$13.8B in funds for constitutional agencies approved by National Assembly
– Judicial, Public Service Commissions’ appointments dependent on Opposition
The National Assembly on Monday approved $13.8 billion in funds for constitutional agencies after a day spent examining the estimates during which members of the parliamentary Opposition quizzed the Government on various allocations.
During the sitting, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira fielded questions from the Opposition on behalf of agencies that included the Parliament Office, Audit Office of Guyana, Public and Police Service Commissions, Teaching Service Commission, and the Guyana Elections Commission.
Other agencies represented by Teixeira include the Supreme Court of Judicature, Public Prosecutions, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, the Ethnic Relations Commission, the Rights Commissions of Guyana, the Public Procurement Commission and the Judicial Service Commission.
During the examination of the budget estimates, questions were raised by the Opposition about the still-to-be-appointed Judicial Service Commission, a commission that has a vital role to play in appointing judges.
There has been an outcry from senior officials within the local judicial system over the shortage of Judges. Currently, there are 11 High Court Judges – one of whom will be retiring soon – and only three Judges in the Court of Appeal. The tenure of the previous Judicial Service Commission expired in September 2017. According to Teixeira, the Government is working to appoint a commission.
“In April 2022, the Leader of the Opposition was written, suggesting the name of the President’s appointee and seeking his support. And the Parliament had unanimously decided on who its nominee was,” Teixeira explained.
“Regrettably, the response by correspondence has not been to address the issue of the President looking for support from the Leader of the Opposition for the nominee, as required by the Constitution, but instead has focused on the appointment of the Chancellor and Chief Justice.”
In light of this, Teixeira said that the letters were “hanging in the air” and they have not been able to move on the matter. However, she was optimistic that there would be progress on the issue in the near future. When it comes to the Public Service Commission, she also spoke about the important role the Opposition Leader has to play.
“The Chairman of the Public Service Commission, we’re waiting on that issue to complete at the Committee of Appointments and then the President’s nominees to be sent to the Leader of the Opposition and hopefully he will be supportive of those names or have other names worthy,” Teixeira noted.
During the budget debates last week, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh had reminded that key and critical constitutional bodies that are part of the architecture of constitutional governance are appointed and functioning, such as the Audit Office of Guyana, the Supreme Court, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, the Ombudsman, and the Guyana Elections Commission.
“In 2022, constitutional agencies inclusive of the Public Procurement Commission, Police Service Commission, and most recently in January 2023, the Teaching Service Commission have been appointed. He pointed out further that ‘Notably, the consultative process with civil society organisations for nominations to the Ethnic Relations Commission and the Women and Gender Equality Commission has been completed’. He added further that the approval of the National Assembly is anticipated shortly after the budget is adopted,” a statement from the Ministry of Finance said.
Dr Singh emphasised during his presentation as well on January 16 last that “the work to complete the Rights of the Child Commission and the Indigenous People’s Commission should be completed by mid-year” while “Issues surrounding the appointment of the long-overdue Judicial Service Commission are on public record despite efforts by His Excellency the President to bring this to a conclusion in 2022”. He added further that “the process for concluding the nominees to the Public Service Commission is in progress at the Committee of Appointment”.
Back in December 2021, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government amended the Fiscal Management and Accountability Amendment (FMAA) Act to streamline the budget process for the constitutional agencies, while at the same time preserving their independence.