. I do not understand why my friend is experiencing great difficulty.
Mr. Greenidge: I am sorry Mr. Nandlall but I really did not want to do this. The issue in relation to what Mr. Greenidge said was concerning the Hansards as distinct from the speeches.
Mr. Speaker: I see, thank you.
Mr. Nandlall: The Speaker apparently was labelling under the same misapprehension as I am. The Speaker also requested the record based upon Mr. Greenidge’s public pronouncements. Anyway, I had no difficulty in accessing Mr. Greenidge’s speech. What I found when I read it was that it was like a death announcement, one pronouncement after another, the death of economic growth, the death of so many industries and every single sector declined in performance. At the end of it, the economy was bankrupt. I do not think anybody will dispute that. Even the most average supporter of the People’s National Congress (PNC) must accept these as economic reality. The economy was bankrupt when they left it. They left no foreign reserve. We had several banks of whopping devaluations, ten to one, thirty three to one, and then from thirty three to one to one hundred and one to one. What was the expanse of the devaluation?
There was constant decline of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). There was a debt that we could not have serviced. Mr. Greenidge was very frank in the way that he spoke about the economic disequilibrium – that is what he called it – serious balance of payment deficiencies that he had great difficulty in explaining. That was the state of the economy; the infrastructure was in complete tatters; that was the economy that we inherited. This is in the budget speeches; I have marked them off.
I will just quickly read one part, “The fiscal imbalance which has been of major concern on the preoccupation of the economic policy has now been narrowed...”, and then they continue. I will not detain you on this matter, except to say... [Interruption] I have marked it off. I will not be learned. I will hand my learned friend the documents, 1991 budget, [Mrs. Backer: Read 1992.] 1992 budget, 1990 budget, I have gone through them. These documents pronounce the economic death of Guyana. The only thing that was on the rise was inflation and the underground economy; those were the only two things that were on the rise.
Nineteen years hence, what is the position now? There is strong macro-economic infrastructure, highest foreign reserves, interest rates reduced from 32.5% to 4.5%, economic growth that was in the negative for nearly eight years prior to 1992 is now consistently at an average of 4.4%. Last year it was 5.4% in an adverse global and regional economic environment. We have a strong balance of payment positions, and our economy is at its strongest and largest ever. Of course, I will not go much into the Government social programmes which have benefitted the people.
Mr. Irfaan Ali, the Hon. Minister is here. 100,000 families in this country have benefitted from our housing programme. 6,500 more will benefit this year. Where did this land come from? It was here all the time, but there was never a policy to develop it. We converted these lands from cow pastures, rice fields and cane fields. We had to build roads; we had to build the lands up. We had to dig drains, install water, install electricity and then we allocated the land. We then ensured that the people got their transport and titles. We then went to the commercial banks and negotiated low interest loan programmes. It is a complete housing package unparalleled in any part of the world. That is the legacy of this administration. Yet we hear from the other side that the people are not benefitting from the budget.
Who is going to benefit from the $6 billion that is going to be injected into Guyana Power and Light Incorporated (GPL)? If we are not to inject that money there will be increased electricity rates by 20%. Every single consumer of GPL, numbering about 160,000 or more, are going to benefit from that $6 billion injection, yet we are hearing about bail out.
Look at GuySuCo, we have put in $4 billion, but who are going to benefit? Yes, we are going to bail them, and we have to bail them again next year then we are going to bail them again next year. Do you know why? 20,000 people are directly employed by that industry. They each have a family of about four, so we are speaking of about 80,000 Guyanese. Another 20,000 depend upon that family indirectly for their livelihood. So that industry affects the lives and livelihood of 100,000 Guyanese. If it is in crisis then it is the duty and responsibility of this Government to bail it out. In America and Trinidad they do the same. In Trinidad they bailed out Clico and we are going to bail out sugar in Guyana.
We stood by the bauxite industry for 20 years while it made no profits. The Government stood by them and took money from Central Government and pumped it into Linden to keep that community alive. The Government has brought that industry to a state of profitability for the first time in 20 years; that is what we have done. When Mr. Greenidge said that Central Government’s budget can no longer sustain the bauxite industry and therefore closure is eminent, when we took power in 1992, we continued to inject money into it and today it is a profitable industry. That is what we have done for the workers of this country and we will continue to do so.
