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By GHK Lall
The Hon. Speaker of the National Assembly is on center stage. He draws the spotlight on himself, by what is construed by many as his biased ways in the performance of his very sensitive responsibilities. From my perspective, the Speaker has manifested zeal and vigor to inflict the harsh and unacceptable on Opposition Members of Parliament. On the other hand he has been supportive of the Government’s interests, and protective of its wayward parliamentary representatives. When I look at the Speaker’s actions in times of crunch, he has not been merely biased, but blatantly so.
Guyana’s Speaker seems to have forgotten that he is part mediator, part referee, and part peacemaker. As much as he the captain on the bridge, and with such commanding authority vested in him, he is also someone who can be compared to a floorwalker in a department store. There will be cheerful and cooperative customers, and their will be aggressive and obnoxious ones. They all have to be handled and shepherded with an even hand, while continuously working overtime at maintaining an even keel.
Regrettably, the record of the Speaker’s actions has not reflected any of these attributes. Frankly, he has taken sides and in glaring ways; and when he was too occupied to do that, he has been weak and piteous. During the early part of last year, there was a vulgar fiasco, a collapse of order, a national embarrassment in Guyana’s House of the People. For an eternity, the Speaker was ineffectual and lost control, when rowdy and raged-filled parliamentarians from both sides of the aisle descended into the gutter before a national audience. They all decided that they enjoyed it so much, they were so much at home there, that they lingered for a long time with vile abuses hurled at each other.
In that forgettable episode in the National Assembly, it was as if the Speaker was not there, for all that he mattered. His slip was showing, and the nakedness of the incumbent was on display for all to behold in openmouthed disbelief. He was not the right man for a demanding job, especially when matters get to such a wrathful obscene head. Guyanese felt sorry for him in his rickety feebleness, his weak-kneed spinelessness. I did. Given what followed in subsequent months, especially as directed against the parliamentary opposition, it was the last time that he was able to garnish any sympathy from any corner not rabidly pro-government. He hasn’t from this corner. For he himself deteriorated in the quality of strong, independent leadership that is the essence of the role of the Speaker of the House of the People, as he went from bad to worse, then worse still. He failed to remember that Speaker of the House means not on behalf of the Government’s people exclusively, or the Opposition’s people alone, but all the Guyanese people.
Because there were two revealing instances that exposed the Speaker for who he is, what he is about, and how he is devoted to going about his always touchy responsibilities in a particularly partisan way, even when the interests and welfare of all Guyanese are involved.
The Opposition’s Shadow Minister of Oil and Gas tabled motions related to the controversial Wales gas to shore project. It is, at this time, the biggest thing that Guyana has ever dreamed up, or ever embarked upon, in any area of this nation’s endeavors. What the Speaker first did was jaw-dropping. He not only gutted vital points of contention that called for enlightenment in the Shadow Minister’s paper, he had the audacity to insult him in the process. The Shadow Minister should be able to roll with that one on his own, but the import of what the Speaker did cannot be limited to the Shadow Minister alone. He represents almost half of the electorate or in hard numbers over 200,000 Guyanese citizens. All of them had to have been diminished by what the Speaker did when he said that he did not have to provide answers or reasons for what he did and why. The gas to shore project is not a PPPC Government pet project to be squired by the Speaker before the assembled parliamentarians and keenly watching Guyanese, but one of the greatest possible national significance and consequence, if not handled right. The Speaker cannot be pardoned for what was a clear and dangerous breach of his supposed and expected neutrality.
But he was not yet done. For when the Shadow Minister’s amended motion was allowed its moment of resurrection, it was still diluted and drained in parts, thanks to the scalpel of the Speaker. A true patriot, a real bipartisan Speaker does not conduct himself in this manner, does not get caught up in such unseemly shenanigans. It as if he was working double-time (and behind the scenes) to give one side an unfair advantage, one that could be to the severe detriment of Guyanese for a long time to come. The Opposition was not the side benefitting from the Speaker’s generosity. Whose side he is on, how he intends to go about the business of the Speaker of the National Assembly needed no further interpretations or subtitles.
Last, there was the controversy-filled and rushed Natural Resources Fund Bill, where what passed for debate degraded into verbal brawls, and more. Opposition MPs took matters to a low level, and profaned the chambers of the National Assembly. They weren’t the only ones. But now they are the only ones being singled out-eight of them-for possible disciplinary action(s). Government MPs were neither passive nor serene choir boys and girls during the ruckus, but they are given a pass, on the flimsiest of grounds, the shallowest of pretenses. Procedural, according to the Hon. Speaker. Again, he is protective to the government’s side, but warlike to the Opposition’s. Whichever way turned, however charitably viewed, the bias and wounding partisan have come to characterise the thinking, decisions, and actions of the Hon Speaker. He desecrates the office.