Gov’t, opposition at impasse on make-up of House committees

A meeting of the National Assembly’s Committee of Selection to decide on the composition of parliamentary committees ended in a stalemate yesterday as the government and the opposition remained divided over the numbers.
The ruling PPP/C and opposition APNU and AFC are now expected to try and reach consensus when tripartite talks resume next week.

According to reliable sources, the Committee of Selection meeting yesterday ended with the government holding to the view that the numerical composition of the committees of the House should be retained as they had been in previous parliaments, when the PPP/C government held an overall majority. But the opposition members were adamant that this could not be maintained, given that the combined APNU and AFC now have a one-seat majority in Parliament.

According to sources, the government members’ line of reasoning is that the PPP/C is the party with the single most seats in Parliament and therefore should have the most seats on the committees.

“The government took the view that the committees should remain with 10 members, reflective of their having five seats, the APNU four and the AFC one. But the opposition did not want this, so it was put to a vote,” another well-placed source said, while adding that the opposition out-voted the government on the issue.

After the vote, the opposition parties were about to proceed with the naming of their members of the various committees whose composition the Committee of Selection was empowered to determine. At this point, the government side, led by Presidential Adviser on Governance Gail Teixeira, reminded the opposition of the tripartite talks, at which the issue of composition of committees had been highly contentious. Speaker Raphael Trotman later suggested that the parties continue dialogue and it was agreed that the parties would meet before the end of next week.

Meanwhile, Stabroek News understands that APNU is to bring a Motion to the National Assembly that would seek to amend the Standing Orders as it relates to the composition of certain committees, such as the Sectoral Committees, in order to ensure there is an opposition majority. At yesterday’s meeting, the opposition argued that the composition of those committees should reflect the new proportionality in Parliament following the 2011 elections and the achievement of a one-seat majority. The Committee of Selection is responsible for determining the numerical composition of the Appointive Committee, the Constitutional Reform Committee and the Public Accounts Committee.

Two weeks ago, the opposition used its majority to defeat the government on a vote to determine the composition of the Committee of Selection. The committee comprises nine members: four from government and five from the combined APNU and AFC.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds had proposed that there be a ten-member Committee of Selection with five members for the Government, four members for APNU and one member for the AFC. Teixeira at that time said that the issue is to ensure that there is a balance of the parties’ strength in Parliament and that it must be based on the number of seats that the parties held in Parliament.

On the government side, the members of the Committee of Selection are Prime Minister Hinds, Teixeira, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and Indra Chandarpal. For the opposition, the members are Amna Ally, Joseph Harmon, Volda Lawrence and George Norton of APNU and Khemraj Ramjattan of the AFC.

Last week, the government accused APNU and AFC of using their combined vote in the National Assembly for partisan political interests, while saying that in doing so they “undermine constitutionality” and “disregard parliamentary norms and traditions.”

Attorney General Anil Nandlall told that the actions of the combined opposition, in using their majority to select the Speaker, establish the composition of the Committee of Selection and to recently delay approval of government expenditure, have violated the spirit of the Constitution. “The Constitution contemplates that it would not be a disputed issue,” said Nandlall, on the attempt by the Government to present and pass two financial papers last week. “The framers of the Constitution intended to achieve accountability by inserting this requirement and the government in its effort to fulfil this requirement by laying in the National Assembly monies already spent and in attempting to secure approval of the Parliament is carrying out a perfunctory function. The main purpose of the constitutional requirements is for the government to present these accounts,” Nandlall added.

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