Budget Speech Mr Nandlall 20143830 07 Apr, 2014
Mr. Nandlall: Mr. Speaker, I rise to make my presentation to the 2014 Budget debates. I will promise that I will stick within matters of my competence and not speak on matters over which I have very little knowledge.
I want to begin by adding my voice of congratulations, to the many expressed, to the Hon. Minister of Finance and his hardworking staff, in respect of the preparation and presentation of Budget 2014.
Long before its presentation in this House on the 24th March, Budget 2014 has invoked great public commentary and titillated tremendous public interest and, one may remark, quite properly so.
It is the first Budget delivered after the final ruling of the Hon. Chief Justice rendered on January 29th, 2014, where the Hon. Chief Justice confirmed his earlier edict that the Opposition has no power at law or under the Constitution to cut the National Estimates presented by the Minister of Finance.
Recall that the Opposition had cut the 2013 Budget although the Chief Justice had rendered a preliminary ruling that they had no power to do so, and accordingly the Budget cuts were in effect declared to be unconstitutional. The reason advanced by the Opposition then, was that they are not bound by the Ruling since it was preliminary; quite an ingenious contention.
When the final ruling came, however, both Opposition parties signalled publicly their intentions to cut the Budget, clearly disregarding the ruling of the Court. Right here in this House, repeated references have been made of an intention to cut the Budget. Implements of choice have already been indicated - an axe, a scissors and a hatchet – all in clear disregard of the Chief Justice’s Order and a violation of the Ruling. Therefore, the majority of the National Assembly is essentially, by their words and their conduct, declaring a clear and unequivocal intention to disobey, ignore and defy Rulings emanating from the Judiciary.
As Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, I say that this is legally and constitutionally reprehensible. It is a most calculated and callous abrogation of the Rule of Law and an assault on our constitutional democracy.
I am aware that an appeal has been filed, Your Honour. However, it is the common law of this land, that unless and until an Order of a Court is set aside or overruled by a Court of competent jurisdiction, that Order must be obeyed, irrespective of how wrong we may feel it is. We expect the ordinary man to obey the laws of the land. We expect the ordinary man to obey the Orders of Court. As leaders and lawmakers in this House, we are held by an even greater standard.
Mr. Speaker, I dare say, that one day we will regret our conduct in this House, of trampling upon the Rule of Law and the Constitution of this land, which we swore allegiance to uphold in this House. The Rule of Law is that fulcrum that maintains that pivotal balance between civility and anarchy in any society. When we flout the Rule of Law, we are undermining the integrity of that crucial equilibrium and can cause this society to slip into that abyss of lawlessness where the laws of the jungle shall prevail.
Mr. Speaker, I have heard budget speeches of every type. I have heard compliments from the Government’s side and criticism from the Opposition. I have heard from the Opposition that the Budget is deficient for a million and one reasons. In trying to make their points, Hon. Members on the other side have cited every conceivable problem facing the Guyanese people, some imaginary and some real, and they fault the budget for failing to provide a measure or measures to deal with these myriad of problems. It is my honest view that even if the Gods were to descend from heaven they would not have been able to craft a budget which would have found the approval of the Opposition. I was forced to contemplate what kind of document would be able to address every conceivable economic problem and social ill confronting the people of this country and advance a solution for them. It certainly cannot be the National Budget and if the Opposition is looking there they are simply looking in the wrong place.
I said to you Mr. Speaker in a private conversation, that it is important that I find a definition of what is a national budget. And I went to the library and borrowed from the Clerk of the National Assembly a beautiful book. The title of the book is “The Budget Process – A Parliamentary Imperative”. It is written by David McGee, Queens Council and, importantly, it is a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association publication. At page 3 the author of that book gives a definition of what a budget is. He says and I quote:
“A budget is a means of setting out a blueprint of a nation’s economic and fiscal development for a defined future period of at least a year ahead. This involves an explanation of revenue-raising measures that the government intends to pursue in the period ahead, and disclosure of the government’s proposals for public expenditure. A budget in this sense is a statement of financial intentions. But increasingly absorbed into these projections are announcements with wider socio-economic significance.”
The budget of a country is a policy document. It will not deal with the mode of transportation, for example, of the Region 8 Chairman – apparently he uses a motor cycle and a Member of this Assembly wants a strip limousine for him. The answer to that is not in the Budget but in some other document.
