– APNU will return to the House with Bills that the President refused to assent to
By Abena Rockcliffe
Last Thursday marked the 21st day since four Local Government Bills, essential for the holding of Local Government Elections, were passed in the National Assembly. However, on to this 25th day, no word has been disseminated from the Office of the President as to whether Head of State Donald Ramotar has assented to the Bill or has chosen not to.
As such, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman has signaled his intention to write the President on the pending pieces of legislations.
He told Kaieteur News that he has to first consult with the Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs and will then proceed with his endeavor.
The constitution has provided the President with a 21 days period for his assent to a Bill. The President has to act on or before those allotted days have elapsed and has the right to withhold his assent and return it to the National Assembly. If a Bill is not assented to, it remains ineffective.
Nineteen years after the last Local Government Elections were held in Guyana, the National Assembly, on August 7th, approved a suite of legislation to pave the way for a fresh round of elections.
The House approved the Fiscal Transfers Bill, the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Bill, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill and the Local Government Commission Bill. This was after a 12 year period of attempting to reform the process.
Local Government Minister, Ganga Persaud, piloted all four of the Bills and while government supported the pieces of legislation, it attempted to amend at least two of the Bills.
The Bills were presented to the House after it emerged from a Special Select Committee, which is chaired by APNU’s Basil Williams and where the Opposition held a majority.
Both Minister Persaud and Junior Local Government Minister Norman Whittaker lamented that the Opposition had hijacked the Bills at the Committee stage and included in the proposed legislation, aspects that had not even been submitted by the Local Government taskforce that was eventually disbanded.
One of the contentious issues that eventually found compromise on the floor of the Assembly was the number of persons to make up the Local Government Commission.
It was successfully amended from seven to eight after the Alliance For Change (AFC) voted in support of the amendment.
Although the AFC and APNU have been taking different stances on parliamentary issues lately, both parties are keen about the President’s assent to the four Bills.
Contacted yesterday, Leader of the Opposition David Granger said that his party, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) is paying close attention to “the situation.” He said that he expects the President to fulfill his constitutional obligation—all other issues being put aside.
Granger pointed to the fact that Ramotar warned last year that he will not assent to any Bill that didn’t attract the support of the People Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) in the National Assembly. The Opposition Leader said however that in this situation, the President has no excuse since the Bills were unanimously passed.
The Opposition Leader added that it may be a constitutional crisis if the house unanimously passed a Bill that the President refuses to assent to.
While unconfirmed reports suggest that the Bills remain with the Chambers of Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall, AFC says it still finds it “very funny and quite phony” that Bills have to pass through the AG before they reach the President.
AFC Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan stated that he cannot understand what exactly the Bills are still doing at the AG’s Chambers.
Ramjattan said that Nandlall told him that Bills have to go to him to ensure they are in accordance with the constitution before being sent to the Office of the President.
Ramjattan told the media that he sees it as a mischievous delaying tactic. “It can stay there for another three months.”
The AFC Leader said that he knows not about any written law that allows the AG to do so; but was told that it is a “convention” since the era where the People’s National Congress (PNC) governed the country.
This is not the first time that the Speaker has seen the need to write the President on outstanding Bills. Earlier this year, Trotman wrote Ramotar reminding him of his duty in the regard of his assent to Bills.
On that occasion, when the letter was written, 21 days had long elapsed since the Former Presidents (Benefits and other Facilities) Bill 2012, and The Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment Bill) 2012 were sent to the President.
The President only returned the Bills to the National Assembly after he received a letter from the Speaker.
Ramotar then refused to assent to the Bills, citing them as unconstitutional.
The President’s withholding his assent to the two opposition-proposed Bills, which did not receive the support of the Government in the National Assembly, evoked criticism from the opposition parties.
Very soon after the announcement by the President, leaders from both Parliamentary opposition parties expressed that they were not surprised that the President had withheld assent.
Granger told Kaieteur News yesterday that he had written to the Speaker requesting a meeting with him at which he would like to discuss the President’s refusal to assent to Bills passed by the National Assembly.
Granger said that the APNU intends to take the two opposition- proposed Bills back to the National Assembly.
Asked specifically about his hope for the President assenting to the Bill to repeal the benefits given to former Presidents, Granger said that it is way beyond hope now.
The Leader said that it is now all about duty.
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