Montserrat does not meet the minimum standards for a Commonwealth Legislature says a new report prepared by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The Legislature Department has published the final report of a review, which was undertaken to determine how well Montserrat meets the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures.
Read it here.
The review was spearheaded by Mathew Salik of the UK Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. While on island, he met with a large number of stakeholders to garner their views, including members of the media, non-governmental organisations and civil servants.
In the report he noted that, “It is extremely concerning that the Assembly fails to meet the majority of recommended benchmarks for Democratic legislatures, which are the minimum standards any Commonwealth legislature should seek to adhere to. The Assembly has no permanent home, remains handicapped by its limited access to financial and administrative resources, outdated Standing Orders, significant gaps in legal, procedural and regulatory rules and mechanisms and little to no transparency or independence.
The report provides 24 recommendations which, should they be implemented, will assist Montserrat in meeting the Established Commonwealth Parliamentary standards.
A summary of the recommendations follow.
Political party and campaign finance regulations should be legislated for immediately. All other recommendations of the 2014 and 2019 CPA BIMR Election Observation Missions should be implemented before the next election.
Steps should be taken in advance of the next election to make it easier for public servants to stand for election with guarantees for reappointment to their existing roles. This should include a broad consultation with relevant unions and the broader public.
Urgent steps should be taken to enact laws and regulations that clearly establish and enforce the privileges and immunities for elected Members of the Assembly as outlined in the Constitution 2010.
A needs assessment should be conducted by the Assembly to identify what learning and development requirements exist for internal and external stakeholders. It should develop an annual curriculum in coordination with the CPA and CPA UK to assist in that provision on an ongoing basis. More technical staffing provision is also required to provide such assistance.
A coordinated and consolidated approach should be taken to examine the policing of Members by the Assembly, related Commissions, the Courts, and the Constitution to ensure that there is clarity and natural justice for Members. This should be undertaken alongside the establishment of any development of privileges and immunities (see recommendation 3 and 24).
The design and development of any new parliament building must ensure that it provides all the essential needs of Members and staff. At the forefront any designs should be accessibility for all.
The process of updating and enacting the new Assembly’s Standing Orders should be concluded before the end of 2022 and all Members should proactively ensure this is achieved. Once complete, the Assembly should establish a mechanism to enable continuous review and updating. Furthermore, training and communication around the new Standing Orders will be essential for Members and other stakeholders (see recommendation 4).
The Speaker should be given greater powers, resources, and administrative support to enable them to fulfil their entire mandate. There should be a Speaker’s Secretary appointed to assist with education, outreach and engagement. There should be an independent body established to govern the Assembly which the Speaker should Chair.
The Opposition should utilise all legislative opportunities to hold the executive to account and to advocate and educate the public on key domestic and international matters. Members should encourage petitioning, legislate using Private Members’ Bills, exploit opportunities for general debates and committee hearings.
The Assembly should consistently publish annually a business and legislative calendar for public consumption.
The Assembly should proactively seek to educate and explain to the public via all available communication channels what petitions are and how they can be utilised.
The Assembly should have greater ownership over the official and unofficial record of legislative proceedings to protect the rights of Members and the institution. The Assembly should also utilise modern technology to document, data manage and communicate the Assembly record using visual as well as audio streaming and broadcasting.
The committee functioning of the Assembly should be urgently strengthened and expanded. The Assembly should have a Committee Clerk appointed at the earliest juncture to assist with the running of existing and future committees.
Another Committee should be established as soon as possible to comply with the Constitution and to provide an additional scrutiny and accountability mechanism.
The powers of the Assembly, and in particular committees, need to be placed on a clearer footing through the updating of Standing Orders. Such powers need to be clearly communicated and enforced where necessary.
The work of committees and its results should be promoted and communicated to all stakeholders in Montserrat. This will go a considerable way to building confidence in the Assembly and the Public Accounts Committee.
The administration and financing of the Complaints, Electoral and (eventual) Integrity Commissions should be separated out with staff directly reporting to their respective Commissioners.
There should be a full-time Clerk of the Legislative Assembly in place, paid at the level of a Permanent Secretary provided with sufficient staff to manage all the key functions of the Assembly. In line with recommendations 8 and 13, the service of the Assembly should be expanded by at least two additional members of staff to meet current requirements.
There should be a Legislative Assembly Service Commission established as an independent corporate body with the necessary financial and administrative autonomy.
The Assembly should, in consultation with Members, develop corporate governance strategies, policies and plans to improve the functioning of the Assembly and to ensure that Members and the public can scrutinise its performance.
Bills once laid in the Assembly should be owned by the Assembly and be made widely available via the Assembly’s website, media outlets and social media platforms.
Long-term consideration should be given to expanding the scrutiny functions of the Assembly by examining delegated legislation, international commitments, and post-legislative scrutiny. Greater efforts should be made in encouraging public consultation and input into laws.
Greater clarity and consistency should be applied by the Public Accounts Committee and wider Assembly in relation to its work with the National Audit Office and their reports. Greater resources, especially technical support, should be made available to Members to have adequate financial and budgetary scrutiny functions (see recommendation 13).
The Assembly and Government should implement the long-overdue Integrity in Public Office Act. Establishing and enforcing a register of interest and code of conduct which would bring Montserrat in line with international best practice. It would also provide an important reference point for Members and Ministers alike to signal to the public that the Assembly is an institution committed to regulating itself and preventing the abuse of power.
Persons wishing to have a look at the report can visit the Legislature Department’s website at www.parliament.ms or download it here.