Mr. Speaker, the criticisms made against the Budget were not confined to the Budget itself, but some predated the presentation of the Budget. In this regard, we heard that there was no consultation. The truth is that both political parties in the Opposition were invited more than once by the Hon. Minister of Finance for consultation. They rejected the invitation or at least they never turned up. Similar invitations were issued to the Private Sector Commission and organised labour, including the GPSU.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, the Minister alleges...
Mr. Speaker: I am listening to the Standing Order.
Mr. Nandlall: What Standing Order?
Mr. Greenidge: Standing Order 40(a).
Mr. Nandlall: What does Standing order 40(a) say?
Mr. Greenidge: I am challenging an assertion. It is untrue to say that both parties were invited to meetings with the Government and neither of them attended any meetings. It is just false and the Minister should not engage in that here. It is not true.
Mr. Nandlall: Mr. Speaker, my information is...
Mr. Greenidge: You cannot have such information.
Mr. Nandlall: My information is and I will stick to my information...
Mr. B. Williams: You will have to support it.
Mr. Speaker: One second please gentlemen.
Mr. Nandlall: He saying it is inaccurate does not mean that it is inaccurate.
Mr. Greenidge: Ask your Minister.
Mr. Speaker: One second gentlemen. A Member rising on Standing Order 40(b) has to show that he or she rises in the course to elucidate or give an explanation provided that the Member speaking is willing to give way and resumes his or her seat and that the Member is wishing to interrupt the call by the Chair. I believe that the observation of Mr. Greenidge is noted. Mr. Nandlall what is your response?
Mr. Nandlall: My response to what question, Sir?
Mr. Speaker: To the observation raised by Mr. Greenidge.
Mr. Nandlall: I am saying to this National Assembly that my information is that both political parties in this House were invited by the Hon. Minister of Finance for consultation and they did not turn up or rejected the information.
Mr. Speaker: Very well; proceed.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, the Minister himself reported, and it is reported in the press the events that took place including a meeting. We had a meeting on this side; the Prime Minister is here. Ministers must not come here and lie. The Prime Minister chaired that meeting; he was there; he and Mr. Roger Luncheon.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Greenidge, please. If a Member says it is his information that is his information. That is his right. There is nothing we can do about that.
Please continue the debate Mr. Nandlall.
Mr. Nandlall: Both the Private Sector Commission and the Labour Movement made public pronouncements that their engagements with the Minister were fruitful. In fact, they said that some of their inputs were incorporated into the Budget. The Opposition could have done the same, but they chose not to. Yet, they come to this House and contend that they were not consulted. We on this side, not only believe and preach Consultative Democracy but practice it as well. When we were in the majority we engaged in the same consultative process, because we believe that it is important to democracy and it is an indispensable part of good governance. It is for the same reason that we reformed this entire Parliament and rejuvenated the Committee system. It is for the same reason that we permitted the Opposition to take the Deputy Speaker position when we held the Speakership position. It is for the same reason that we sent almost every major Bill to Select Committees, including the Principal Anti-Money Laundering Act and on occasions, facilitated public hearings. Of course, I can go on to cite a thousand more examples. All of this, of course, occurred when we had a majority. But I think the point is made.
However, I want to return to the question of consultation in relation to Budget 2014. Article 13 of the Constitution was ceremonially invoked as a basis for this consultation. I want to remind those who have make this invocation, to bear in mind, that it is under the PPP/Civic Administration that Article 13 was inserted in the Constitution in the first place. However, a mere peripheral reading of it will establish that it mentions neither the word budget nor consultation. It simply states what the aspiration of our political system should strive to achieve. I hastened to say, however, that long before it was placed in the Constitution, we embraced the concept of democracy in all its facets. The historical record will show that it is the PPP that stood tall in the struggle for democracy against the colonialist, the imperialist and the PNC dictatorship. No one and nothing can change that.
On the question of consultation and in particular in relation to budget presentation, I want to return to this book, “The Budget Process – A Parliamentary Imperative”, a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association publication. I emphasise that because we are a constituent member of that Association.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Nandlall the book was ordered after Mr. Ramjattan asked for it to be ordered since last year. So we are familiar with the book.
Mr. Nandlall: I thank Mr. Ramjattan for encouraging you to order it, Sir. [Mr. Ramjattan: And I invite you to read it.] Yes, I am reading from it Mr. Ramjattan. On page 7, Chapter 2 is titled Budget Preparation. This is what it says, and I want Members kindly to listen as I quote:
“Preparing a budget is regarded, without exception, as a function of the executive. In parliamentary systems only the executive is seen as having the capacity to undertake the complex process of putting a budget together. Indeed, this function may be explicitly conferred on the executive by the Constitution or other law of the state concerned. In Uganda, for example, the Constitution vests the preparation of the budget in the President, who normally delegates the task to the Minister of Finance.”
