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Employment at Constituency Offices – The Controversy and the Facts

The recent controversy regarding the employment to what has been described as family members has now deteriorated to a level that is extremely unfortunate, wherein the facts are being distorted even by persons who should know better. It has gone to the level of get Kamla out by all means. On 95.5 FM this morning It deteriorated to hate and verbal violence even against Ralph Maraj who took the position that the country should await the response of the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
What are the facts?

1. Prior to 2015 and between 2010 and 2015 the following was the definition of family members who cannot or one should say should not be employed. The communications division of the Parliament shared the following with the Trinidad Guardian.

Parliament’s communication division yesterday clarified the constituency office hiring rules. The Constituency Manual for the immediate past 10th Parliament (2010-2015) stated that MPs have the authority to employ, promote or terminate employees. Under Points to Note (Staff) it also stated MPs “should not hire members of their immediate family, (defined as spouse, children or parents) to work in their constituency office.”

Rules in the Constituency Handbook for the current 11th Parliament (2015-2020) are more specific. Under “Engagement of Constituency Office Staff” it states “Restriction on Employment of Relatives.” The clause states that members are restricted from employing relatives as employees in their constituency offices. Relatives include the following individuals:

a. spouses;
b. co-habitants;
c. children/step-children/adopted children/ grandchildren;
d. parents/step-parents/grandparents;
e. siblings;
f. nephews/nieces;
g. uncles/aunts;
h. cousins.
The question arises as to who changed the rules.

i. Were the rules formally communicated to Members of Parliament or was the manual simply distributed to Parliamentarians without specific communications on the changes.
ii. Was this the responsibility of the Clerk of the House? Were these rules supposed to be agreed upon by the House Committee?
iii. Were these rules changed by the Clerk of the House or the new Speaker, or were they changed by the Clerk of the House without reference either to the former or new Speaker in the interregnum between the time the tenth Parliament was prorogued and the Eleventh parliament began?
iv. What powers does the Clerk of the House have with respect to the regulation of Constituency Offices and should the Clerk’s powers not be circumscribed by what the House Committee and /or the Parliament agree upon.

2. The employees referred to in the case of the Leader of the Opposition at her Constituency Office have been employed for 20 years and 14 years. The following questions arise:
i. Have these employees been unfairly prejudiced in their right to continuous employment by an arbitrary change in the rules after continuous employment up to 20 years and 14 years?
ii. Can Parliament Staff and /or the Speaker on their own accord create rules which are prejudicial and which contravene the rights of persons already employed prior to the change in rules
iii. Do these new rules create a situation of discrimination and raise the issue of equal opportunity
iv. What is the role of the Human Resources Department of the Parliament with respect to the hiring and firing of employees?

3. The MP for Siparia has not evaded the issue but has written to the Clerk of the House for clarification and advice. This is the proper thing to do. When laws are passed or when new regulations are made Parliament at times ensures that the rights of those who may have had a different situation prior to the new laws or rules are not unfairly prejudiced. What should be the process to be followed here that is not only fair but is so perceived.

4. The Marlene Mc Donald case goes beyond the alleged hiring of a family member. It is now confirmed that the Police are conducting a criminal investigation into the Calabar Foundation which was the recipient of substantial financial support from the Minister. As well the matter involves the alleged assistance given by the MP to her “romantic partner” to get an HDC house. In the political hunting that is going on the facts are being ignored and the scoring of points have taken over like all things in TT.

Commentary by Suruj Rambachan,
Member of Parliament, Tabaquite

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