Jan 30, 2009 News
In what was the final Bill tabled in his name, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Doodnauth Singh, succeeded in having the House approve the amending of the Constitution of Guyana under the Constitution (Amendment) Bill.
According to the amendment, a clause will be inserted into the Constitution, which reads: “There shall be a Standing Committee of the National Assembly to be named the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on the Security Sector and it shall have responsibility for examining the policies and administration of the entities in the Security sector, namely the Disciplined Forces of Guyana.”
The move stems out of a National Stakeholders forum held in 2008 following the massacres in Lusignan and Bartica.
The People’s National Congress Reform, despite supporting the principle of the Bill, sought a deferral of the proposed legislation given that the terms of reference on the mandate and operations of the committee did not accompany the Bill.
Shadow Finance Minister of the PNCR, Winston Murray, told the House that ever since the issuance of the communiqué in March 12, 2008 calling for the Oversight Committee, the emphasis seems to have changed.
He impressed on the House that “we should ensure to make every effort to meet with what the people expect of us”.
Murray said that it was premature to move ahead with the passage of the legislation given the fact the remit of the committee was unclear. He added, too, that according to a draft remit it was too narrow in scope and should extend to entities outside of the disciplined forces given that there was also issues related to the country’s border such as the claim that Venezuela has on a significant portion of Essequibo.
He posited that the committee should be able to meet with the Minister and be briefed wherein it could make an input in any deliberations by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, pointing out that that was also an issue of national security.
According to Murray, the work of the party had serious reservations with two of the resolutions of the motion that would issue directives for the body. He posited that by rushing to the House to pass the legislation the government was in effect departing from the intention of the National Stakeholder Forum. “They require a broad remit on national security…The Government’s proposal seeks to wither down it and limit it to the discipline forces.”
The party was pushing for the committee to be able to scrutinise all government policies and administration of the entities of the security services. Murray noted that during the course of the fashioning of the remit for the committee the PNCR has made several compromises such as the composition of the committee.
Another aspect of acceptance that the PNCR committed was to the fact that the dealing of the committee will be private and only a decision of the said committee could have the details be made public.
Some areas of difficulties to which he pointed was the fact that the draft motion is void of any mention of having the committee members be sworn to secrecy.
The other bone of contention for the party was the fact that the chairman would be a Minister.
“We believe that no Minister should chair the committee.”
The justification for the party’s position as was explained by Murray was embedded in the fact that the government consisted of three branches, namely the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Murray noted that the party would prefer an alternating chairmanship of the committee between opposition and government, but it should not include any Minister of Government.
Leader of the Alliance for Change, Raphael Trotman, who supported the legislation and also managed to have an amendment included to allow for the committee to enlist the aid of expertise outside of that body to assist in its deliberations, said that in the real world not all things could be achieved at one time but the present move was a step in the right direction.
He did seek to point out to the House that the committee was suggested some 10 years ago and did not emanate from any recent stakeholders’ forum.
Trotman noted that in 2001 a security report was prepared and presented wherein it contained the recommendation that the said committee be established. “Nothing happened.”
In 2002 Caricom established a task force on crime and security which had called for a Parliamentary Oversight Committee and Guyana signed the document. “Nothing happened.”
In 2004 the Discipline Services commission presented a report where there was another call for an oversight committee and nothing happened, according to Trotman.
He also pointed to the 2007 Security Sector Reform Plan where there was another call for the said committee to be established and under that plan Guyana stood to benefit money from Britain.
“They can no longer resist what we have been fighting for ten years now.”
He did point out, however, that the success or failure of the committee will be dependent of the terms of reference for that body.
Presidential advisor on governance, Gail Teixeira said that for the past eight months a special committee has been working assiduously on fashioning the terms of reference, adding that the objections being raised now by the PNC could have been ventilated a long time ago at the level of the parliamentary management committee.
She said that the security sector is a special sector in any country and as such must be treated lightly.
She said that the opposition’s position to passing the legislation without the relevant terms of references was irrelevant, pointing to a previous amendment to the constitution when the terms of reference came two years later. She did point out that she was hopeful that this would not be the case this time around.
Teixeira further said that no other Caricom country had such a committee. The one being proposed was far more advanced than that of the British, she added.
According to People’s Progressive Party General Secretary, Donald Ramotar, the members of the House should be proud to be fashioning the first such committee in the Caribbean, adding that the country was confronted with a new wave of more sophisticated crime.
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