The identical position obtains in Guyana.
“But the primacy of the executive in budget preparation does not depend on such provisions. Rather they reflect the reality that budget preparation is inherently an executive function. It is therefore appropriate that the executive should take the lead in performing this duty.”
I say that because what Members of this House interpret as consultation, is that they must take charge of the budgetary process and they must dictate to the Minister of Finance what the budget should and should not contain.
Mr. Speaker, a Bill was laid in this House for which the President withheld his assent, that sought to transfer powers from the Minister of Finance for the preparation of budget for certain agencies, to hijack that power from the Minister of Finance and that is why I am reading this book so that we understand the principle.
I am now going to deal with legislative involvement, because the author deals with what is the role of the legislature in the budgetary process.
“Direct legislative involvement in the budget preparation phase is uncommon.
Legislatures generally lack the capacity to participate effectively in making a budget. Even in a legislative system with considerable budgetary capacity, such as the United States of America, the Executive still takes the initiative in preparing and submitting a national budget.
For an executive to surrender responsibility for preparing the budget to the legislature would be to abdicate its responsibility for governing.”
The reality is that the Opposition passed a Bill in this House seeking to take away this power from the Executive. It is for that reason the President withheld his assent to that Bill.
Another issue that I would like to speak on, is an issue that has occupied public attention, public commentary both in this House and without this House. It is about the President’s withholding assent to Bills. It has come up several times during this debate and it has occupied a lot of political discussion outside of this Assembly as well as here, outside of the budgetary process.
I want to begin by highlighting Article 170 (2) of the Constitution. The Hon. Member, Mr. Nagamootoo, in his presentation criticised the President for rejecting the will of the majority in this House by withholding his assent to Bills. So I want to put the President’s power in the proper constitutional context. Article 170 (2) of the Constitution provides:
“When a Bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall signify that he assents or that he withholds his assent.”
So the power of withholding assent is in the Constitution and a legal constitutional and proper power for the President to exercise. To level the allegation that the President is rejecting the will of a majority is a constitutional wrong and we must stop saying that. [Interruption] Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge is telling me that I am saying nonsense. I am making my presentation.
Mr. Speaker: In these debates we have had everything. We have had rubbish, we have had rape and everything that goes... You press on with your presentation Mr. Nandlall.
Mr. Nandlall: Article 170 (3) provides:
“Where the President withholds his assent to a Bill, he shall return it to the Speaker within twenty-one days of the date when it was presented to him for assent with a message stating the reasons why he has withheld the assent.”
Mr. Speaker, on every occasion that the President has withheld his assent he has complied with this requirement.
Mr. Speaker: I have to correct you on that Mr. Nandlall. It has not been so. Bills have been returned well beyond the twenty-one day period.
Mr. Greenidge: And there are still two outstanding according to the Clerk.
Mr. Nandlall: Mr. Speaker, the question is when he receives it. That is the issue. [Noisy Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Proceed Mr. Nandlall.
Mr. Nandlall: It is clear, Mr. Speaker, that the President has an undoubted and an undoubted freedom to withhold his assent from Bills presented to him. In the case of the latter, he is constitutionally mandated to proffer reasons for so doing. The notion, therefore, that the President is obliged, robotically, to render his assent to every Bill passed by the National Assembly is manifestly misconceived. The Constitution does not contemplate it neither does legal logic support it. The quicker we rid our minds of it the better. In this regard, the Presidential power of withholding assent to Bills is not peculiar to Guyana. It owes its genesis to the Royal Prerogative and has been retained by many great democracies of the world including the United States of America, the Union of India and the Republic of South Africa. Those are only three countries.
I just want to read briefly from a text I have here from South Africa, explaining precisely one of the grounds upon which a President can withhold his assent. As I said, the language of the South African Constitution is very close to the Guyana Constitution. The text to which I make reference is the New Constitutional and Administrative Law Volume 1. This is what the learned author has to say:
“In terms of section 79 the President must assent to and sign a Bill that has been passed in accordance with the manner and form of provisions prescribed above. If the President has reservations about the constitutionality of the Bill, he or she may refer it back to the Assembly to reconsider.”
That is the position in South Africa and obviously that is the position in Guyana.
