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…says lack of media access, Speaker’s ‘bias’ demand different approaches
Saying that they have been significantly denied access to the state media and ever so often ‘barred’ from treating with critical motions and questions in the National Assembly, the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), has launched what it described as an aggressive outreach programme, that would see it connecting with grassroots, and staging ‘People’s Parliament’ in an attempt to keep the nation informed on issues of national importance.
On the sideline of a parliamentary outreach in Linden, Region 10 on Saturday, Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon told Village Voice News that though APNU+AFC secured well over 217,000 votes securing 31 seats in the 65-seat National Assembly, it is being “shut out” by the state media, and those are closely aligned to the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government.
The blockade, the Opposition Leader said, has proven to be a challenge. In response, the APNU+AFC is fanning out its members across the country, in an effort to consult with the people on the ground but also to make its position known on issues of national importance.
“So the way we decided to deal with these issues, is really to go directly to the public and take our views to the public,” Harmon said.
The situation, he said, has been further compounded by decisions of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir, to bar certain questions and motions tabled by APNU+AFC – placing them at a greater disadvantage.
“In the case of the National Assembly, we have important motions and questions that have been asked and are to be answered by ministers in that forum, and yet some of it, is being denied either by the Speaker or the lose answers which are provided by Minsters,” the Opposition Leader explained.
Last September, the Speaker disallowed a question by the Opposition which sought clarity on then pending visit by the then US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Less than two weeks ago, the Speaker, barred a motion, which called on the National Assembly to condemn the West Coast Berbice (WCB) murders. Had it been passed, the motion would have ultimately set the stage for the Government to procure and finance the assistance of expert and professional investigators to resolve the heinous crimes but the Speaker disallowed it on the grounds that the matter is now sub judice.
“To entertain this motion at this time would put the Assembly in contravention of its own Standing Orders. Further entertaining this motion may ultimately jeopardize the ability of our justice system to conduct fair trials of persons before the Court,” the Speaker told the House on January 28.
But Harmon said the ruling of the Speaker came approximately three months after the motion had been tabled by APNU+AFC Member of Parliament, Geeta Chandan-Edmond during which time the matter was not yet before the courts. The Opposition, in particular, the APNU+AFC, has been heavily critical of the Speaker, to the point that they have accused him of being biased.
Warning that continuous public criticism of him can result in disciplinary actions being initiated, the Speaker last Thursday said he will not be intimidated by “front yard or back yard bullies.”
“Well I come back into the backyard now to behave the same way because I will speak and the Speaker and nobody will silence me because I represent the views of 217,000 and more persons, so I cannot be silenced. And so if I have to go in the backyard where my behaviour is acceptable; I am going in the backyard,” Harmon said.
Harmon said the APNU+AFC’s posture towards the Speaker is nothing compared to the attitude of the PPP/C, towards the speaker, during the 11st Parliament of Guyana. “We haven’t even gone 1/10th of the way along that continuum of bad behaviour,” he stated, while noting that the PPP/C had often defied the decisions of the then Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland.
Asked whether the APNU+AFC will mount a motion for the removal of the Speaker, should the Opposition’s Bills, Motions and Questions be barred, Harmon said the coalition is considering a number of measures.
“We will not go from zero to a 100 right away but what we will do is explore each measure, discuss it within our parliamentary group and we will take the necessary action that will being [about] the best result for our people. And I think that is every important, whatever we do there it is not for our own benefit; it is the constituency that we represent and so we must have a buy in from them,” Harmon reasoned.
He posited that the People’s Parliament and the outreaches are among the measures considered by the APNU+AFC.
“These outreaches that we are having allow us to have a feedback from the people that we represent, as to, what they see us doing, what they would like us to do, and the manner in which it should be done, so this is part of that consultative process that we understand to be meant by representation, and we just don’t go into the Parliament and devise some place into our own head,” he said.
Last Thursday, the APNU+AFC hosted its first sitting of ‘The People’s Parliament’ at the Stabroek Market Square. Harmon said Guyanese can rest assured that the People’s Parliament would become a common feature.
Meanwhile, during Saturday’s outreach, the Opposition Leader distributed hampers to persons whom they said were neglected by the COVID cash grant team, while taking their concerns into consideration.