Local gov’t, hydro bills for AG’s scrutiny before assent

Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs says the four recently passed local government bills and the Hydro Electric Power (Amendment) Bill need to be sent to the office of the Attorney General (AG) for assent certificates before they are sent to President Donald Ramotar to sign them into law.

Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday afternoon, Isaacs said that his office was still working with the AG’s Chambers to include the changes which were made to the bills during Wednesday’s marathon sitting of the National Assembly, which went until 3am yesterday.

Isaacs explained that once this was done, the bills would then be sent off to the AG’s office to be certified. He said though that considering the urgency of the Amaila project, for which the Hydro Electric Power (Amendment) Bill was passed, he would give the legislation priority. Nonetheless, he added that all of the bills would be sent off this morning. Isaacs said that he was unsure how long it would take for the AG to consider the bills. Stabroek News attempted to contact AG Anil Nandlall on this matter but his phone was turned off.

Once issued with the certificate by the AG’s Office, Isaacs said, the bills will return to him, at which time he will inform the Head of the Presidential Secretariat Roger Luncheon of their readiness to be received by the President for him to give assent.

The local government bills—the Local Government Commission Bill, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, the Municipal and District Councils (Amend-ment) Bill and the Fiscal Transfers Bill—are intended to allow for the holding of local government elections, which were last held in 1994.

Legal advice
There has been criticism concerning the sending of bills to the AG’s office, as opposed to sending them directly to the President for his signature. The criticism was sparked after two opposition Bills passed by the National Assembly—the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill and the Former Presi-dents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Bill–remained stalled at AG’s office for months. This sparked criticism that Nandlall was intentionally stalling the assent of the bills, which were eventually vetoed by Ramotar.

APNU MP Carl Greenidge, who piloted the bills, had echoed criticisms that sending them and other material to the AG for advice after approval by the House was inappropriate. “It is neither legal nor constitutional requirement,” Greenidge had said.

He urged Isaacs to reconsider the procedure which he was using, arguing that it was his (Isaacs) responsibility to dispatch the bills to the president and it is for the president to secure the timely advice of his AG and anyone else he deems fit within the time limit stipulated for the consideration of the bill and his assent.
In response to Greenidge, Isaacs had explained that in absence of Legal Counsel in the Parliament Office, all bills are sent to the AG’s Chambers to ensure that they are properly drafted before they are submitted to the president.

However, not wanting a recurrence of such a scenario, Isaacs said that he has sought and received legal counsel from a prominent lawyer who is not a part of the political fraternity. Isaacs said that he has been advised that all bills brought by the government ought to be sent to the AG’s office for his consideration before it goes off to the president. In the case of private bills, however, he said, these do not require the consideration of the AG.

Isaacs further explained that once the AG has issued the assent certificates for the bills, they will be returned to him, then dispatched to the Office of the President immediately.

What is left to be seen is if the local government bills will receive the president’s assent, especially considering that two of them, the Local Government Commission Bill and the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, contain areas of contention between the government and the opposition parties.

Meanwhile, Isaacs added that the debt ceiling motion, which was also passed on Wednesday, has become a resolution and would have been sent off to Finance Minister Ashni Singh and House Speaker Raphael Trotman yesterday afternoon. All other persons involved, he said, will get their copies of the resolution today.

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