Opposition Leader, David Granger, is of the opinion that in the absence of a legal department at the Parliament, the political opposition has been unable to maximize the use of its parliamentary majority position.
Granger made this comment during his recently held press conference at the Hadfield Street, Headquarters.
Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, recently expressed deep concern over the absence of a legal department for the National Assembly. Trotman had said that based on “recent circumstances” it has become evident that the Parliament “is in desperate need of not just legal officers but a legal department. The Parliament is urgently in need of this, but it is being blocked by the Government.”
General Secretary of the Alliance For Change (AFC), David Patterson, had told this publication that the proceedings of the Tenth Parliament have demonstrated more than ever why the National Assembly should have its own legal department, for several reasons.
Granger said that Patterson’s call is justified. He added that it is a reiteration of a call made by the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) some two years ago.
Granger said, “There is a public officer called the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (CPC) but he is located in a political ministry, the Ministry of Legal Affairs. The opposition has been unable to secure his services despite his position being, Chief “Parliamentary” Council. He isn’t available to the Parliament.
“We called for the appointment of an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and we have discussed this with certain international organizations for we are deprived of the legal advisory support which the majority requires in the National Assembly.”
The APNU Leader also answered in the affirmative when asked if the absence of such a department has hindered the political opposition from maximizing the use of his position in the National Assembly.
One of the reasons Patterson cited to underscore the need for a legal department was to support the legal drafting of Bills for all members, particularly Opposition members. Given the new dispensation, the AFC member had stated that the Opposition members may be desirous of amending existing legislation or even drafting new bills, and such a process would require legal knowledge which not all Members of Parliament would have, and understandably so, since legal background is not a requirement of membership into the National Assembly.
He had said that currently, the only State legal drafting unit is housed in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which is under the direction of the Attorney General, Anil Nandlall.
Patterson had reminded that Nandlall, on several occasions, had stated that he would not be making his staff available for such purposes.
Patterson had also asserted that without a legal staff, the opposition has not been able to take full advantage of their majority, since any bill or motion had to be privately executed.
The second reason the AFC General Secretary had highlighted was for research on legal matters. He believes that this is very important, and cited a prime example to justify this point. Patterson had said that during the budget issue, if such a department was in place, the political Opposition would have been able to do the necessary research, which would have guided the Parliament, as well as the Court.
“Thus, when the Attorney General took the Speaker to court, it would have been the Parliament’s legal department that would have been defending that case,” Patterson had added.
Another example the politician had mentioned, was that of the No-Confidence Motion, as well as other such bills and motions. The department, he had said, would have also been able to provide guidance on this matter to both the Speaker and the Clerk of the National Assembly, thereby avoiding the public speculation on whether the No-Confidence Motion in its current format is legal or not.
His last point, which he believes also underscores the need for the Parliament to have a legal department is the matter of the ‘Assent Certificate’ to certain Bills by the Attorney General.
The AFC member had told this newspaper that while in the Constitution there is no provision for review by Nandlall before the Clerk dispatches a bill to the President for assent, he reminded that the AG claimed that it was due to “a convention”.
Patterson had opined that Guyana may be the only Parliament in the Caribbean without such a department and the unwillingness of the Government to fund one, he said, is another prime example of its desire to control everything.
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