Assembly approves eight committees | 05 November 2020
By Laura Pillay
As provided for by the constitution and standing orders, the National Assembly yesterday approved eight motions calling for the establishment of eight committees of the National Assembly to further consider policy issues, scrutinise government work and expenditure and examine proposals for primary and secondary legislation.
The committees, namely the Standing Orders Committee, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, the Finance and Public Accounts Committee (FPAC), the Defence and Security Committee,the House Committee, the International Affairs Committee (IAC), the Women’s Parliamentarian Caucus and the Committee of Government Assurances (Coga), were mainly approved by unanimous decisions.
Standing Orders committee
The motion to approve the Standing Orders committee was proposed by leader of government business Bernard Georges and was eventually approved by a unanimous vote of 34.
As explained by Honourable Georges, the committee is provided for under Article 104 of the Seychelles Constitution.
Considering that the sixth assembly reviewed and finalised the Standing Orders which guide the work of the parliament and which was adopted on August 4, the newly elected Standing Orders Committee of the seventh assembly will not have to review the whole of the standing orders unless they should want to or decide to, although the committee’s role remains to monitor rules and makes amendments when necessary.
In line with provision 89 of the newly adopted Standing Orders and the Constitution, assembly committees are to have seven members and should be reflective of the power balance in the assembly. Therefore, this would mean five members from the majority party which is presently Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS), and two members from opposition, United Seychelles (US). However, given that the committee is for the whole assembly, Honourable Georges proposed that membership be shared more equitably, to make it a committee comprising four MNAs from the majority party and three from the opposition, although negotiations need to be finalised with leader of the opposition (Loto) Sebastien Pillay.
In proposing the motion, Honourable Georges also requested that committee members be elected during the next sitting, so as to ensure that repartition of membership covers all members of the assembly.
Scrutiny of Bills Committee
The Scrutiny of Bills Committee is an important committee which scrutinises all Bills tabled before the National Assembly, whether proposed by executive, or private members bill, before it is debated upon in the house. It aims to ensure that the bill in question is in a shape that can be subjected to amendments or to be approved. The committee is also tasked with preparing short reports to the assembly so as to direct them to the parts of the bills that may be controversial or that need to be debated upon in the assembly.
Numerous members expressed support for the motion although it was proposed that the relevant departments should strive to deliver bills in a timely manner to allow for the committee to fulfil its role.
Honourable Sebastien Pillay, a member of the committee in the sixth assembly and Honourable Gervais Henrie encouraged other members to be a part of the committee, from which they can learn a lot about the legislative process, noting the importance of engaging with their constituents in relation to bills which directly impact on them.
In concluding the motion, LGB Georges highlighted that heavy bills will be tabled before the assembly, such as Companies Act, as well as some constitutional amendments, with the change of power.
He asserted the importance of recognising the legislative powers held by MNAs, not as a means to support or oppose government, but to help to pass the legislative programme on which it was elected.
Finance and Public Accounts Committee (FPAC)
The motion to appoint the Finance and Public Accounts Committee (FPAC) was approved by a unanimous 34 votes in favour.
The motion, forwarded by the Loto, in line with Article 104 (1a) of the Constitution and SO 88, provides for the establishment of the committee to have a crucial role in scrutinising and oversight with regard to public expenditure and ensuring there is value for money in government investments. The committee is responsible for reviewing the reports of the Auditor General.
Numerous members intervened outlining the important role of the committee. Honourable Egbert Aglaé pointed out the particular relevance of the committee now, in a time period whereby the government is recording losses and deficits due to the Covid-19 pandemic and standstill in tourism.
In rounding up the motion, Honourable Pillay said it will depend on the support of the various institutions on which it is reliant. Institutions must be as strong as mandated.
“In concluding, what I would like to see, as an assembly and as committees, regardless of if we are Bills Committee, FPAC or another committee, is that we can work together collectively and play an oversight role as the assembly, to ensure that the public always gets the better deal,” Hon. Pillay said.
The House Committee is a new committee for the seventh assembly and is to replace the Reform and Modernisation Committee of the sixth assembly. Its primary function is to have oversight over the general working environment of the assembly, and the welfare of staff.
As it is a new committee, the terms of reference will need to be approved by the assembly at a later date. The motion to appoint the committee was passed with 33 votes in favour.
Defence and Security Committee
Honourable Clifford André proposed the next motion to appoint the Defence and Security Committee, a motion which was favoured by all 34 members.
The Defence and Security Committee was established in the sixth National Assembly.
“There was a necessity to establish the committee because when we observed that there were certain aspects relating to defence that needed to be analysed and taken into consideration by a smaller group of the assembly, since certain of those aspects had confidential connotations. It is true that we are seeking transparency and accountability but when it comes to security of a country, there are certain aspects that need to be considered with confidentiality and security in the purview of a small group of people, but definitely the budget for the department needs to be approved by the assembly,” stated Hon. André, the LDS member for Anse Aux Pins.
The committee addresses appointments, administration, defence policies and budgetary issues among other sensitive information pertaining to defence and the country’s security.
Honourable Gervais Henrie pointed out that the committee is still in its “infancy” requiring a lot of support, while Honourable Sebastien Pillay asserted that the newly elected committee needs to focus on the protection of our precious resources, most specifically marine resources, against unlicensed and illegal fishing, drug trafficking and human trafficking to ensure that resources go towards tackling those problems.
International Affairs Committee (IAC)
The International Affairs Committee existed in the sixth assembly with the purpose of working closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Tourism as well as other concerned institutions, about matters relating to external partners.
Members intervened to make recommendations as to what the new committee should focus on during its mandate.
It was proposed by LGB that protocols, conventions and treaties to be adopted and ratified by Seychelles should also be remitted to the committee for scrutiny so members can lead debates within the assembly when they are tabled for approval. The assembly is to review and finalise the terms of reference of the committee in a future sitting.
Women’s Parliamentary Caucus
All 34 members of the assembly present voted in favour of the motion to appoint the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, as provided for by SO 90 (2f).
This committee, which unlike others is not limited to seven members, collaborates closely with the ministries of family and social affairs and organisations concerned with women’s health, as well as international organisations who are pushing for gender equality and greater participation of women in politics and other societal spheres.
There are presently eight female MNAs in the National Assembly, as compared to seven in the sixth assembly.
Committee of Government Assurance (Coga)
The last and final motion was proposed by Honourable Sylvanne Lemiel, a past member of the Committee of Government Assurance (Coga), who explained the committee’s role which is somewhat similar to FPAC, in that it scrutinises and follows up on assurances and guarantees given by the government. Its work entails project visits and inspections among others.
Considering that its primary role is to scrutinise the government, Honourable Gervais Henrie recommended that the leader of the opposition be appointed as chairman of the committee so as to play a better oversight and scrutinising role.
Members of the eight committees approved thus far are to be elected during the next session which resumes this morning at 10am.