When the National Assembly passed the Entitlement and Service Conditions for Commissioners of Constitutional Offices (amendment) Bill, repealing the provision that requires commissioners and members of constitutional offices to resign, the expectation was that there would be a deadlock.
As expected, the National Council has objected to the amendment. The house of review, rather endorsed that members and commissioners be reappointed for a second term.
The Bill was endorsed in the Assembly last November with 24 yes to 15 no votes. There were objections, although majority voted for commissioners not having to resign. The essence of the debate was that commissioners and members, at the peak of their career and chosen from the civil service, retiring from the civil service would be a loss.
It is a valid concern. With this crop of experienced and qualified people retiring way before their retirement age, the civil service would be deprived of qualified people. They were appointed as commissioners as a recognition for their service, and cutting their service short after five years is a not a nice way to reward them. Some of the commissioners, who have completed their term, are still without jobs, as they cannot return to the civil service.
On the other hand, the other argument that allowing commissioners to return to their previous post would result in a case of conflict of interest also holds water. The Anti Corruption Commission, which also has commissioners, has objected strongly to the amendment, fearing undermining of independence. They expressed that the institution of check and balance would be crippled, if commissioners were not independent.
It is in this light that the Council’s proposal of allowing a second term comes as a middle path solution. Notwithstanding the concern among some opposition members that the move followed some lobbying with the government, there are implications.
Jobs have to be created and we know it is more difficult at the higher level. The Royal Civil Service Commission is still looking for places to reassign the two secretaries, for instance. Some of the commissioners have eight to 10 years to reach the retirement age.
This solution will also not violate the Constitution, as it is silent, unlike on the chairperson of the constitutional offices, where it specifies that holders of the constitutional offices are not eligible for reappointment.
The Council’s endorsement on a second term also does not guarantee a second automatic term. It only provides a window of opportunity. This is because the committee that recommends commissioners and members also changes. This will also provide the check and balance of pulling people, based on reasons other than professionalism and capability.
The debate will go on and we can foresee that there will be more discourse at a joint sitting of Parliament on this issue. As the Bill in question is a legislative Bill, the Council will have equal rights and authority, unlike on the pay revision that went ahead without the Council’s blessings.
Disagreement is an integral part of democracy and we surmise that Parliament will engage in more debate on this issue. It will be healthier if it transcends party interest and clashes of power between the two houses.