Mr. Speaker, the contention therefore, that the President cannot withhold his assent to Bills on the ground that, in his opinion, the Bill is unconstitutional or based upon the advice he receives, the Bill is unconstitutional, is a contention that is palpably wrong. To place such a restriction upon the President’s power to withhold his assent from Bills is simply ultra-vires, the express language of the Constitution.
I want to refer to the position in the United States of America where it is even clearer and I want to make reference to an Indian constitutional text. The name of it is “Commentary on the Constitution of India, 8th Edition 2008, Vol. 4”, it is written by constitutional expert, Durga Das Basu and the author says this, speaking of the United States (US) Constitution:
“The veto power given to the President by the American Constitution has, however, proved to be a real and effective check upon the Legislature. According to Hamilton (Federalist) one of the objects of the veto power was to ‘increase the chances in favour of the community against the passing of bad laws, through haste, inadvertence or design.”
And we have had bad Bills coming from here.
“The power may be exercised to veto not only laws which are apprehended to be unconstitutional or defective in form, but those which seem to be objectionable to the President on merits. Sometimes, it is used according to the President’s view about expediency or policy as well. In the latter case, it is a substantive legislative power in the hands of a President, even though negative in form.
As Woodrow Wilson said:
“In the exercise of the power of veto, the President acts not as the executive, but as third branch of the Legislature.”
That is how our Constitution must be read and understood because that is what the authorities out there say.
The other argument advanced is this; the President or the Attorney General has no power and authority to opine that a Bill is unconstitutional. I reject that notion absolutely. Everyday lawyers interpret the law and the Constitution and advise their clients. Sir, you know that. Indeed, every legal system will break down and civilisation will come to a halt, if every time someone needs legal advice, they are required to approach a court for interpretation and advice. The arguments advanced are predicated upon the misconception that by expressing his opinion, the Bills are unconstitutional, the President has somehow displaced the functions of the court as being the sole arbiter of unconstitutionality; a patently absurd assumption.
Its irrationality can vividly be illustrated by examining the converse situation, and this is the converse situation, which is, if the President assents to the Bill, can it then, in that circumstance be intelligently argued that the President has determined the constitutionality of the Bill and, therefore, has ousted, permanently, the court’s jurisdiction from ever entertaining a challenge to its constitutionality? Certainly not. The legal truth is the Court’s jurisdiction to question the constitutionality of Bills and actions by the State and its various organs, can never be dismantled by the President or any other agency. That is the law of this land, Mr. Speaker.
I want to speak a little on the Local Government (Amendment) Bill because many speakers in this Parliament made reference to it. It is trite knowledge; it is public knowledge that the President withheld his assent and I want to speak a little on the reasons why the President withheld his assent from that Bill.
The majority in the Select Committee made several deletions of clauses which were in the Bill tabled by the Minister of Local Government and in most of the instances where these deletions were made, no amendments were inserted to fill the deficiencies created by these deletions. In consequence, if the Bill is properly examined, one will quickly identify several structural and institutional deficiencies in the architecture of the Local Government structure, which the Bill purports to create. For example, many of the functions which the Regional Executive Officer (REO) is to perform, including oversight, approval of financial transfers to Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) from Central Government and a whole host of other financial and executive responsibilities are the subject of a particular clause in the Bill. This clause has simply been deleted, but nothing is substituted therefore. So, currently, there is no one in this Bill to perform these functional responsibilities.
There is a clause of the Bill which allows for certain officers such as the Environmental Health Officer, Environmental Health Assistants and other public health officials and public officers, to institute legal proceedings or effect prosecutions in the Courts in respect of violation of the laws and by laws; that has been completely deleted. Again, there is no substitute. So a whole regime of bylaws and municipal related laws cannot be enforced by way of a legal process.
Another set of legal amendments made in the Committee, relate to simply transferring executive powers from the Minister to the Local Government Commission, by simply cutting out the word “Minister” and pasting in its stead, the word “Commission” without appreciating the impact that it will have on the Constitution and the Bill itself. The effect is you have a transferral of Executive power from the executive Minister to a non-executive Local Government Commission.
The Commission by its very nature is not an executive agency, but it is a constitutional autonomous body like the other Constitutional Commissions and cannot be charged with executive responsibilities. In fact, the powers of the Commission are set out in Article 78(A) of the Constitution, it says this:
”Parliament shall establish a Local Government Commission, the composition and rules of which empower the commission to deal with it as it deems fit, all matters related to the regulation and staffing of local government organs and with dispute resolution within and between local Government organs.”