Mr. Williams spoke about the public sector and about the public servants. I said in my presentation that it is necessary that we examine what we inherit before we can deal with the current position. I have here a book titled “The Constitution of Guyana”. It is a transition issue written by Professor Rudy James. I do not know that Mr. Rudy James is any supporter of this Government. This is what he said of the Public Sector in analysing the PNC administration in the 1980s:
“The unhealthy state of the relationship of the bureaucracy and the public was a subject of review by an integrity commission headed by Luckhoo. It formed that there was a breakdown of standard of behaviour of public servants in dealing with the public. Public office holders accorded in the performance of their duty preferential treatment to members of their racial communities and their families. Corruption, graphs and favours in return for services became a commonplace. There were instances of sexual harassment of, and other sexual improprieties, towards members of the public who sought legitimate services. On the other hand, the public servants were a demoralised section of the Guyanese workforce. Much had contributed to their state of demoralisation. They silently looked on as their merit system gave way to a test of party loyalty as the surest way to advancement.”
In 1987 Mr. Greenidge was a Minister;
“... Senior officers were made to attend PNC party congresses and show their commitment by participating in organised force labour and party sponsored marches. They were made to connive with party officials in the misuses of state properties to further the cause of the party and to preserve political power in the hands of the ruling cliché.”
This is what we inherited, and this is what we had to clean.
Let me read of how they treated the public servants and how they got the judiciary to work with them.
“A show of independence by a public servant was invariably visited by harsh sanctions in the form of transfers to remote areas or summary dismissals. The Courts decline to decree restraint in these matters was quite evident as in the case of Hydar Ally where the Court of Appeal of this country held that you had no security of tenure in the public service and that you were hired at the President’s pleasure, a royal prerogative”,
That is the public service that we inherited.
“The public sector employees and in particular those in the parastatal organisations where the scapegoats of contradictions of a constitution which incorporated some goal of a liberal democracy, but permitted repression to ensure secrecy”
That is what happened in the public sector of this country.
“On the one hand the constitution guaranteed freedom to receive ideas and information without interference and to communicate them without interference; on the other hand these freedoms are negated by certain qualifications.”
My good friend Mr. Greenidge passed a certain legislation called the Public Corporation Act, and this is what this legislation says:
“A Managing Director of a corporation solo or a member of cooperation aggregate or any officer or other employee of any corporation shall regard and deal with, as secret and confidential, all information, documents and matters which, or of the knowledge of which he may obtain as such Managing Director, member or officer or employee.”
This is a public sector organisation and you are swearing people to secrecy. What we have done in acceding to one of your requests on the other side is that we have brought to this House a Freedom of Information Act. We have freed the entire system. Here you have an institutionalised system extracting secrecy.
Mr. Speaker: Is that not the case though with Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and a number of other sensitive...
Mr. Nandlall: No, this is the Public Corporations Act, Sir. This is dealing with public business, and yet public servants had to take an oath of secrecy, that they cannot disclose the affairs of the public, and my friends are asking what is wrong with that. The authoritarianism continues. We on the contrary have passed a Freedom of Information Act. We have ensured that the Auditor General brings his report to this National Assembly every single year. We have ensured that every organisation in this country that is run by public funds is audited and their reports are presented in this National Assembly at every single occasion. That is the difference in governance. [Mrs. Backer: What about NICIL’s report?] The NICIL report has been made public at a function at the Pegasus Hotel. The NICIL report is not a secret report. There was a ceremony at the Pegasus Hotel where a document was presented by NICIL detailing every single transaction that it entered into in relation to properties. The prices were quoted and persons who bid for those properties, names were listed. It is not my problem if they do not read. That was the type of system that we inherited.
So when Dr. Rupert Roopnarine, the goodly Doctor, speaks about governance and constitution, he must understand the herculean task we had to undertake to reshape what we have now This is what Professor James said which is relevant the Hon. Member:
“The PNC’s choice of socialism as the developmental strategy entailed an expanded public sector and though the emphasis on recruiting, promotion and advancement shifted to political loyalty, the level of representation of the communities in the state services improved only slightly. This was because the ruling party drew its support mainly from Afro-Guyanese. With the rise of the multiracial party, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), and the threat of this Party to erode the support of the ruling Party, the criteria of party loyalty became institutionalised in the state services. PNC party allegiance became one of criteria for recruitment, promotion, and dismissal to and from public offices. The Government adopted a policy of harassing and dismissing Afro-Guyanese public servants who supported or even sympathised with the WPA.
Page 21, Dr. Roopnarine, [Mr. Williams: What is that about?] They took away his passport; ask him; he could not have travelled. They took away Eusi Kwayana’s passport. That is the type of public service you left. When my friend speaks about the public service that is what they did with the rule of law, that is what they did with the Constitution of this country; destroyed the public servants; destroyed the public service; destroyed the constitutional mechanisms in place; completely destroyed them. That is why I commenced by saying that it is a nineteen-year journey on which we have embarked. It will take time to correct all the destructions which have taken place. We are working hard and will continue to do so.
