Mr. Ramjattan: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. It has been some time now that this troublesome question of how independent of the Executive branch of Government this National Assembly should be. We have had a number of experts who have come into this country, lectured to us in seminars – I know you are also arranging one, commencing as of tomorrow – and we seem somehow not to be getting there as quickly as we ought to.
I want to make it very clear that we have moved forward, but I rather suspect that it would be a truism to state that we are not where we ought to be. It is in that context then that I proceeded to seek support from this National Assembly for this Motion standing in my name, namely ‘Steps to be Undertaken to Establish the Independence and Authority of the National Assembly.’
We only just now saw a little raucous here as to what authority we have as a National Assembly and what is the meaning that is supposed to be given to an approved Motion that has no-confidence in relation to a Minister and so on. So, to give the independence and authority of this National Assembly meaning, to flesh it out, because we understand the skeletal aspects of the matter, is what this Motion seeks to do. I wish to read the motion.
WHEREAS the Needs Assessment of the Guyana National Assembly as contained in the Report of the Commonwealth Senior Parliamentary Staff Advisor (Sir Michael Davies Report) to the Guyana National Assembly, February, 2005, recommended, inter alia, that:
“The National Assembly should be given much greater independence in respect of its own budget. Systems should be established within the Parliament Office to undertake the estimating, monitoring, controlling and accounting for the Assembly’s expenditure; and
The Clerk of the National Assembly should become the employer of all staff of the Parliament Office. A larger Personnel Office should be established to carry out these additional responsibilities.”
AND WHEREAS the Guyana Fiduciary Oversight Project Final Framework and Guidelines Report, Volume 2, has recommended at component 6 of its recommendation that, ‘Parliament should employ its own staff, and the Speaker should appoint the Clerk of the House after consultation with all parties’,
AND WHEREAS the Government signaled its acceptance of these recommendations in the 2005 Draft Poverty Reduction Report released on the 21st June, 2005;
AND WHEREAS the basis of these recommendations is the need for Parliament to be fully independent of the Executive,
BE IT RESOLVED:
(3) That a Special Select Committee be appointed to examine these recommendations with a view to advising the National Assembly on the steps to be undertaken to establish the independence and authority of the National Assembly in respect of its own budget; and
(4) That this Special Select Committee examines these recommendations with a view to advising the National Assembly on the steps to be undertaken to enable the Clerk to become the employing authority of the staff of the Parliament Office;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,
That the Special Select Committee submits its final report one month after its appointment.
A National Assembly as was stated by Mr. Davies is a very important institution. It constitutes that very important component of what we call Parliament, of course Parliament being the National Assembly and the President. Because the National Assembly houses the genuine representatives, duly elected by the electorate, it is important that they be given a certain authority and independence also. What we have seen in a couple of days in the recent past is that the President and the Office of the President feels that they have this total authority and that the National Assembly, even if by a majority motion or a majority statement or producing a bill in a very cavalier fashion stating, “we will not be in any way supporting that unless of course, the government bench members are going to be in support of it”. We want this to be understood, that the independence and authority of this National Assembly is as equal, if not more equal, than the Office of the President. It is fundamental, because we house the 65 representatives duly elected. I want it to be understood then that if that be the premise, we must have what is called “financial independence” so that we can manage our affairs without encroachment and interventions from the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance, when it sees our budget, just as they are talking about the Ethnic Relations Budget – they want to talk about the Auditor General’s Budget, and we have had that – when we in this Parliament through our Parliamentary Management Committee decide that this shall be the budget say for 2013, we must not have a Minister of Finance coming and cutting this half or cutting that half of it to the extent...(Interruption) No, this is what it is, financial obligations to the National Assembly is what I am getting at here. It is important for them over there to understand that you get more authority and independence in an institution that represents the true representatives by virtue of financial independence and autonomy. A very famous President, Dr. Jagan, has been asking for this, I have seen his selected writings, unfortunately I did not bring it, where he indicated that he has been long-sufferer for the principle that the National Assembly must be financially independent.
He was also, since that time, 1992 to 1997, indicating that we must have some experts to help us. [Interruption] Yes, because the Parliament here is not in a position to deal with what the budget should be and that is why we are going to have problems. This Report of Sir Michael Davies - Needs Assessment of the Guyana National Assembly - done on 18th February, 2005, especially under the subhead of the Chapter Independence of the Legislature, made some telling statements as to the state of affairs in relation to that independence. He was indicating that throughout his investigation – he came here for a long while and did his investigation:
“I have identified areas where the separation of powers is not observed – this is page 9 of the report – in respect of the National Assembly. Meetings of the Assembly are entirely at the whim of the Executive. Control of the Order Paper is entirely in hands of the Executive. The Assembly’s budget is too tightly controlled by the Executive. The staffing of the Assembly is not independent of the Executive and committee work is subject to frustration by the Executive.”
-Very strong words-
Recently, in relation to the control of the Order Paper being entirely in the hands of the executive that we talked about - , - although we have a minority status government right now - Dr. Luncheon was saying that the Clerk could not put that which he put on the Order Paper. And he said it in a very cavalier way as if it was he that had to put the item on the Order Paper…
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Ramjattan, those are very generalised statements and I would prefer that you have specifics to accompany them. If not, I would not want you to go down that road. [Mr. Nagamootoo: You cannot talk about the “big man”.]
Mr. Ramjattan: Well, the “big man” indicated as much, Sir. I would like to state that is the independence we are talking about. I wish to make the analogy here that when we lawyers go to the court we have an absolute right to file whatever we want at the registry. Whatever is brought, whether it is a motion or a bill the Government does not like, the Clerk has to put it on the Order Paper. When it comes here, we will decide whether we will disqualify it. The situation is just like the registry officials who will carry cases up to the Judges. If the judge sees the case is vexatious and unmeritorious, he will disqualify it. However, one must not say we must not... If I have in mind as a parliamentarian to bring a certain motion, I have to just put it to the Clerk and let him bring it up. He must not be gatekeeper in a sense to exclude, he has to simply put. That is an important part that Sir Davies was talking about.