That is all it said.
Clearly, it can be easily discerned that the Commission has the following functions to perform:
1. Regulation and staffing of local government organs;
2. Dispute resolutions within and between local Government organs.
It has no other function. Therefore, the whole regime of functions which has been taken from the Minister and given to the Local Government Commission is simply ultra vires. Article 78A of the Constitution. How can a President assent to this travesty?
That is the truth. Examine the Bill and the people of Guyana must understand why the President withheld his assent. The Bill was degutted carelessly, inadvertently, negligently and recklessly in the Select Committee. [Interruption]
The PPP/Civic Administration wishes, once again, to renew and restate its commitment to continue to work to create a society where the rule of law prevails, the constitutional rights of our people are protected and respected, the Judiciary is independent and efficient and where all of our people, irrespective of where they are located or their social and financial standing, have equal rights to justice. We are of the unshakable view that these are indispensable prerequisites to the economic development and social progress, which our people aspire to enjoy.
For these reasons, we continue to invest heavily in the Justice Sector. We recognise that while this sector does not contribute directly to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the other productive sectors, this is the sector that is largely responsible for law and order, adherence to the rule of law, constitutional democratic governance and, indeed, the glue that keeps society and civilisation as we know it, together. Without it, neither production will take place nor will civility as we know it, exist.
Since my last budgetary presentation, significant strides have been made in this sector. I will take this opportunity to mention only a few, along with what is expected to be accomplished in the year 2014.
Mr. Speaker, the landmark achievement that we have made since the last time I spoke in relation to budget was the breaking of the 34 year hiatus in relation to the Revised Laws. We have presented publicly, after 34 years, the Revised Laws of Guyana. And as it is customary and traditionally, it is referred to in the name of the Attorney General, under whose tenure it was promulgated. [Interruption]
The conclusion of this historic exercise was preceded by another historic achievement. I refer to the completion and launch of ten years of Law Reports from 1977 to 2007. This came after another gap of some 34 years.
With these signal achievements accomplished, work will now begin in the year 2014 to continue these exercises, in order to avoid the protracted lapses to which I have made reference. Work will begin on compiling another set of Law Reports from 2008 to date. Updating and continuous revising of the Laws of Guyana have already begun. Within the Attorney General’s (AG’s) Chambers, a Law Revision Officer has been appointed and duly trained within that discipline. She will undertake this most important continuous exercise.
Most of the Law Reports have still not yet been purchased. I want to take this opportunity to appeal to the practicing bar to purchase these reports. Both the Law Revision and the Law Report Projects are intended to be self-financing. Therefore, their future will depend upon the income they generate.
As Members are aware, the Official Gazette has been placed online. This venture is being managed from the AG Chambers in collaboration with the National Printers. The response to this initiative has been remarkable. The website has had over a million hits. Persons from as far as Australia, Fiji, India, Africa and of course, Europe and North America, have been accessing the website with encouraging frequency. Two officers at the AG Chambers, specially trained, are manning this site.
The rehabilitation and refurbishing works have been completed to the building at Main and King Streets, New Amsterdam, Berbice. The upper flat of this building, as I have previously disclosed, will house the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the lower flat, the Land Registry. The Land Registry will therefore be removed from its cramped location in a part of the Registry of the High Court at New Amsterdam and will now be housed in the entire bottom flat of this comparatively large building, along with vault facilities for storage. This is expected to improve the efficiency of that important organisation. The upper flat, which will be used to house the office of the DPP, has already been furnished and electricity installed in the building. Shortly after these debates, the building will be handed over to the DPP and the Registrar of Lands.
The automatic voice recording equipment for the court system will be installed within a matter of days. In fact, the contractor came to the country only today to commence the operation. As I have stated earlier, this initiative is expected to make a transformational change to the speed of litigation in this country. While this equipment will only be installed in the Court of Appeal, the Courts of the Chief Justice and the Commercial Court of the High Court, the intention is to replicate it in every superior court of record in the country.
We believe that accountability and people's participation are important cornerstones of good governance. We believe that no institution, funded by public moneys, is exempt from scrutiny - not even the Judiciary. In this regard, the Judiciary itself has recognised the need to make itself transparent and accountable and has established two committees, the Civil and Criminal Justice Committees, under the now concluded Modernisation of the Justice Administration Sector Project. These Committees are established and managed by those in charge of the Judiciary.
