Thursday, January 15, 2009

National Assembly, Private Sector must develop full-time capacity

Guyana Chronicle news item, Friday 09 January 2009
National Assembly, Private Sector must develop full-time capacity
By Priya Nauth

SPEAKER of the National Assembly, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran, said the time has
come for both the Private Sector and the National Assembly to begin thinking
of developing full-time capacity to manage their engagements.
He made this remark last Friday during a presentation entitled 'the National
Assembly as a facilitator and promoter of investment and business activities
in Guyana', at a business luncheon hosted by the Guyana Manufacturing and
Services Association Ltd (GMSA) as part of its private sector awareness
programme, at Regency Suites Hotel, Hadfield Street, Georgetown.
"The establishment of strong and independent relationships between business
organisations and parliamentary committees is proper and desirable, as it is
the duty of all stakeholders on both sides to seek out opinions and to offer
opinions," he told the gathering.
"We have not yet seen a decisive impact of the Committee system on the work
of the National Assembly for a variety of reasons. One certainly is the need
for a larger and better trained staff" he observed.
Ramkarran noted, "In order to facilitate this process more effectively, the
time has come for both the private sector and the National Assembly to begin
thinking of developing full-time capacity to manage their engagements."
He said this may not prove to be a difficult task for the private sector.
However, he said, "In relation to the National Assembly, full-time Members
of Parliament (MPs) must be on the agenda if Parliamentary oversight, which
is being increasingly seen as the key to the development of accountability,
is to be effective."
"While it is appreciated that there is competition for scarce resources, and
increased salaries for MPs might not be at the top of the agenda, the demand
for strengthened accountability is driving it there," he pointed out.
The Speaker of the National Assembly suggested that as a start,
consideration can be given to elevating the Chairs and Deputy Chairs of
Sectoral Committees, and maybe the Public Accounts Committee, together with
a deputy to be provided for in the Standing Orders, to be full-time MPs.
"In this way the work of both the private sector and the National Assembly
can be immeasurably enhanced," he stated.
He noted that the National Assembly is small and under-resourced, having
regard to the level of economic development; however, much effort and state
and donor resources are still being directed to ongoing reforms.
"As part of these, we can develop stakeholder interest and commitment to
utilise the capacity for engagement without requiring expenditure of any
significant amount," Ramkarran noted.
"In this way, one of Parliament's fundamental missions of oversight of the
executive will be nearer to reality," he posited.
"The business community is one section of our society which is substantially
affected by what parliament does and what parliament is going to do in the
future, and it must get on the front seat if it seeks to protect its
interest and those of the community, and to preserve and advance business
activities," Ramkarran attested.
"You cannot expect someone else to be looking out for you and your
interests. You must do so yourself and organise yourself in such a way that
this can be done competently and efficiently," he charged.
He said the next layer of responsibility lies on the Government, which
promulgates all legislation in Guyana.
"It is for you and the Government to establish modalities for your
consultation...the National Assembly, it is our responsibility to inform and
educate the public and the various interests in the community, as to the
possibilities and avenues which exist to communicate their views to the
lawmakers, and at the same time, to the wider community," he said.
To this end, he said, the Economic Services Committee provides a major
Parliamentary forum to which the business community can take its concerns.
"No such forum existed prior to 2005. The business community had no
possibility of engaging the Parliament independently as an institution. It
could only have done so through its individual members or their political
party," the Speaker of the National Assembly recalled.
"This committee can convene hearings, take evidence, and report its
conclusion to the National Assembly. For the first time, the business
community can have its views reported as a community directly to the
National Assembly," he reiterated.
He also noted that the hearings of the Sectoral Committees are public, so
that simultaneously with the transmission of its views to the Committee,
public education is also accomplished.
"The business community has to find ways, by lobbying and other means, to
persuade the appropriate Parliamentary Committee to take on board its
particular concerns and consider it important enough to place the matter on
its agenda," he advised.
Hence, the business community needs to familiarise itself with lobbying
skills, Parliamentary procedures and having regard to the country's small
size, the personalities involved, he suggested.
"Where it has to deal with specific legislation, it has to build the
capacity to monitor what the National Assembly is doing, to understand it,
to determine its views in a timely manner, to mobilise its members, and to
intervene," the Speaker emphasized.

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