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— opposition writes letter of complaint to int’l parliamentary body
…Jagdeo says coalition has no moral authority on the matter
By Svetlana Marshall
Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon has filed a complaint with the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) over the Speaker’s ‘failure’ to convene sittings of the National Assembly. But Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo said that the APNUAFC has no moral authority on the matter since for close to two years they ran a government without parliamentary oversight. He alluded to the non-convening of parliament following the passage of the no confidence motion against the coalition government back in December 2018. Parliament, would have convened twice after then, but was not held for several months before it was officially dissolved. During that period the coalition government operated in an interim capacity. Jagdeo said the APNUAFC should be ashamed as they had spent billions without any parliamentary oversight.
However, in the letter dated Thursday, May 20, 2021, the Opposition Leader warned that the action of the Speaker, Manzoor Nadir, is eroding parliamentary democracy in Guyana. Today, Sunday, May 23, marks 81 days since the National Assembly last sat. “The budget was passed on 4th March, 2021 and since that date there has been no further sittings of the National Assembly. There is no indication from the Speaker of any intended date for another sitting,” Harmon informed the IPU.
He disclosed that since the last sitting of the National Assembly, 487 questions for oral and written replies have been submitted by the Opposition Members of Parliament.
“The questions concerning Health, Security, Governance, Environment, Education, Economic and International Relations issues have not been addressed by the responsible Ministers. Additionally, the High Court of Guyana has ruled that two Members of Parliament appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries by the Government are unlawfully appointed and despite the service of order of court upon the Speaker he has taken no discernible steps to remove those persons as Members of Parliament,” the Opposition Leader told the IPU.
According to Standing Order No.8 (1), a Government Minister, by way of a motion, may set a date for the next sitting of the National Assembly, however, Standing Order No. 8 (2) empowers the Speaker to convene the sitting of the National Assembly.
“If, during an adjournment of the Assembly, it is represented to the Speaker by the Government, or the Speaker is of the opinion, that the public interest requires that the Assembly should meet on a day earlier than that to which it stands adjourned, the Speaker may give notice accordingly and the Assembly shall meet at the time stated in such notice….,” a section of the Standing Order states.
In an earlier interview with Village Voice Newspaper, Government’s Chief Whip and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, had said that the Government was focused on reducing the spread of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) through its ongoing vaccination programme, in addition to the implementation of its 2021 budgetary programmes.
“We are operating within a COVID environment and we have a very heavy agenda and programme and budget to get through, and so the focus right now is to get the country going, keep the economy going, help people as much as possible, and try to address COVID,” the Government Chief Whip had said.
But Opposition Chief Whip, Christopher Jones said the Speaker and People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government’s failure to convene the National Assembly is resulting in a clear lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the very Government.
He said the Speaker, though having the authority to convene the National Assembly has not done so, although the Opposition has tabled close to 500 questions, petitions and motions. Largely, the questions are based on the $383.1B National Budget approved by the National Assembly, however, some also seek to address challenges facing citizenry. “We have been on several outreaches across regions 10, 2, 3,5 and on the East Coast of Demerara, and you are getting complaints about drainage and irrigation, road works, lights and all of these things in the community,” he explained.
While the Government’s Chief Whip had indicated that the PPP/C Administration was in the process of implementing the budget while combating the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones reminded that the Opposition is an important arm of government.
“The Government has to understand that the Opposition has a role to play in governance, and some of the information that we might have that we picked up from the ground, they might not have directed to them, and we provide that balance to them, that support to them, we too as an Opposition would like to see the economy growing, we are cognizant of the effects of COVID-19 on the economy and otherwise and of course we would want to lend support so the economy thrives. But not having a sitting of the National Assembly excludes us from that process,” the Opposition Chief Whip reasoned.
Jones said precious time has been wasted, and it important for either Speaker or the PPP/C to set a date for the Sitting of the National Assembly.
“Within a few days, it would be 90 days, essentially 3 months, a quarter of a year a National Assembly has not met, we are going into recess in the month of August through September,” the Opposition Chief Whip said.
Opposition MP Ganesh Mahipaul, alone, has submitted two lists totaling 45 questions for the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Nigel Dharamlall. MP Mahipaul wants answers on a number of multimillion dollar infrastructural projects undertaken by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, in addition to information on the funds being allocated to the Sustainable Livelihood Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) Programme; and the $1.172B approved for the Community Infrastructure Improvement Project. He has also asked a number of questions relating to the staff of the ministry inclusive of their salaries.
Opposition MP Tabitha Sarabo-Halley has also tabled a number of questions on scholarships being offered by the Ministry of Public Service under the GOAL initiative, while MP Geeta Chandan-Edmond has submitted a total of eight questions for a response by the Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn on Government’s decision to establish a Corporate Communications Unit within the Guyana Police Force.
The Opposition Chief Whip said also on the agenda is a motion related to the Oil and Gas Sector, in which the APNU+AFC, through MP David Patterson, is calling for the establishment of a Multi-Agency Taskforce to prepare a Land Use Policy specifically for the location of the Oil and Gas Sector.
“Be it further resolved that the Government advises the taskforce that it is the preference of this National Assembly for future onshore bases be in the Counties of Berbice and Essequibo to ensure parity in development of the Oil and Gas Industry and equitable development across Guyana for the benefit of all citizens,” a section of the proposed motion reads. Through the motion, the Opposition is seeking to have all future shore bases owned by the Government but with avenues for them to be leased to private operators.