Three Criminal Committees have been established, one in each of the three counties. There is one National Civil Justice Committee, which caters for the needs of the three counties. This Committee meets at a Secretariat, which is established in the Court of Appeal building. The Committees meet quarterly. Their function is to monitor the work of the Magistrates court and the High court with a view of improving the quality and efficiency of the delivery of service.
These Committees are specifically tasked to assist and make recommendations for the reduction of the backlog of both civil and criminal cases, reduction in the management and adjudication of cases and receiving complaints from court users, in relation to the problems they are encountering in the system. The members of the Committee are appointed by the Chancellor and comprise of court users, attorneys at law, retired judges and members of civil society. These members were all trained in their respective tasks by a consulting firm from Jamaica. The Committee reports to the Secretariat of which the Chancellor is the Chairman.
Over the last two years, a number of Courts were either completely refurbished or new buildings were constructed. These include the High Courts of Georgetown and New Amsterdam, the Court of Appeal, and Magistrates’ Courts at Whim, New Amsterdam, Sisters Village, Reliance, Mibicuri, Georgetown Magistrates’ Court - a complex comprising of twelve courts - Leonora, and Wales. Almost every court in the High Court, both in Georgetown and New Amsterdam, are now fully air conditioned for the first time in our history. Almost every Magistrate’s Court, to which I have made reference, is now fully air conditioned as well; another first in the history of this sector.
Within a few weeks, the Magistrates’ Courts at Christianburg, Wismar and Lethem will be completed. These are brand new buildings with residential quarters for the Magistrates. In relation to the Court at Wismar, a new Magistrate Clerk’s office will be established so that persons within this newly created Magisterial District of Region 10 do not have to travel all the way to Vreed-en-Hoop Magistrate’s Court to transact their business. Historically, that court fell under the Magisterial District of West Demerara. That will now change; another monumental accomplishment.
Eighteen laptops were purchased and distributed to the judges of the Court of Appeal and the High Court with the expectation that it will assist in the speedy writing up of decisions.
The long wait for the coming into operation of the Family Court will come to an end within a few weeks. The last set of furniture purchased from Fibre Tech Industries - these are Fibre Glass bucket chairs - will be installed within a few days. The Family Court Rules have already been completed and are with the Chancellor to be brought into operation. It is important that I disclose that the long wait, which we endured in respect of the acquisition of furniture for the Court, was not without a benefit to the people of this country. The original cost submitted for those furniture was $32 million. Cabinet withheld its "no objection" to this award and the Court was eventually furnished at a cost of about $12 million, saving the taxpayers nearly $20 million.
Earlier this year, His Excellency, President Donald Ramotar issued an order increasing the statutory complement of High Court Judges from 12 to 20. The last time the complement was increased was sometime in the mid 70's. Litigation has increased, perhaps, tenfold since. Twelve judges have clearly proven to be inadequate to handle the workload. While we may not have the physical capability to accommodate more judges currently, this is yet another demonstration of the Executive's commitment to resource the Judiciary in order to deliver to our people a better quality of justice. With the coming into operation of the Family Court, it is expected that judges of the High Court will migrate to that building, creating the physical space for the new appointments to be made. Currently, there is no physical space to accommodate a new judge in the Supreme Court. Mr. Bond is calling for the appointment of 35; we intend to appoint much more than 35, but we cannot put them to sit and preside under trees, we have to get buildings for them. It is a work in progress, it will take time.
This year also, His Excellency, the President filled the constitutional vacancy of the Office of the Ombudsman and retired High Court Judge, Mr. Winston Moore, was appointed to that office. The position was vacant for several years. The Government’s contention was, with the establishment of the Constitutional and Administrative Court, most of the complaints, which would have attracted the attention of the Ombudsman, are now taken to that Court. However, the Opposition insisted on filling this vacancy. Well, the appointment has been made and as far as I am aware, there is no great avalanche of complaints to that office.
This year, moneys have been allocated to construct a building in the compound of the Supreme Court, which will house the Land Court of Demerara, a Registry and storage facilities for the Supreme Court. The edifice will house a minimum of two courtrooms and chambers for the judges. The possibility therefore exists for one of those courtrooms to be used as an additional Court of the High Court.
This year also will see the completion of a new Magistrate Court building at No 51 Village, Corentyne. On or around June of this year, construction will commence at Sparendaam in respect of a brand new, fully air conditioned building, along with parking facilities for Magistrates - to house a new Sparendaam Magistrates Court. This building is expected to accommodate two courtrooms along with chambers for the Magistrates. So, for the first time we will have two courts operating at that location. Again, another effort to bring greater speed to the Justice Sector.
