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|Government not pleased with manner of National Assembly proceedings -Attorney General|
|Sunday, 15 July 2012 20:01|
MINISTER of Legal Affairs, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, said government is not pleased with the proceedings in the National Assembly, and while there is full recognition of government’s 32 seats as against 33 of the combined parliamentary opposition,
he stated that government cannot agree with the manner in which the majority position is used to abuse the process, and in some instances to violate the Laws of Guyana.
On the issue of parliamentary motions moved by the opposition, the Attorney General stated the Opposition was seeking to do several irrelevant things, most of which do not require a motion.
Pointing to the fact that some of the motions sought to demand information, he explained that the way is already established for the parliamentary process to serve this end.
Nandlall said that an opposition could simply ask a question of a minister during the sitting of the Assembly or use the Parliamentary Standing Committees which are now dominated by the opposition.
These Committees have the power to compel or subpoena any documents required, and such procedures can allow for all the information required, most of which is available to the public.
Almost all public entities, Ministries, etc. have in the public domain documents in relation to their respective offices, while the Auditor General annually audits their financial accounts, and his report is presented to the National Assembly.
Abuse of parliamentary process
The parliamentary process is being abused, misused and manipulated to score political points, the AG declared. He added that it is “a sham and a veneer” that is created to fool the public that there is an active opposition in the Parliament and that it has the government under pressure.
Reiterating that all information required can be supplied using the existing mechanisms in and out of Parliament, he stated that some of the Motions sought to bring contracts to the National Assembly for review.
“The National Assembly has no jurisdiction over contracts. A contract is a binding document between the two parties who are signing (it). Of course, there are different sections of the National Assembly through which questions on that type of document can be requested. But for the National Assembly as a body to sit and review contracts is not a power that the National Assembly has,” the AG said.
Questioning the purpose of reviewing contracts, he added that the National Assembly has no power to annul, rescind, or do anything about the contract, which remains a binding agreement between two parties.
With a battery of lawyers on the opposition side, “they either understand that, and they are manipulating, abusing and misusing the parliamentary process; or they don’t understand it, and that is quite a distinct possibility,” Nandlall contended.
Motion violates Law
A motion put forward by opposition Member of Parliament Carl Greenidge of A Partnership for National Unity sought to compel the Parliament to deposit all monies which are held in extra budgetary funds into the Consolidated Fund.
The motion was passed using the joint opposition one-seat majority.
Nandlall stated that the Laws of Guyana, along with the Constitution, created the Consolidated Fund. He noted that there are different rules of law, accountancy and accounting principles which apply to the Consolidated Fund and extra budgetary funds.
“The extra budgetary fund clearly was established to be separate and apart from the Consolidated Fund. The Consolidated Fund was established by the Constitution. Article 216 says very clearly that all public monies must be deposited in the Consolidated Fund, save and except if a law says that it must be deposited elsewhere. For example, extra budgetary funds are for statutory agencies like the GGMC. These things are created by statute, and the statutes that create them tell us where you must deposit the monies from these bodies,” Nandlall argued.
The Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003 states that “extra budgetary funds means a fund established by an Act for a specific purpose and funded by specific earmarked revenue, that operates apart from the Consolidated Fund,” Nandlall stated.
He added that the National Assembly is violating the law of the land and using the majority to do so.
The Attorney General pointed to the fact that the National Assembly is the forum through which laws come as Bills in Parliament, and are debated before receiving presidential concurrence to become law.
“So the National Assembly is very instrumental in the law making process, and if the National Assembly is in itself and by its own conduct violating the laws of the land, how does the National Assembly expect the ordinary man in the street to obey the law when they themselves are violating the law?” he questioned.
Nandlall said he brought these points emphatically to the attention of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Raphael Trotman. “The Speaker is ultimately presiding over the National Assembly, and is ultimately responsible for the way in which the National Assembly conducts itself,” he observed.
A parliamentary majority does not authorise actions outside of the Constitution. “You are a creature of the constitution, so you must act within the Constitution. A majority cannot allo1w you to act outside of the laws of Guyana. The Parliament is not above the Constitution. I believe that the Speaker understands that,” he stated.
He noted that, in future years, the parliamentary Hansard (records of sittings of the National Assembly) will reflect what he terms the irresponsibility of the current Parliament, and the position which is being articulated by the Government.
