Monday, July 27, 2009

Full-time MPs needed for parliament oversight - Carberry

Stabroek News news item, Monday 27 July 2009 - "Full-time MPs needed for parliament oversight - Carberry" -

Full-time MPs are needed for effective parliamentary oversight, Opposition Chief Whip Lance Carberry says.

Addressing a working session of the 34th Annual Regional Conference of the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), at the Guyana Inter-national Conference Centre, recently, Carberry said the evolution of a vibrant committee system in Guyana has demonstrated the need for Members of Parliament to function almost on a full-time basis. “The reality is that the establishment of the committee system has proven to be very challenging, since like in most Caribbean territories they operate on a part-time basis,” he explained. “This is obviously a matter which must be confronted if the system is to allow the National Assembly to exercise an effective oversight function.” Full-time MPs had been previously called for by Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran.

In a presentation on “Strengthening Parliaments within the Region,” Carberry emphasised the importance of strengthening institutional capacity, systems and procedures which “promote effective oversight” of the executive and “ensure their accountability” to the people. He said the ultimate objective is good governance, underpinned by the observation of the rule of law. He recalled US President’s Barack Obama’s recent address to the Ghanaian parliament, where it was noted that “capable, reliable and transparent” institutions are the key to success, including strong parliaments, honest police forces, independent judges, an independent press, a vibrant private sector and a civil society.

In this regard, Carberry noted that constitutional reforms have strengthened Guyana’s parliamentary system, particularly in the area of the promotion of good governance. He noted the constitutional reforms ushered in by the Herdmanston Accord and the St. Lucia Agreement, and in particular the advent of Article 13, which speaks to the establishment of an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organizations in the management and decision-making processes of the state. “This is of tremendous importance,” Carberry added, “And a major challenge for the delivery of governance in Guyana.”

But he added that evaluating the success of the reforms would depend on the expeditious implementation of the constitutional changes, paying particular attention to the spirit and intention of the reforms. He pointed out that it is not enough to establish committees that are “not endowed with the resources and institutional support” to enable them to discharge their mandates effectively.

Carberry added that it is “inconsistent” with the idea of “separation of powers” for any legislature to be a “budget agency” under the executive. “The legislature ought to be independent and therefore… ought to make decisions which in fact promote the development of the legislative system,” he added, “And because the legislative system has the responsibility for oversight, and ensuring that governments are accountable, it is very important that they are independent of the executive, I don’t think there is any arguing about that.”

A number of issues related to the autonomy of the parliament, including its staffing and its budget, are still before a select committee reviewing the major recommendations of the Sir Michael Davies needs assessment and the World Bank-funded Guyana Fiduciary Oversight Project report for implementation. The Guyana Fiduciary Oversight Project Final Framework and Guidelines Report had recommended that the Parliament employ its own staff and that the Speaker should appoint the Clerk after consultations with all parties. A similar recommendation for the Parliament to have control of its staffing had also been made in the assessment by Sir Michael Davies. Both studies were conducted during the seventh and eighth parliaments and major reforms were adopted by the National Assembly.

The committee, which has an extended deadline of August this year, is currently examining the mechanism through which the Parliament Office would begin to employ its own staff. The special select committee was also charged by the Assembly with examining the current constitutional arrangement for the appointment of the Clerk and advising whether there is need for a change and what it should be. The committee was appointed by a resolution of the Assembly, dated January 11, 2007.

The delay in completing the committee’s work has prompted criticism that the government is filibustering. PNCR-1G MP Winston Murray said in a recent interview that the committee meets infrequently and the government members have said “unofficially” that they are not prepared to give up control. “What they want to do is to reopen the issue,” he explained, saying that the committee has no such mandate since the National Assembly has already adopted the recommendation and agreed to implementation. “We are past that mandate, we are past that point, we are [there] to decide how we may achieve that objective and what recommendations we want to put to the National Assembly and also to recommend any constitutional changes that may be necessary,” Murray added.

A senior government official whom this newspaper approached emphasised that the committee work takes time and that costs were also a concern of the administration that needed to be addressed. Also, officially the government has said while it agrees to the recommendation that the Parliament be in control of its own budget, it is concerned that “control by the parliament does not threaten the integrity of the Government’s established mechanisms for ensuring responsible fiscal management.”

Sir Michael had found that the Assembly has no power to appoint, dismiss or promote the staff that works for it; rather, it is the function of the Public Service Commission. Sir Michael called it “astonishing,” saying it could lead to “undesirable consequences.” He noted that some staff had not had their appointments confirmed after several years in the post, despite several letters from the Clerk asking for their appointment to be confirmed. Additionally, he had found that half the staff had been employed on a temporary basis.

The Government has identified improvement of Fiduciary Oversight as an important aspect of its work on development of good governance. Thirty recommendations for improving fiduciary oversight through strengthening of the National Assembly, the Financial Sector and the Integrity Commission were adopted by stakeholders for implementation.

As a result, the reforms aimed to strengthen the National Assembly as a Fiduciary Oversight body, through capacity building for special committees, including the Public Accounts and Economic Service Commit-tees and the Management Committee of Parliament.

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