Parliamentary reforms increasing political accord, Ramkarran says– still a lot of work to be done
Posted By Stabroek staff On April 5, 2009 @ 5:58 am In Local News | 16 Comments
Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran says parliamentary reform has been yielding greater political cooperation, although there remains a great deal of work to be done.
Ramkarran noted that reforms have particularly enhanced the work of select committees, where there is a far greater capacity for cooperation and consensus among political parties.
For almost three years, the National Assembly has been engaged in implementing reforms. These include recommendations contained in a 2005 Needs Assessment conducted by Commonwealth Parliamentary Staff Advisor Sir Michael Davies as well as those contained in the 2005 Guyana Fiduciary Oversight Report done by Bradford and Associates for the World Bank. The approved reforms were adopted along with other recommendations compiled by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which has funded implementation under a US$600,000 programme for the strengthening of the Parliament. Further, the Parliamentary Management Committee (PMC) has approved a strategic plan for the Parliament that was prepared under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and partially funded under the Fiscal and Financial Management Programme (FFMP). A part of the plan, dealing with proposals for the budgetary and staffing autonomy of the Parliament Office, is awaiting the completion of the work of a Special Select Committee.
Ralph Ramkarran 
In his report, Sir Michael Davies had noted that his recommendations were intended to effect changes to enable the National Assembly to become the principal institution for political dialogue. He found that although the Parliament was recognised as paramount in the Constitution, it was not playing its proper role in governance. He cited the lack of independence of the Parliament and its management from the control of the executive among his findings as well as a committee system that was not functioning. In particular, he recommended that committees should be given work on a much more regular basis, choosing subjects for inquiry which are focused and capable of being completed within two to three months. Further, he said committees should recognise that they were bodies in which party differences should be largely forgotten.
“The atmosphere has been transformed,” Ramkarran said of the ongoing reforms in a recent interview with Stabroek News, noting that more bills are going to Special Select Committees while the Standing Committee system is becoming more effective. “This is what is facilitating the better functioning of Parliament and strengthening its capacity as a place where a continuing political dialogue can take place fruitfully.”
A recent example of the success of dialogue at the parliamentary level, according to Ramkarran, was the political consensus reached on the passage of a motion directing the Economic Services Committee to monitor the developments at CLICO (Guyana), while guaranteeing the savings of policy holders and other investors. The motion, in the name of PNCR-1G leader Robert Corbin and seconded by PNCR-1G MP Winston Murray, also resolved to call on the government to take all necessary steps to ensure that there would be no financial loss to any policyholder or depositor in CLICO (Guyana) and to secure investments made by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) in CLICO (Guyana) on behalf of contributors. It was passed with support by the governing PPP/C as well as the AFC and GAP-ROAR.
According to Ramkarran, reaching agreement on the motion was difficult, given the sharp differences between the government and opposition parties. He explained that while there were discussions on the motion to ensure it did not breach any rules, there were simultaneous talks ongoing between government and the opposition on the resolutions. “Now, it was very tough bargaining, I understand,” he said, “but eventually they came to an agreement on a matter where there is still significant difference.”
At the same time, he noted that while there has been progress, it is a slow process that still requires a great deal of work. Ramkarran also pointed out that like in every other country, the success of political dialogue would be subject to sharp political differences between the parties. Further, he pointed out that political differences have the added dimension of the historical association made between two large majorities of the population and two political parties.
Reacting to the concern about the majority having the final say, he noted that it is no different in other Westminster-type parliaments where the executive sits and the governing party holds the majority. He added that there is a little more flexibility in developed countries like the UK, where some MPs choose to vote against party lines under constituency systems. “But I find wherever a Bill goes to Select Committee, there is a far greater capacity for cooperation and consensus and that should be done more often,” he said.
Asked whether in that context, the enactment of recall legislation could be seen as a backward step since it entrenches voting along party lines, Ramkarran indicated that the law was oriented towards the current electoral system, which provides for Members of Parliament (MPs) who are selected from party lists by their respective leadership. “What happens in the case of an MP who is selected by his party leadership?” he asked. “He is not selected by a constituency -whether right or wrong that is the system we have.” He added that it is unlikely that the decision on the selection of the MP list would be made arbitrarily by any individual leader. Rather, he said, the process extended to the ground and great care is taken to ensure the list is representative. “At the end of the day, there must be a mechanism for when one member says I no longer support the party,” he said. “How can you have within your ranks a member who you put there, who says that he no longer supports your party?”
Ramkarran said that there was a vast number of countries with recall legislation, adding it was nothing unusual.
He also felt that the parliament would be a useful forum to some extent for actualising Article 13, which provides for increasing participation of citizens and civil society organisations in the decision-making process of the state. He noted that the committee system, in particular, is oriented to encourage public participation, through the holding of public hearings. He added that his call for some full-time MPs could see more work being done. Ramkarran explained that while some committees are functioning okay, others are not, adding that it depended on the workload of the chairperson. He noted that committees suffer when chairpersons have to manage a large workload. A permanent full-time chair and staff, he said, would enhance the work of the committees, especially since the facilities are now in place to support them.