Let me give them one more quote since they egg me on. This one is from 1982, from the Department of State. Often times Members love to quote from the United States (US) Department of State with has all types of reports. Well, this is what the US Department of State in 1982 said - My friend Mr. Carl Greenidge was the Minister of Finance:
“Guyana maintains the structure of a multi-party parliamentary republic within the Commonwealth, but the ruling People’s National Congress and its Leader, President Forbes Burnham, have imposed a racially oriented minority government on the nation. The predominantly Afro-Guyanese party and President Burnham have consolidated power to a great extent through such non-democratic means as electoral fraud, harassment of opposition and interference with the judiciary.”
That is the type of legal system and governmental structure that we inherited in this country. So you have to be patient with us as we chart…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member just give the reference.
Mr. Nandlall: I am quoting from the book “The Guyana Court of Appeal” written by Bertrand Ramcharan. [Cries of oh] When I quoted from Professor James we did not hear “Ohs”. Members hear Bertrand Ramcharan and there are “Ohs”. I do not know what it means. Mr. Ramcharan is supposed to be planting rice, he should not have been writing books. This gentleman was a Commissioner on the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He was elevated to be the Chairman. He wrote a book, “Guyana Court of Appeal”.
Ours is a vision to create a legal system in this country that is free from the political manipulation which existed hitherto. It is one that ensures the constitutional rights of the citizens of this country shall prevail. It is one that the judiciary of this country must remain free from political contamination because there was a time when party paramountcy was the rule of the day, a national priority. Party paramountcy prevailed over every institution in this land including the judiciary so much so that the flag of the People’s National Congress was flown, not in the compound but on top of the Court of Appeal building which, at that time, was the apex of the judicial structure of this country. That is the task that this administration has, to change that system, and to rid it of political manipulation. Imagine, today, if we are to fly a party flag close to any court in this country? That is the state of the judiciary which we have inherited. We have embarked on constitutional reform. Dr. Rupert Roopnarine and many Members on that side were part of the process. Some are here, while some are not here anymore. They were part of a national process which included all the political parties in this House, all the public sector organizations, the private sector organizations, the labour movement, and the religious movement.
We have reformed the Constitution to deepen our democratic process and to strengthen our commitment to the rule of law. Today, the Chief Justice and the Chancellor can only be appointed with the Leader of the Opposition. That never existed before. [Mrs. Backer: With the consent…] With the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition. Today, we have given security of tenure in the Constitution to many public officers who never enjoyed that type of protection before. Today, we have a judiciary which feels free to rule in accordance with the law, both for and against the Government. It reposes in Hon. Member Mrs. Backer the confidence and freedom to criticise a decision of the judiciary as a Member of the Opposition [Mrs. Backer: What is wrong with that?] Nothing is wrong with that. You could not do that in the 1980s that is what is wrong with that. [Mrs. Backer: I was not a lawyer] You do not have to be a lawyer to criticise a decision. [Mrs. Backer: I was not a member of any political party.] You do not have to be a Member. The point is that you are now a Member and you can feel free to do so. Mdm. Manickchand also can feel free to criticise a decision. That is the healthy atmosphere we have created; that is the type of judiciary we now have.
The legal sector is undergoing massive transformation. A lot of work has to be done; a lot has been done but a tremendous amount of work has to be done. My learned friend the Hon. Member Mr. Williams said that we need more judges. He said that the number is statutorily fixed at 15 but that is not so; it is fixed at 12. We intend to amend the High Court Act to increase the complement. We have done physical transformation of the infrastructural facilities and it still continues. There is a new court which will soon be opened at Leonora. The Georgetown Magistrate’s Court is going through its final stages of refurbishment. The DPP office has moved out of its original residence and is now resident in Charlotte Street to accommodate massive infrastructure repairs and renovation.
There is also institutional strengthening. There has been tremendous boost to the library facilities at both the DPP’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. There has been a tremendous boost to the facilities at the High Court Library, and the New Amsterdam Library. But lawyers who do not read have no need to go to the library, so they would not know. Should they go there they would see volumes and volumes of new books, but the books will remain new because these lawyers do not read. I am speaking about the law library. [Mrs. Backer: We do not have access to the Attorney General Chambers.] Yes, that is the library I am speaking about. Let me extend an invitation to my friend that if she needs to go the Attorney General’s Library she will be welcome.
