The National Assembly must be taken out of the control of government as is demanded by the doctrine of the separation of powers if it is to effectively execute its mandate as the law making arm of government, says House Speaker Raphael Trotman.
Recently, Trotman as well as the National Assembly’s Clerk Sherlock Isaacs stressed the importance of retaining the services of a Legal Counsel to serve Parliament.
If this is done, bills passed by the National Assembly will no longer have to be sent to the Attorney General’s Office for scrutiny, but will be examined in the National Assembly by its own legal counsel before being sent to the President who will then give or withhold assent.
Once this system is implemented, the National Assembly would have attained some amount of independence from the executive arm of government (the Attorney General’s Chambers), but Trotman says that he intends to strive for an all-out independent National Assembly, pointing out that the legislature is currently dependent on government in more ways than one.
Currently, Trotman said on Tuesday, Parliament Office requires the permission of the Ministry of Public Service before it can create vacancies for needed staff, as is the case with legal counsel, or even to train its existing staff members to increase their proficiency.
Many times, Trotman lamented, by the time the ministry responds to the requests for permission to undertake staff training, the opportunities, some of which are made available through international initiatives, would have already passed.
Parliament Office does not control its own budget nor is it able to plan events without permission from the executive, Trotman said, while arguing that these realities must change.
An important pillar of a democratic government is the enforcement of the doctrine of separation of powers, and Trotman said that for this to be done the National Assembly must be taken out of the government’s hands.
Though the apparent need for this separation to be enforced has become prominent in recent months, Trotman explained that it is something that was recommended in the Sir Michael Davies Report of 2005. In the report, it is recommended that the Speaker assume the responsibility of appointing the Clerk, and that the Clerk become the employer of all staff for Parliament Office.
The report also recommends that Parliament Office be given control of its budget without interference from the Ministry of Finance.
Nevertheless, several years after the recommendations were made they have not been implemented and Trotman said he will be pushing for them to be adopted.
But Trotman faces an uphill battle since the existing system dates back to before Guyana gained its independence from the British.
Although opposition parliamentarians began to push for an independent Parliament Office after Sir Michael Davies’ recommendations, the decision rested solely with the PPP/C government prior to 2011, since it had control of the majority of the seats of the National Assembly and set the legislative agenda. During this time, the only bills that were sent to the AG’s Chambers were those that government approved.
The new dispensation that was created after the 2011 elections, where the opposition have a one-seat parliamentary majority, has created issues which have continued to snowball and have led to many calls for procedural changes, including the way the National Assembly is being controlled.