Sir Michael had also noted the need to improve relations with all sections of civil society and the private sector and to take steps to facilitate access to information about the work of the National Assembly.
“The relationship between the Parliament and civil society and private sector is not as it should be,” Ramkarran acknowledged, adding that there is need to meet various sections of the society to explain Parliament’s work and show how they can help each other. He said there is a lot of work that will be done, targeting schools, NGOs, the business community, trade unions and service organisations.
He noted that just recently a public relations officer was hired for the National Assembly and tasked with publicising its work and generating greater public interest. Asked whether the National Assembly is considering broadcasting its proceedings either by radio or through the internet, he admitted that it is not being explored. Though he indicated an interest in radio broadcasting, he said the National Assembly is engaged in a tremendous amount of work and does not have the capacity. He said it is currently in the midst of setting up a Hansard Department, through which it hoped to get Hansards to MPs within a maximum of four weeks. He said the possibility of producing them in electronic form is also being pursued as is updating and archiving on the Parliament’s website. Responding to the question of whether the public is interested in the work of the Parliament, Ramkarran said “It’s not whether the public is interested; that’s not the criteria—it’s not a question of how many people are interested, it’s a question of what the parliament needs to do to have its business in the public domain.”
16 Comments (Open | Close)
16 Comments To "Parliamentary reforms increasing political accord, Ramkarran says"
#1 Comment By Seefar On April 5, 2009 @ 8:04 am
The political climate in Guyana will not improve until people are allowed to elect their representatives and their representatives can vote their interests regardless of the party line. Too much power is concentrated in the hands of the politicians. A system where one votes for a party and allows the party to decide who one’s representative will be does not provide fair representation. In the current system most people don’t know who represents their district and cannot demand that their representative act or lose the right to represent them in the next term of office by being voted out.
#2 Comment By eloise On April 5, 2009 @ 10:17 am
SEEfAR YOU ARE SO RIGHT
#3 Comment By Joe On April 5, 2009 @ 10:51 am
The parlimentary system in Guyana is dysfunctional and irrelevant to the needs of the people. It does not matter what system of parliment they are practicing,it simply does not meet the needs of the people.
What we have here is the political power elites who get to wield the power and get to put food on their table. Then there is the opposition, who fight for the right to wield some of that power and who get to put food on their table also.
The majority of the population is shut out from the process and left to struggle by themselves.
This is the way it was intended to be my friends, this is the way it will always be, no matter who takes the reins of power.
It was never intended to take care of the need of the masses only that of the controlling elite. It is the system of the Empire builders my friends, it will never work for us.
The last thing the country needs is for our most meaningful leaders to lock themselves behind these prominent concrete walls and haggle forever, on the virtues of administration based on a deceptive system of divide and rule, which they cunningly call Democracy. Government for the people by the people. What a crock of BS.
I am not at all surprised that the IDB and the World Bank would give grants and send in their “expert” to make recommendations for a more meaningful Westminster style of parliment. It serves to their advantage.
They are trying to even the battle field and then say; ok guys you now have it right, go right ahead and continue fighting about all the non issues you can possibly conjure up in your little parliment playpen.
Attaboy mates, you are now doing a jolly good job. While you guys are at it, please keep in mind that you still owe us on that last loan.
Nothing tangible or meaningful to the development of Guyana ever came out of that building called parliment. They need to convert it to the people Library.
We do not need leaders who know how to practice Westminster style politics, we need leaders who can mobolize the people to come out with their forks and shovels and reshape the landscape for the betterment of all.
This continent is filled with examples and remnants of great and powerful lost civilizations, who built monumental cities and irrigation canals useing tools and techinques that has baffled the greatest scientific minds to this day.They did it all with local resources and materials, and no loans from any foreign money lenders.
We are the descendants of those lost civilizations and yet we are unable to build a proper irrigation and drainage system. Are you kidding me?
The reason for this is because we are being constantly misguided in the wrong direction. Enough already.
#4 Comment By Andy On April 5, 2009 @ 11:11 am
Man, you can reaaly tell the truth as much as you can see far! Though the original source is not known at this time, the following is a related extract from another Guyanese blog that you don’t have to agree with entirely, but it is food for thought:
1) The Presidency: The President maintains the awesome reserve powers of the British Sovereign in the most fundamental ways as exercised by the last of the powerful Crown Governors of British Guiana. The President of Guyana is less president, more Sovereign. He is also still immune from the Civil and Criminal courts for any act whatsoever as is the British Sovereign. He maintains de facto absolute veto over Parliament. In the off chance that Parliament moves to override a Presidential veto, he may simply by proclamation dissolve Parliament. However, even that scenario can only happen in theory as our List MPs are subject to recall if they dare stray from their party line. Parliament is thus effectively a forum of the Leader of the PPP and the Leader of the PNC with ceremonial bit parts for their MP-servants.
