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By GHK Lall
The parliamentary debates for the 2022 budget took place this past week. If those are what pass for debates in this country, then I am Sir Winston Churchill.
Debates, they were not; so let’s get that out of the way immediately. Given what took place, more like what was dumped in the austere confines of the National Assembly, they were more like good ole Guyanese ‘buse-down and cuss-out. It is a good thing that the debates unraveled on the East Coast, for if they had taken place in the Stabroek vicinity, many citizens would have mistaken them for marketplace squalls, such was the quality of the debates.
The first thing I will say that the debates saw a PPPC Government supremely confident in its one-seat majority, hence its invincibility, which made the outcome of the debates a foregone conclusion, no matter the wisdom or intellectual resonance of what was put forward by the opposition. From the government benches, I got the sense that it was about getting even, twisting the knife, and ramming home its advantage, so supremely confident it was in the ironclad guarantee of its one-seat edge. Unlike the APNU+AFC, there was not going to be any defections, due to conscience or convictions. There doesn’t appear to be much of either in government circles.
Government members got the ball rolling with a vengeance, when the oil issue of oil money presence in the budget came up. It was the crassness and vacuousness through what sounded like ‘yu’all will never get your hands on that oil money’ It was an indicator of things to come in what was a continuous roll of days with the crude and rude, and of men and women not even bothering to manifest that they are capable of restraint in their pronouncements and possessing some smidgen of self-respect. After all, these parliamentary contributions are seen far and wide because of the way that communications have advanced in today’s world. Later in the week, another savaging utterance came from another member of the House of the People, where the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) finalised by the prior Coalition administration was declared to be “the worst crime committed against Guyanese.”
The owner of that flattering instance of flighty hyperbole was none other than the Hon. Minister of Natural Resources, who is one of the newer and younger faces in this reincarnated PPPC parliamentary lineup. One would have expected a tad better, a bit more of the cool and clinical cerebral, from someone with a background as a lecturer at the nation’s highest institution of learning, the University of Guyana. I regret, and am ashamed, to say that this was par for the course, with the newer and younger ones out to prove that they can outdo in partisan zeal and incendiary zest their older, more veteran comrades in the government.
Expectations ran high for oratorical fireworks from the likes of members and ministers Charles Ramson, Jr., Susan Rodrigues and Nigel Dharamlall, who all turned out be damp squibs, nothing but confirmed duds. The first flattered to deceive and couldn’t hold-up on his own; the lady minister seems to have forgotten to remember that she has to deliver after the toothpaste smiles, and the last gentleman of the house (don’t ask what kind) was well pleased with himself to revel in the mud and the swill. He, who had waxed loud about sending judges in Guyana’s judiciary system packing, turned out to be the crassest of them all, with a parliamentary exhibition that was part an oral belly dance, and part a verbal striptease, that laid bare his limitations and the luridness to which Guyana’s parliament is subjected to nowadays.
It should be enlightening, and not have escaped the attention of watchful Guyanese, that things got so bad, so low, and so out of hand on the government side of the aisle that the Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo was forced to do what I think is the unprecedented. The big man was compelled to interrupt his overflowing schedule, and hold a news conference in the middle of the debates (of all times) to shed some clarity on the innards of the budget. It was obvious that his younger colleagues did not put in extensive time in doing the necessary homework, so that they were well-equipped to do justice to the budget debates, and give the Guyanese people some value for their trust, and a little comfort that the people in parliament are serious in how they go about the important business involving hundreds of billions of their, the taxpayers’, money. For the younger government members, it was all a peacock show, with considerable preening and wasting of time on their part. It was that they know that whatever was said and done, the debates were all over before the first word was uttered at the Arthur Chung Convention Center, so they could let their hair hang down and have some uninhibited fun and exhibitionism. They did.
Another noteworthy feature of the so-called budget debates was that the mainstream media, the independent segment, gave a lot of space to the presentations of the Opposition members. Unfamiliar faces and names like Juretha Fernandes and Vinceroy Jordan came into their own with sober and probing contributions that showed they put in much time at studying the areas for which they provided shadow coverage. In addition, Jermaine Figueira, David Patterson and Amanza Walton-Desir were examples of keeping the focus on the issues at hand, and not getting carried away by the crudities and vapidness that became the order of the day. In aggregate, this says a lot, given the opposition’s known struggles and other weaknesses; and as it attempts to regain some much-needed credibility and regard. My position is simple on what should be part of debates and what is out of bounds. Things must be kept clean, on topic, with supporting numbers, occasional dueling oratorical sizzles, from those so capable, and much overall substance. I guess the House of Commons is my next stop.