“You cannot use a majority to arrogate the laws of the land; to allocate to yourself powers which you do not have as a National Assembly; to perform functions which you do not want as a National Assembly,” he said.
Pointing out that the National Assembly is moving another Motion by APNU MP Greenidge to set up a committee to review legislation, the AG stated clearly that the power to review legislation “is a power which resides in the court only.”
He said the National Assembly is proposing to hear and debate a motion, the purpose of which is to set up within the Assembly a committee of members to review a valid law which was passed by the National Assembly.
Responsibility of the Legislature
Nandlall declared that while the National Assembly cannot review its own laws. Such a Motion has been scheduled to be debated at the next sitting, and will no doubt be passed.
President and Executive mandate
Referring to a statement made by President Donald Ramotar that he will not agree to any Bill that has no input from the Executive, Nandlall said that this power to withhold assent of a Bill which has been passed through the National Assembly is a Constitutional freedom which the President has. He will then return that Bill to the Speaker with a note on his reasons for not concurring.
He explained that a President who is the head of the Executive, as in Guyana’s system, can do so, since the Executive is responsible for administering and enforcing the laws of the country.
The Parliament, which consists of the National Assembly and the President, is the body that makes the law; the Judiciary interprets and applies the law, while the Executive administers and enforces the law.
The Attorney General stated that despite the fact that members of the Executive are standing up in the National Assembly and objecting to what is inconsistent with Government policy or laws, or that Government does not have the capabilities of enforcing such a law, the one-seat majority is used “to ram that down the throat of the National Assembly.”
“How in that kind of context can a President assent to the Bill? How can an Attorney General advise a President to assent to that type of Bill, or a Bill in that kind of situation?” he questioned.
Nandlall observed that the issue is not about opposing the Opposition; rather, it is about “bringing Bills which are consistent with extant Executive’s policies, and bringing Bills which are capable of being enforced by the Executive.
If the Executive is incapable of enforcing a particular law, because we don’t have the technical expertise, or we don’t have the infrastructure necessary, or we don’t have the resources which are necessary, how in those circumstances can a President assent to it?”
The threat of refusal of presidential assent to Bills without Executive input is seen by some as the interference of the Executive in the running of Parliament.
Nandlall said this is an obvious view “of the people who don’t understand our constitutional structure.
“The President is a constituent part of the Parliament. The Parliament is made up of two parts: the National Assembly on the one part, and the Executive President on the other part,” he said.
“It is not Executive interference. The President is Parliament discharging its legislative function. That argument is obviously coming from people who don’t understand the law and the Constitution,” he said.
Applying to the Judiciary
The Attorney General has twice applied to the High Court on matters coming out of the National Assembly. When the first case started, there were objections that the court had no jurisdiction to enquire into the conduct of Parliament, and that the Parliament is immune from jurisdiction by the courts.
The first victory was that the court found that there is jurisdiction to review whether there was a constitutional violation by the National Assembly. There was none in the first case, and the AG lost. “But I will continue to go to the court if I believe there is violation of the law,” he said.
Considering the current parliamentary dispensation and the behaviour of the National Assembly, he said what he is doing is democratic, and legal. “If you don’t agree with a decision, you go to the court to resolve it. You may not win all; hopefully, you may win some, and those that you do not win, you will learn from them.”
The new dispensation has not delivered; it has been a disaster is the view of the AG, “The Parliament of compromise and consensus has not been working so far. There has not been any effort from the other side.”
He posited that the majority power enjoyed by the opposition, if used constructively and reasonably, can be a great one.
Unfortunately, he said, it is being used as a weapon of vendetta, and political instrument to attack the Government.
“The unfortunate thing is that, ultimately, persons who are suffering from this vicious use of this one-seat majority (are) the ordinary people of this country, which include their own supporters. But that fact seems to have been lost (on them).
“One opposition party was so bold (as) to say that it is collateral damage. It’s a most insensitive statement when one has regard to the devastating consequences that these actions are having and will continue to have on the ordinary people.”
Cabinet and President
The President is following closely what is going on, and is “trying to get on with Executive policies and programmes and plans to improve the lives and livelihoods of the ordinary working people across the class, race and political divide,” he said.
“We have a Manifesto that we have promised the people of this country, we are working assiduously to ensure that we keep those promises.”
He stated that the Administration is undeterred by the parliamentary matrix, and is now more resolute on achieving those goals.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 15 July 2012 20:48|
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