Westford silent on Parliament Office request for legal counsel

National Assembly Clerk Sherlock Isaacs says he plans to engage the Public Service Ministry to ascertain Dr Jennifer Westford’s position on Parliament Office retaining its own legal counsel and supporting staff.

According to Isaacs, a request was made of the ministry on July 18 but to date, almost two months after, the ministry has not even acknowledged the receipt of the request.

Stabroek News contacted Minister Westford yesterday morning in an effort to find out the status of the request, however she made it clear that the business of the ministry is not to be shared with “ persons outside the ministry,” and particularly the media.

     Sherlock Isaacs
Sherlock Isaacs
 Jennifer Westford
Jennifer Westford

Further probing proved futile as even attempts to verify whether or not such a request was sent were shot down by the minister, who said that the ministry is not in the business of verifying the business of the public service.

Nevertheless, Isaacs had indicated the need to enquire of the ministry in the light of its failure to at least respond to his request.

House Speaker Raphael Trotman has indicated that he intends on de-linking Parliament Office from government by ensuring it has its own legal counsel, and he says the matter will be placed on the front burner once parliamentarians return from their annual recess next month.

Despite whatever is done in the National Assembly, no additional staff can be taken on until the ministry has given its approval. Approval would create the openings and allow Parliament Office to hire the relevant personnel, effectively ending its dependence on Cecil Dhurjon, Chief Parliamentary Counsel within the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

Dhurjon’s role is to scrutinise bills passed in the National Assembly to ensure that they are properly prepared before being sent off to the President for assent. Isaacs said that the customary practice coupled with the complex nature of the changes that were to be made to the recently passed local government bills compelled him to solicit the assistance of Dhurjon, who after giving this assistance, reportedly advised Isaacs to leave the bills on his desk to be mulled over one last time. The bills—the Fiscal Transfers Bill, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, the Local Government Commission Bill and the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Bill, all unanimously passed in the National Assembly on August 7—have not been returned to Isaacs since then.

Attempts were made on Friday and again yesterday to contact Dhurjon but these were unsuccessful.

Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General Anil Nandlall has, on several occasions, given assurances that the bills are being looked at.

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