2) Parliament: The matters brought before the House are solely at the discretion of the Leader of Gov’t Business. No free votes or votes of conscience has ever been allowed in this the Ninth or the previous Parliaments. The Opposition may meekly oppose in debate and then cast meaningless votes. The Speaker is not even a “parliamentary” speaker but a mere Servant of the Sovereign (read Jagdeo). In the Westminister system, the Speaker’s authority and impartiality is buttressed and reinforced by his seat becoming uncontestable for the remainder of his poltical life and that no party (esp his own) would dare take reprisal against him for an unfavorable ruling. Also the Speaker by tradition may never hold a further political office. In the Guyanese Parliament, the Speaker is just another Agent of the Sovereign. He does not and cannot protect the House’s Members from the Sovereign’s displeasure. A famous scene in English constitutional history took place in 1642 when King Charles I and his Guard entered the House of Commons in search of 5 MPs and demanded of Speaker William Lenthall that he reveal their location. Speaker Lenthall very bravely said “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.” That is the essence of the role of a Parliamentary Speaker.
#5 Comment By Diamond Dog On April 5, 2009 @ 11:56 am
There is a refreshing wind of change blowing across the universe, yet Guyana seems bent on wallowing in the same old stale, political vamparisimic dead atmosphere.Racism, bad leadership and corruption, have sucked the oxygen from Guyana’s once refreshing climate, leaving the guyanese people stagnated and struggling for survival. Guyana must have new leadership, or die a slow, but painful economic death.
#6 Comment By caesar agustus On April 5, 2009 @ 12:13 pm
We need to cut government spending and stop employing more politicians, or forming political committees.Politicians are a burden to the taxpayer.We need cut the political apparatus in half, and fire some of these chair warmers operating at the public expense.
#7 Comment By Joe On April 5, 2009 @ 12:37 pm
The following quote demonstrates what this so called democratic system of parliament, which was introduced to us by the British House of Lords, does to all of us.
“The ideal tyranny is that which is ignorantly self-administered by its victims. The most perfect slaves are, therefore, those which blissfully and unawarely enslave themselves.” -Dresden James
#8 Comment By Joe On April 5, 2009 @ 1:25 pm
My friends this attached video is by an Argentenian financial analyst, who very eloquently explains the financial crisis and the failed attempts to correct the situation. Our leaders in Guyana are completely blind, but you do not have to be.
Knowledge is real power my friends, we owe it to ourselves.
It is a two part series. Enjoy my friends.
#9 Comment By eric phillips On April 5, 2009 @ 3:38 pm
you are in rare and correct form …we need to rid ourselves of the system and all those whom have been politicains for more than 10 years
#10 Comment By storme williams On April 5, 2009 @ 4:15 pm
The 1980 Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana was the author’s gift to Forbes Burnham and the PNC. Forbes was supposed to be still alive and the PNC was supposed to be still in power. Unfortunately Forbes died and the PNC lost power. The Constitution turned out to be the perfect gift for the PPP. I will always remember what a former PPP parliamentarian now in the opposition told me after 1992 elections. I questioned about constitutional reforms that were spoken of in the campaign. He said to me that who would not like to rule with a constitution like that. So basically the PPP has replaced the PNC.
#11 Comment By caesar agustus On April 5, 2009 @ 9:01 pm
Better. ‘No one is more enslaved than the one who says he is free.’
#12 Comment By tiger On April 6, 2009 @ 1:45 pm
agreed storme,same political crap, just different people, i can remember back in the days when the ppp use to noisely protest the laws of the then pnc, but when you look at all of it, nothing has changed, infact it now greatly benifits the ppp.
#13 Comment By Brandon Samaroo On April 6, 2009 @ 2:29 pm
You are on the money. The political climate also will not change unless there is full transparency so parliament and the people can see where lotto funds are being spent, where NIS money is being invested and the returns we are getting on those investments etc.
TRANSPARENCY RALPHie boy Transparency
#14 Comment By Brandon Samaroo On April 6, 2009 @ 2:48 pm
Now you are talking you are on the money here.
It is amazing how many Guyanese do not realize this.
#15 Comment By Soldier On April 6, 2009 @ 4:23 pm
The Auditor General report on on of these Mr Samaroo,,,When the PNC was in power did you get any report then and could you have asked for it??? Asking for it then was like waking up in the Lockups with your eyes swolen…This is the difference that the PPPC has brought in Guyana…
#16 Comment By Brandon Samaroo On April 7, 2009 @ 4:57 pm
The auditor general reports on lotto funds and the audited financials of state corp?
Weh? show me? publish them ere lemmme see em?
Everytime I ask you to back up your statements soldier you run and hide like a kat. I asked you for the comparisons to show where Obama budget and Jagdeo budget are the same, ah still waitin.
Article printed from Stabroek News: http://www.stabroeknews.com
URL to article: http://www.stabroeknews.com/2009/news/local/04/05/parliamentary-reforms-increasing-political-accord-ramkarran-says/