Additionally, what he said at paragraph 20 of the page 9 is:
“An independent legislature requires information which is accurate, timely and usable. Only in this way can members of a legislature have the means of questioning public policy. If the Executive makes it difficult to obtain such information or provides it too late for the purpose for which it is sought the legislature is in the hands of the Executive and cannot assert its independence. “
That is a difficulty we have. I must add to that the fact that sometimes, because we are green horns in certain public policy areas, we need expertise. The expertise has to be funded, so there is the necessity for financial arrangements for us to get public policy education and capacity to get funding so we can get the experts to tell us how best to move forward. I also want to quote paragraph 21 of the same page 9. This is what Sir Michael Davies is saying again:
“It is constitutionally wrong for the Parliament Office, which serves the National Assembly, to be subject to the provisions of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003 in the same way as Ministries, and to be accountable to a Minister rather than to the Assembly.”
He said he shall return to the big topic. I do not want to go into it because I think we were all served with this Needs Assessment. I think we all, as parliamentarians, got copies. That is fundamentally the core rationale behind why we start moving forward giving financial independence to this institution.
The other report that was very important and significant had to do with I think Pender’s Report. Both the recommendations from the Sir Michael Davies Report and Pender’s Report were dealt with by a Special Select Committee chaired by Dr. Leslie Ramsammy. It is obvious that the Government was very supportive of these recommendations. However, it would appear the Government loves to support these recommendations because they are very qualitatively different; they could transform this Parliament. However, because of wanting to keep control they are going to delay the implementation and the execution of these recommendations. That is the situation we have.
On page 6 of that Report it was agreed that there should be agreement to giving the National Assembly the authority to manage its own budget. A start should be made in establishing a finance office with the necessary expertise to manage the finances of the Assembly. All of this work was done since 2005/2006 and, of course, we shall go the international committee to consider supporting this as part of capacity building.
“The budget should be submitted to the Ministry of Finance by the Speaker and the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs after it has been agreed to by a special committee of the Assembly for this purpose.
A new finance committee should be established to estimate for, control, monitor, and account for all expenditures and for the training of staff. The Clerk should be the accounting officer.”
I think the Report goes on to make other recommendations all to do, again, with having an independent parliamentary cadre with professional human resources offices to manage these new responsibilities and as the responsibilities grow with our development as a National Assembly.
What we have after all these recommendations is that they are not being implemented. Because we have this wealth of material, my motion is that we now place them in a parliamentary committee that is going to make the recommendations especially in relation to the two matters - financial independence, and giving the Clerk the power to employ staff so the staff does not have to be at the behest of the Executive through some Ministry. The Ministry can have its favourites and flatterers getting the jobs. We need professionals here and we believe the Clerk can be the best employer… [Interruption] No, no. [Interruption] Well, you can say what you want. You have a lot of flatterers in your Ministry so you do not talk.
Mr. Speaker: Let the debate go on.
Mr. Ramjattan: I am saying that is why we want more professionals here. That is what the motion is talking about. [Interruption] Oh, we are insulting the hardworking staff. Look at them. They love to twist an argument; but that is alright. [Interruption] That is their “control-freekism”. From 2005, five/six years, they have not implemented but now they come and say ho, ho. [Interruption] Oh gosh, look at them, look at them. I am telling you that we need better personnel. [Interruption] Just like the ones you put at the Office of the President, who come from Freedom House, and give them salaries. That is what you do.
Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that the Bradford Study which is stated on page 8 of the same report from Dr. Leslie Ramsammy’s chairmanship said Parliament must be in control of its own budget. We could see why the Minister of Finance is so wired up. He does not want Parliament to be released from his Ministry. He wants it under his Ministry. However, you Mr. Speaker, and your Clerk and your Staff must be the ones in control of the budget of this National Assembly. That is what Mr. Bradford– not Ramjattan – Mr. Pender and Sir Michael Davies are saying. And that is important for us. They want to have it all for themselves. Addendum No. 18 indicated that.
I knew that some of them are going to get loud because they want - as I have coined that term - a perpetuation of “control-freekism” with the finances of this country even from a branch that is separate. We are going to have, just to bring this matter to an end at this stage, a special select committee that is going to be appointed to examine these recommendations. And there are lots of recommendations but the two, it would appear, the Government does not want to touch in a way. They are backing away. Like a 40-foot pole they do not want to touch the employment and financial independence issues. I am asking that this House be supportive of those two resolve clauses, and that we do not waste time. From 2005/2006 to 2012 it has been six or seven years. Let us get it done, and be it resolved that a final report as to how we are going to implement these recommendations is presented one month after its appointment. And I hope its appointment will be shortly after this motion is supported.
Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
Mr. Ramjattan (Replying): Mr. Speaker, it is quite clear what is happening here after seven years. Very important recommendations have not been implemented. We are hearing the argument as if we have not appreciated that we have come a far way. I think that I preamble my address by making clear that we are not where we ought to be and that is quite the position. If we could have just implemented these two first we would have gone real far, but we know why they did not want to do this.
We can go around the mulberry bush, giving the impression that we have done wonderful with the other 87, but the 88 and 89, they just do not want to implement. It is long overdue and so many of the experts and, one now being sent to hell by the Member over there. It is abominable what I just heard. But in any event I am urging that Members of this House support what I have there in the motion and let us get on with the business of implementing those two.
Thank you very much.