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Montserrat Legislative Assembly

Understanding Montserrat’s Legislature

Understanding Montserrat’s Legislature

Montserrat’s Legislature is one of the three arms of Government in Montserrat. The other arms of Government are the Cabinet and the Judiciary. As in other democratic systems, the doctrine of separation of powers is at play in Montserrat. This doctrine provides that the functions of the three arms of government should be carried out by separate bodies of people. This separation of the arms of government results in a check on the concentration of power in the hands of a few.

The Legislature is generally considered to be the assembly of the elected representatives of the people. In the case of Montserrat two ex-officio members, the Attorney General and the Financial Secretary, are also a part of the Legislature, which is officially called the Legislative Assembly.

Montserrat’s Legislature is unicameral which means that it has one house or one Chamber. This in direct contrast to Legislatures which have two houses or two chambers, and are said to be bicameral.

Functions of the Montserrat Legislature:

The Montserrat Legislature is responsible for carrying out several functions. Like other Legislatures, it’s most important function is to legislate i.e. to make laws. In ancient times, laws were derived from customs, traditions and religious scriptures, or were issued by the kings as their commands. However, in democratic societies, the legislature is the chief source of the law. The Legislature is therefore responsible for making, amending, and repealing laws.

New laws are made to meet the changing needs of society and old laws which are no longer suitable, in view of new circumstances, are amended to reflect new realities on the ground. At the same time, laws which have become obsolete in nature are re¬pealed. Subordinate legisla¬tive powers is delegated to the Executive authorities, the Cabinet.

The Legislature is said to frame the will of the country into laws thereby giving it a legal character, with accompanying authority and force. However, increasingly the regional or international communities influence the laws which are passed. Immense financial and other pressures can be placed on countries which do not comply with such laws and so Montserrat, like other places, is obliged to pass certain laws, even when they come with additional financial burdens on the country.

Ultimately the Legislature is that branch of government which performs the function of law¬making through deliberations. After laws are made by the Legislature, they are then enforced and thereafter adjudication can take place. When viewed from this angle, the Legislature is a very important arm of Government in Montserrat.

The Constitution The Montserrat Constitution Order 2010 is the highest law of the land, and if it is to be amended, it cannot be done without the legislature. Two thirds of the Legislature would have to agree to such an amendment before the matter could be addressed. The Legislature will therefore play a central role to all matters related to the Constitution of the land.

1. A second function of the Legislature which is quite closely connected to the first one is that it has:

To deliberate upon matters of national importance, public issues, problems and needs. Through this function, the legislature reflects the public opinion on various issues. Legislators have been elected by the people to look after their interests and so what they do in the House must in some way reflect this. A spin off effect of its deliberation and debates is that the general population can be educated and brought up to speed on some matters. This is therefore an important function of the Legislature.

2. Holding the Executive to Account:

One of the roles of any Legislature, including the one in Montserrat, is to hold the executive to account. In Montserrat there are four Government Ministers who form the executive and 5 non-ministerial members of the Legislature. So theoretically then the Legislature has sufficient members to hold the executive to account

As it stands, the executive is collectively responsible to the Legislature for all its actions, decisions, and policies under the parliamentary system of government and where there are problems there are several actions which may be possible.

  1. The Legislature can exert some control over the executive through the vote of no-confidence; in that it has the power to remove the Executive by passing a vote of no-confidence. Even in the case where the Government has a large majority, a motion of no-confidence places a Government in an uncomfortable situation. Therefore, the provision for such a motion to be used when necessary can, to some extent, serve to keep the Government of the day in check.
  2. The provision of question time on the Order Paper is another mechanism for holding the Executive to account for its actions. This is something largely used by the Opposition in Montserrat, but in fact any non-Ministerial member can ask questions.
  3. The Legislature can reject a budget or law which the executive would like to have passed, though this is unlikely to occur in the local setting.
  4. The British system of Parliamentary Government/Westminster has been evolving overtime and they have established some elements which we have not yet adopted to hold the Executive in Montserrat to account. Some of these are listed below:
    • The Prime Minister Question time which is held weekly in the UK.
    • The provision for urgent questions whereby the Honourable Speaker of the House can allow urgent questions to any Minister, on pressing matters, without the normal notice period. According to one of the Speakers at Westminster – this is seen as allowing the opposition and backbenchers to shape the agenda of the House in response to short term events.
    • Providing dedicated time for backbenchers to debate in Parliament is another measure used in Westminster; and apparently, the backbenchers have made good use of this allowance to challenge the Government on issues, which would not normally have reached the House.
3 Custodian of National Finances:

Montserrat’s Legislature plays a very important role in the national finances. To a great extent, it controls the finances in that no money can be spent by the Executive without the approval of the legislature. Each year the Executive has to prepare and present its budget to the Legislature for the coming financial year, and this is typically passed prior to any spending. In seeking approval of the budget, the Executive presents a lot of information in terms of the actual income and expenditure of the previous year and estimated income and expenditure for the New Year.

It is the Legislature which approves the imposition, or repeal or collection of any tax in Montserrat. Additionally, it exercises supervision over the financial admini¬stration of Government through the very important Public Accounts Committee. The oversight of public finances by the Legislature is a very important part of our democracy.

4. Defend and Advance the cause of the people

Montserrat’s Legislature is the highest forum for airing of public grievances against the Executive and perhaps for seeking redress of such grievances. That is why members of the public would seek to contact their representatives, with various concerns which they hope would be aired/dealt with in the Legislative Assembly. Essentially, the Legislature represents the entire populace (with all their varying opinions and interests) and acts as the national forum for expressing public opinion, public grievances and public aspirations. Persons can also make petitions to the Legislature, as a further means of expressing their grievance and wish to see change. This can result in a modification of Government policies in accordance to the wishes of ordinary citizens. This is why it is important to have various means for members, in general, to bring issues to the floor.

Parliamentary debates and discussions are important because they highlight various issues of public importance, and help people to understand what is happening. The proceedings of the Montserrat Legislature are carried live and newspapers may also carry parts of the debate. All of this contributes to a more enlightened populace. So on the one hand, the Montserrat Legislature provides an avenue for the expression of public opinion, and on the other, it provides a means for shaping public opinion. At the end of the day, the Legislature is very important to every citizen in the land.