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…APNUAFC says he is bias
By Svetlana Marshall
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir has shed any vestige of impartiality in the conduct of the business of the National Assembly, the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) said, just hours after the Speaker had warned the House about imputing his character.
Since the convening of the 1st Sitting of the National Assembly of the 12th Parliament of Guyana on September 1, 2020, the Speaker has come in for heavy criticism from the main opposition party in the House – the APNU+AFC – over the disallowing of motions and questions, and the “failure” to convene Standing Committee Meetings for the election of chairpersons.
During the 14th Sitting on Wednesday, the Speaker said one of the best known rules of parliamentary procedures, is that the conduct of the Speaker cannot be criticised except by a substantive motion. But hours after he warned that breach of the parliamentary rules and procedures is punishable, APNU+AFC said he has not hid his impartiality.
“His comments today that Charrandass Persaud is welcomed in the National Assembly is cause for concern. Persaud is a member of the public just like any other citizen of Guyana. He is not entitled to special treatment nor does he enjoy any privileges in relation to the National Assembly. It is to be recalled that the courts declared Persaud’s membership of the Assembly an illegality, therefore the basis upon which the Nadir has laid out this red carpet welcome is unclear. Nadir ought to remember that he has an impartial role in the conduct of the business of this august House and behave accordingly,” APNU+AFC said in a statement late Wednesday night.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Speaker told the House that he had taken note of the criticisms and allegations levelled against him in the press.
“Over the past few weeks, we have seen a number of members of the National Assembly making statements with respect to the Speaker. Some reflecting on collusion, with respect to lack of transparency and accountability, dereliction of duty, and a number of other criticisms in the media about the Speaker,” Nadir said.
Pointing to the Canadian House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, Nadir said “reflections of the character or actions of the Speaker, for example, an allegation of bias, could be taken by the House as breaches of privilege and can be punished accordingly.”
He noted that such matters could be referred to the Committee of Privileges.
“When a Member is dissatisfied with the decision or action of the Speaker, he or she as a right to table a motion challenging the decision and the action of the Speaker. For example, if a Member is dissatisfied, with the Speaker’s approval of a motion for debate in the National Assembly, he or she has the right to table a substantive motion, challenging the Speaker’s decision,” he explained.
Similar rules and procedures, he said, were upheld by former Speakers Dr. Barton Scotland, Raphael Trotman and Ralph Ramkarran, and will be upheld by him.
But minutes after making those pronouncements, the Speaker disallowed another motion, much to the dissatisfaction of the APNU+AFC.
In keeping with Standing Order 12 (2), APNU+AFC Member of Parliament Ganesh Mahipaul requested leave to move the adjournment of the Assembly for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance – that is – the commencement of meetings of the Standing Committees. The Parliamentarian had drawn the Speaker’s attention to the fact that the majority of the Standing Committees have not met.
“This matter is urgent on the grounds that in the case of the Public Accounts Committee, accounts of Government’s expenditure dating back to 2016 are yet to be considered by the PAC. For clarity, accounts for 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 are to be considered by the PAC and we are about to begin year 2021,” MP Mahipaul explained.
But the Speaker, while acknowledging receipt of the request on Tuesday, December 22, 2020, said though important, the matter the matter is not urgent.
“Honourable Members, while this is important, I did not see it as urgent. So I am disallowing this request,” the Speaker informed the House.
Incoming Chairman of the PAC, David Patterson, had lashed out at the Speaker one day before Wednesday’s sitting over the delay in holding the first meeting of the committee. “I note with disappointment, that no notice for the convening of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been issued, thus it is now highly unlikely that you be upholding your duty to summon the first meeting to have this very important committee constitutionally established,” Patterson said in a letter to the Speaker on Monday. Patterson had written at least five letters to the Speaker underscoring the need for the PAC to be convened. Letters were dispatched on November 18 & 25, 2020 and December 1, 10 & 18, 2020 but Patterson’s efforts were unsuccessful.
“It is unacceptable to have the Parliament convened at great expense to the citizens, and not use this opportunity to convene committee meetings. It is disrespectful to the Members and a disservice to the country,” Patterson told the Speaker.
But the Speaker, on Wednesday, said as a result of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, he had asked the Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs to put technological systems in place to facilitate Members of the various Standing Committees, who are residing in far flung villages and would not be able to travel to the city to participate in the meetings.
“In this regard, six members of committees were identified in remote areas of the country not served by regular internet and…while the first meetings to elect the chairman or chairpersons are important, every meeting is also important, and so we have to ensure that persons can participate in the meetings,” he reasoned.
The Speaker disclosed that a contract has been signed with an internet provider to serve the six members to ensure equal participation regardless of their geographical location.
“So if it happens that a community is locked down and a member is in that community, they would be able to fully participate in these meetings. And while we have seen a lot of statements about the convening of these meetings and all imputing of motives, the National Assembly has taken steps to ensure that our members can participate and represent their constituency at every meeting possible,” Nadir said.
He announced also that the meeting to elect the chairpersons of the various committees will be held on Monday, December 28, 2020 at 14:00hrs when the Committee of Selection meets.