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By GHK Lall
The budget debate was over before it began. Yes, it was that much of a foregone conclusion, with the parliamentary Speakership apparatus only too willing to add its verbal greasing to ensure the job done with a minimum of squeaking and bottlenecking. Now, I have a little secret to share. Not one minute did I spare (waste) to follow and absorb what to me is a shabby affair, a running national joke.
Budget debates are done deals, regardless of who says what, and this is regardless of how impressive and inspiring those involved may be. A one-seat majority is all it takes in Guyana. To be frank, we have not had the impressive and inspiring in the National Assembly for several decades now. Drabness and drudgery are what have been the characterizing features of past debates, both recent and a little more distant. The one exception of note was the late December debate over the controversial Natural Resource Fund that was rushed through parliament by the devious PPP Government under the cover of darkness, as though it was some secretive criminal conspiracy. Truth be told, it was such a conspiracy, as was evident then by the unclean hands involved in it, and through what Guyanese are discovering to their disgust now with oil fund withdrawals. There was energy, spirit, and the cut and thrust and parry of determined political foes locked in close quarter action, and none willing to concede a centimeter. It is the kind of action that should be the norm in Guyana’s parliamentary debates. I could check-in then.
In addition, the research and underpinnings that make for sparkling debate due to the confidence they instill in presenters are simply not present. Also, the rollicking spirits, the mischievous flair of mind, and the keenness of wit have all departed with those who settled for the greener pastures and more civilised climate of northern neighborhoods, those along with the departed into eternity. I would assert, most importantly, that the dazzling oratorical skills, and the devastating verbal thrusts, are all a lost art to Guyanese parliamentarians, who are walking commercials for what is as dull as a molasses bath on a cloudy day.
It would be lovely if we could be graced with some of the splendidly couched insults and tactically disruptive hecklings that parliamentarians in the British House of Commons have cut their eye teeth on, and made their calling card. At least, there would be some biting humor, some piercing sarcasm, to the fire and flash of political spectacles to lighten the plod of what is a boring weeklong event in Guyana. The preparation I mentioned earlier should be a must for the Opposition. Though it does not make much of a difference in the end, at least the Opposition would get into the parliamentary record what the PPP Government and its connivers would prefer to remain unsaid and unvisited, thus leaving it untouched.
Guyanese need to know what they got, what was achieved in the record 2022 budget, and all of the massive spending on a variety of public works projects. The Opposition had to have made it its duty to raise the issue of value for taxpayer money budgeted and spent. It would take hard, tiring effort, but the amounts allocated for specific infrastructure projects, the time lines and completion/delivery schedules for different phases of such projects, how far they have progressed, how distant they lag, and if so, then why so. It just cannot be the usual story of big budget headlines about so many billions for roads, so many for healthcare facilities and education and security and prisons, and then a blanket of silence afterwards. I know that the PPP has pulled out all the stops, with an assortment of tricks and delaying tactics with the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, with the result that it has been reduced to a vegetative state. Nevertheless, my position is that the budget debates had to incorporate elements of sustained pressure by the Opposition on the PPP Government for an accounting of how the people’s money had been spent in 2022. To be kind, I would be surprised to learn that the Opposition came anywhere close to such a no-holds barred junction.
As for the PPP’s long line of apologies for parliamentarians, just thinking of listening to them is enough to induce puking; indeed, they are so fixated on the hollow, the meaningless, and the vacuous. To think that these guys and gals make laws for us, stand as stewards of our national purse strings is enough to give the shivers. When is the last time that anyone got a speck of truth, a sliver of honesty, from the greatest fraction of them? How come some of these losers are in legislative bodies anyway? Only in a dreadful polity like Guyana could these novice operatic performers find a place to ply their dismal skills.
Regarding the Speaker of the House, he has already made a special name for himself that speaks of someone listing heavily in one direction. That the incumbent succeeds in doing so without the aid of wind or wave is testimony to an extraordinary spinal flexibility that baffles the best minds that study the human anatomy. With this fine Guyanese standing as a supposedly independent and neutral referee, Guyanese are guaranteed of one thing. It is not the open road of two-way debate, but a one-way street that is a political cul-de-sac. Like I said, parliament has transformed into the barrenness of deadweights, lightweights, and full-fledged featherweights, with a dozen or so paperweights thrown in for good measure to complete the circus. As an issue of note, the Opposition is going to have to draw a red line in the sand on that one about cooperatives, and lands (more later). Bottom line: no parliamentary debates for me. There are other things I can do to occupy my time. Like watching reruns of the Benny Hill Show. Or for the really politically daft, Yes, Prime Minister.