Moneys have also been allocated this year, for the installation of air conditioning units at the Vreed-en-Hoop and Whim Magistrates’ Court. Moneys have also been allocated to effect minor repairs and maintenance works to court buildings throughout the country.
Mr. Speaker, over the last year or so, a number of important Bills were laid by me and piloted on behalf of the Government of Guyana in this Assembly. I believe I have been successful in all, except perhaps the most important one, the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2013. Unfortunately, that Bill is still languishing in a Select Committee. I want to call upon the Leader of the Opposition to issue an order to his troops. I want to call on Mr. Ramjattan to cooperate and act in the National interest. Let ego yield to reason and let us pass that Bill.
A number of Bills were passed through the House; the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, the Deeds Registry and Commercial Authority Bill, Supreme Court of Judicature (Appeal) (Amendment) Bill, the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2014 and I can read on, but I will move beyond them.
One of the important issues that we have to look at, that I intend to look at this year, is an examination of the Jury System. This integral component of the Criminal Justice System has virtually remained untouched since its introduction to our legal system some 100 years ago. By the sheer passage of time, it requires some examination with a view of effecting modern changes to it, which have already been done in almost all Commonwealth jurisdictions that have retained the institution of the judiciary. The administration of criminal justice is a two way street.
The State and, by extension, the victims of crime and their relatives are equally entitled to a fair trial as is the accused person. That delicate balance must always remain intact. The jury system is an integral factor in this equation. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the Constitutional Commission on Women and Gender Equality have met with me and many important civil society organisations. They have reported that from their consultations, the wider society has lost, or is rapidly losing confidence in the jury system in its present construct, especially in sexual offences matters. This very important issue was raised by the Hon. Mrs. Volda Lawrence in her presentation and of course, it has had tumultuous consequences in this House.
I want to take this opportunity to recognise and salute Minister Manickchand for laying before this House, and getting the unanimous approval of this House of that very historic and revolutionary piece of legislation. Of course, I refer to the Sexual Offence Act.
Mr. Speaker, the consultations to which I have made reference, lay blame at the Jury System, as well as other factors. The statistics are indeed staggering. I think it is important that I share them with this House. They reveal another factor also, the refusal of victims of these types of crimes to testify in the courts.
In the year 2011, 16 Sexual Offences cases and this was not under the new law but the old law – were completed. There were three guilty pleas; three cases were nolle prosquied because the Virtual Complainant gave statements expressing a desire not to proceed with prosecution. There were seven not guilty verdicts by the jury. In 2012, 10 sexual offences cases were completed. In 2 cases there was a formal verdict of not guilty because again the Virtual Complainants did not attend court to testify. Eight cases went to trial; in all eight cases the jury returned a not guilty verdict.
In 2013, 12 sexual offences cases were completed. In eight of those cases the Virtual Complainants went to court and indicated that they are not willing to proceed with the cases. Those cases had to be discontinued by the DPP. And in one case, the Virtual Complainant could not be located. Three cases therefore went to trial. In one case there was a unanimous verdict of not guilty and in two cases, there were hung juries. Therefore, in 2012 and 2013, there was not a single conviction for sexual offences in a total of 22 cases. The position is not much different in non-sexual cases.
In an examination of the jury system, care will be exercised to ensure that there is no erosion of its principal objective, that is, affording the accused a trial by his peers. The changes will include a review of the current jury pool with the objective of expanding it. Currently, the pool is quite limited and it has been historically confined to just a few entities from which jurors are drawn. In England, for example, the jury pool is the electoral register. So expansive is the jury pool in England, while in Guyana, we have a few companies that the Registrar regularly draws from. The qualifications of jurors will also be reviewed. Currently, they are linked to ownership of property, or earning capacity.
Both of these qualifications in today’s society are archaic and irrelevant. In the process the unanimity verdict, in relation to capital, and the majority verdict, in relation to non-capital offences of the jury, which currently obtains, will also be reviewed. Statutory protection against jury tampering and jury manipulation will be strengthened. The nation witnessed the travesty of what transpired in the Lusignan massacre/murder case. Brazen manipulation of the jury system must end now.