Sir, the justice improvement programme is coming to an end. I am to report to this Hon. Assembly that the long awaited Laws of Guyana, both online and hard copies, incorporating all the amendments and regulations passed by this Hon. House and under Ministerial Orders since 1977 to December 2010 will become available before the 1st June. There have been some problems with the contractor but we have sorted it out. The project is completed. It only has to go to the printer.
In terms of the Law Reports we have started the online version. All law reports of British Guyana dating back to 1932 will be accessible online to every member of the public… [Mr. Williams: When?] …in two weeks time. When I left the office yesterday the consultants were setting up the computer system to allow for that to happen. The project is completed. Every single reported case ever decided on in this country from 1932 will be accessed on line. That is an historic accomplishment.
Then there is the law report programme. Everyone knows how important a law reporting system is for a functioning democracy, for a functioning judiciary, and a judicial sector. This is a specimen copy of the Law Reports of Guyana (He raised a copy of a book.) This is from 1985 to 1986.
Mr. Speaker: The Ramson edition?
Mr. Nandlall: This has no edition, Sir. This is the Law Reports of Guyana which will be available. They are at the printer and within the next month or so up to 2010 will be made available to members of the public. [Mrs. Lawrence: Is there an open tender for that?] These are Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) projects which have provisions that mandate how the projects are going to be executed. The process is transparent because it is an IDB financed project.
The Deeds Registry reform continues. We have begun the digitisation process of the records from 2006 to 2011. This digital system has been in use and all the documents are now being stored digitally. However, we have to undertake the mammoth task of going back 100 years, perhaps, I do not know, into the archives to store all those records digitally. That is a monumental undertaking, but I am meeting with some consultants next week to begin that process. In terms of going forward, the mechanisms are in place and the project will continue.
The transport system is already computerised. Transports from the Deeds Registry are now generated by computer; business registrations are done that way; company registrations are done that way [Ms. Ally: Who is the Registrar?] I am glad you asked that question because Hon. Member Dr. Roopnarine in his presentation spoke about the non-appointment of the Registrar of Deeds. Dr. Roopnarine was part of the constitution reform process and ought to have remembered that the power to appoint the Registrar of Deeds was taken away from the public sector, from central government, and it now resides with the Judicial Service Commission, an organisation over which this Executive has no control. [Mr. Williams: What is the relevance of that?] The relevance of that is the Executive has no control over the appointment of the Registrar of Deeds. We must understand these things. We are here as responsible people… [Mr. Williams: Are you not the Attorney General?] I am educating you. Representations have been made to the Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission, and I have received the assurance which I wish to convey to this Hon. House, that a lawyer shall soon be appointed as the Registrar of Deeds. That is my report. [Mr. Williams: You said that five years now.] Tell that to the Judiciary.
The Deeds Registry reform includes the conversion of that institution from a public service institution to one of a semi-autonomous body; legislation has been passed to that effect and now has to be brought into force. A board has to be established. I am bringing the legislation back to the National Assembly for further amendments because I would like to see on the board more representatives because currently only the Guyana Bar Association is represented. I would like the commercial sector to have representation. I would like the Berbice Bar Association to have representation on that board. I would come back to this House with an amendment to rectify that legislation. When that legislation comes into force it is intended to bring greater autonomy to the Deeds Registry. It will also invest greater autonomy to the Sub-Registry in Berbice and Essequibo. Today there has to be a constant movement of senior staff between the Registries because the structure is so established that there is great centralised authority in a few officials. Those systems will be dismantled to ensure there is devolution of authority away from the centre. Officials from Georgetown will no longer have to run to New Amsterdam or cross the Essequibo River by boat to perform their functions. That is now in the pipeline and will be done.
Importantly also, for the first time in the history of Guyana, we will put the Official Gazette online so that Guyanese Members of Parliament, lawyers, Guyanese in the Diaspora and elsewhere, can go on the internet and read the official gazette online. Those are the achievements. We will continue to modernise the Deeds Registry. Under the competitive strategy the reminder of the justice improvement programme, we intend to separate the Commercial Registry from the Deeds Registry. When there was a merger of these two institutions the workload was far different from what it is now. With the expansion of commerce and economic activity, obviously resulting from prudent economic management at the government level, investments are coming more and more; people are making more money; more people are taking mortgages; more people are buying properties; the Ministry of Housing is increasing the disseminating of titles to land by the thousands. These activities have created an unprecedented impact on the work load of the Deeds Registry. So we have to constantly review the extant mechanisms to expand them with a view of making them viable and responsive to the needs and expanding needs to which they must answer. In this regard a Commercial Registry will be established and physically located outside of the Deeds Registry. We will migrate to that Registry the functions of the Registrar of Companies, the functions of the Registrar of Business and trade mark, debentures, mortgages etcetera. Those will be performed by an institution which will work in collaboration with the Deeds Registry but have its own functional autonomy and authority.
