Thursday, May 15, 2008

Parliament committee stalemates over ERC

Parliament committee stalemates over ERC
Stabroek News news article. Wednesday May 14, 2008

Despite more than 14 months of meetings and a pledge of renewed urgency following the two massacres this year, the Appointments Committee of Parliament is still unable to reach a consensus over appointments to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC).
At Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly it submitted a report declaring a stalemate even though it intends to continue deliberations.
The ERC is one of six commissions which are to be appointed within 90 days of the March 12, 2008 meeting of the National Stakeholders Forum (NSF). The NSF which includes a range of civil society groups and political parties had been convened at the Office of the President in the wake of the January 26 and February 17 massacres at Lusignan and Bartica respectively and one of the measures agreed to was the expediting of the appointments to the commissions. More than 60 days have now elapsed without agreement on the ERC. Skepticism had been expressed by some that the parties would be able to rise above their differences to reach consensus and the NSF had been criticized in some quarters for coming up with agreements that did not really address security concerns in the aftermath of the two massacres.
Discussions by the Committee of Appointments over new terms for the ERC commissioners began in February 27, 2007 and there have been a series of problems, the latest of which is disagreement over the inclusion of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), as one of the bodies to nominate persons to the ERC. The PPP/C has argued strongly for the inclusion of the IRO and five other faiths which do not fall into the three official religions while the PNCR-1G is adamantly opposed to the inclusion of the IRO or the expansion of the number of religious bodies making nominations to the ERC without increasing the number of non-religious bodies.
Last year, after deliberations by the committee, it was thought that a consensual agreement had been reached.
However, the proposed amendments to the schedules of the Resolution which guided the work of the Appointments Committee could only be passed by two-thirds approval of the National Assembly. When the motion was presented by a member of the committee at the May 10th, 2007 sitting of the National Assembly, the motion was not carried as it failed to garner two-thirds support.
Stabroek News had reported then that PNCR-1G MPs had abstained over concerns about one of the proposed amendments even though their representatives on the committee had had no problem with it.
This then led to a PPP/C MP presenting a motion to Parliament noting the failure of the committee to reach agreement and calling on President Bharrat Jagdeo “to take whatever administrative measures” possible to allow the ERC commissioners to continue functioning in the interim.
President Jagdeo then convened a meeting at the Office of the President of several groups and then announced the extension of the terms of the commissioners on the ERC. This move was criticized as it was argued that there was nothing in the constitution that enabled the President to take such a step.
The committee continued meeting from November 20, 2007 but despite proposals and counterproposals has been unable to reach consensus. The last meeting was held on April 22, 2008.
Some of the other outstanding commissions will be affected by the lack of agreement thus far on the ERC.
The Appointments Committee by Resolution No. 17 passed on May 8th, 2003 was tasked with discharging several functions in relation to the appointments of the members of the commissions which include identifying appropriate bodies for consultation on the appointments of members and consulting with them; making recommendations to the National Assembly for a consensual mechanism for the various commissions.
The Appointments Committee comprises six members from the PPP/C, three from the PNCR-1G and one from the Alliance For Change.

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