I move quickly to the Deeds Registry. The Deeds Registry falls under the administration of the Ministry of Legal Affairs. In the year 2013, the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority Bill was assented to. The current budget reflects the authority being deemed a statutory body and that it is self-sustaining not receiving a subvention from the Government of Guyana. In 2013, the Deeds Registry earned G$1 billion in revenue and is targeted to earn G$1.369 billion in 2014.
In 2013, the Government of Guyana purchased the old New Building Society Headquarters situated at Avenue of the Republic, which will house the Commercial Registry. Renovation of this building is being undertaken in 2014. I had explained previously that the Deeds Registry will be separated from the Commercial Registry.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, please begin to wrap up.
Mr. Nandlall: Furniture have already been purchased for the Commercial Registries and will continue to work to convert the agency from a paper based institution to a technologically advanced one.
In 2013, in relation to companies, 347 companies were registered and approximately 10,800 businesses either commenced in 2013 or registrations were renewed. Significantly, a contract was awarded to digitise ten years of conveyancing records held at the Georgetown, New Amsterdam and Suddie, on the Essequibo Coast, Registries. This contract was awarded in February of 2014 and shall be completed within the next eight months. The project involves the scanning of transports, leases, mortgages and their supporting documents, uploading same to a database and to make that database easily searchable and report friendly with a capacity for e-conveyancing.
We have established, in the Deeds Registry, a relationship with credit info and we are acting under a memorandum of understanding. This will allow for the Deeds Registry to assist credit info with a supply of information on a requested basis. The Deeds Registry is expected to earn from this engagement.
I want to touch on another important matter to which reference has been made. The Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo in his presentation made reference to the service commission and I agree with him that it is a matter of grave constitutional importance, except that he has it wrong, in terms of blaming the Government for its non appointment. It is trite knowledge that membership of several important constitutional commissions has expired. These include, but are not limited to, the Judicial Service Commission, the Public Service Commission and the Police Service Commission. Persons are appointed to these commissions by the President via a two-pronged process. Some are appointed after meaningful consultations with the Leader of the Opposition, others are appointed upon the recommendation of the National Assembly.
The President’s attempt to consult with Leader of the Opposition, in respect of these appointments, has thus far not yielded great success. As far as I understand, the contention is that the National Assembly must conclude its process first. With this contention I do not agree. However, the reality is that the process is not moving forward. The Opposition controls the National Assembly and by extension all its processes, including the committee system which is to generate the names. The particular committee in question has had a dismal record in terms of the frequency of meetings since the commencement of the Tenth Parliament. This committee is chaired and controlled by the Opposition, by a majority of membership. The Opposition, therefore, cannot escape blame for this constitutional negligence. The consequences are both grave and multiple.
As regards the Judicial Service Commission, no judges or magistrates can be appointed because this is the agency that plays the most significant part in those appointments. To my learned friend Mr. Bond, rather than telling me to appoint 35 judges just help me to get one appointed by getting the Judicial Service Commission reactivated.
Currently, there are no Commissioners of Title and land court judges for the counties of Essequibo and Demerara. There are no sittings of these important courts. The consequential pile up of backlog cases is phenomenal. There are several vacancies in the magistracy to be filled and this also cannot be done. With the resignation of Justice of Appeal Rabi Sukul, there is a vacancy in the Court of Appeal. The matter is compounded by the fact that very shortly a sitting judge of that court will retire. This will deprive that court of a quorum to sit.
As regards the Public Service Commission (PSC), there is a pile up of disciplinary and promotional matters affecting the careers of several public officers which cannot be ventilated. Significantly the PSC is constitutionally required to play a role in determining which public officer should or should not be paid pensions and superannuation benefits. All of these cases are now at a standstill. Similar problems result from the non-functioning of the Police Service Commission in relation to Members of the police force.
Mr. Speaker: Wrap up, please, Mr. Attorney General.
Mr. Nandlall: I hope that I have demonstrated sufficiently that this is a matter of grave constitutional importance and it affects the welfare and livelihood of thousands of our citizens. Mr. Speaker, I want to most respectfully remind you that as the officer who is constitutionally in charge of the National Assembly you are also not without responsibility. I therefore would like to take this opportunity to urge all concerned to proceed with every convenient speed and address this matter conclusively.
In conclusion, Budget 2014 was presented under the theme A Better Guyana for All Guyanese. I have just articulated, most briefly, what it provides for the legal sector, the alter at which every single Guyanese, including yourself, Sir, prostrates in our quest to seek that amorphous but indispensible concept which we call justice. It is without reservation, therefore, that I call on the entire Assembly to support Budget 2014.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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