In terms of the Land Registry, as it may have been known, that organ was not within the supervisory control of the Ministry of Legal Affairs. Now we have changed that position and that organisation comes under the administration of the Ministry of Legal Affairs. The same type of improvements which I have outlined for the Deeds Registry will also take place in relation to the Land Registry. Consultation will have to be had with several stakeholders as we design the way forward, in terms of the reformation of the institution.
We have also a packed legislative agenda for 2012. We have new industries that are emerging. We have the oil and gas industry which is emerging. The legislative department of the Attorney General Chambers has already commenced negotiations and discussions with persons who have training in those complex areas. We are beginning the design of legislation to deal with these emerging sectors. We are also going to amend certain important legislation which will have tremendous impact on the lives of the ordinary people. For example, the Deeds Registry Act will be amended to elevate an agreement of sale for land to the status of an encumbrance which can now be registered against the transport. We have the unique system in Guyana where a large part of our land law is still governed by the Roman/ Dutch system. Under that system an agreement of sale, no matter how much money one pays, under that document it confers upon someone no interest in the land. What we have seen is the sad situation occurring, with unfortunate regularity, where devious owners of land are entering into several agreements of sale in relation to the same property with several members of the unsuspecting public and taking deposits from all of them, but passing transport only to one when there is no recourse to the one who has been defrauded. If the person selling has no property to levy upon and is taken to court someone gets and empty judgement. Now by imposing, registering that agreement of sale against the transport it becomes like a mortgage, and whoever purchases that property purchases that property subject to that agreement. This arrangement will bring tremendous improvement and relief to a very unfortunate situation which we have in Guyana.
We have on the agenda for this year the amendment of the Civil Law Act. We have passed a series of legislation attempting to equate the common-law wife with the legal wife. However, there remains one lacuna in all the amendments and legislations which we have passed. It has to do with the rules of intestacy. If, for example, an unmarried woman lives with an unmarried man for 50 years, if that man dies we have not reformed the law to put that woman on the same status she would have been had she been legally married to that man for one year. That situation is causing severe hardship amongst people of this country. The Ministry of Legal Affairs intents to bring an amendment to the National Assembly to rectify that deficiency.
We continue in our efforts to modernise the DPP’s Office as well. We now have a wireless linkup between the Attorney General’s Office and the DPP’s Office which is intended to increase efficiency. I agree with my learned friend Mr. Williams that we have a human resource problem; indeed we have. This has to do with the inability to pay salaries, but the Government remains committed. As long as the resources are made available we will try to improve the salaries of not only workers in the legal sector but workers across the board. That has always been our commitment.
In terms of judges we are also going to bring to this National Assembly the Act which will allow us finally to appoint part-time judges. I have already had consultations with the chancellor and have received the green light that the judiciary is ready to move with that initiative.
What my friends on this side do not understand is, there are certain Constitutional constraints, which prevents the Executive from interacting with the Judiciary. The Judiciary is a Constitutionally independent organisation and the Executive cannot dictate the manner in which the Judiciary functions. That is why, while I hold parliamentary responsibility for that institution, there are also certain disabilities under which I function and I hope that that is understood. My friends are free to make representations to the judiciary, to also have their concerns addressed. I undertake to do so from this side, but the task of Nation building can never be that exclusively of the Government. I know that we have been shouldering most of the responsibility, but you must do your part. I welcome consultation with the Guyana Bar Association and the Berbice Bar Association, soliciting their views and help to come on board with the Ministry of Legal Affairs, for us to join hands to reform the system.
I had extended an invitation to all lawyers in this House, including the Hon. Member who continues to disturb me, but not from today. Not one single suggestion have I heard from her. Yet she attempts to disturb me as I attempt to update the nation on my plan and the Government’s plan to reform the system. She has no interest in improving the system except to criticise and pull it down, an enemy to development.
I want to assure this House, in conclusion, that this Government remains committed to ensuring that the judiciary remains the institution it was intended to be. We have committed to the construction of a national democratic State and we intend to carry that agenda out. A State where the rule of law shall reign supreme, the judiciary shall remain independent, people of this country shall remain available and the system of justice shall remain accessible to them. That is why we will continue to pump money into programmes like Legal Aid, because we know that access to justice is important. So Sir, I take this opportunity to assure this National Assembly and this nation by extension that in the year 2012, the $212 billion committed by the Finance Minister will go towards improving the legal system of this country, so that they will get a superior and better quality of justice. Thank you very much. [Applause]