President’s recent Parliamentary speech hotly debated
GINA, Guyana, Saturday, November 5, 2016
Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo has described as a historic feat that President David Granger has addressed Parliament six times within a 16-month period.
Taking the floor to debate the President’s, October 13, 2016 speech, Prime Minister Nagamootoo noted that on June 10, the President’s call to the opposition to join Government “to serve the people” was in the interest of all Guyanese and in moving the nation forward.
Mention was also made of the effort to pursue the financial independence of all Constitutional Agencies. The Prime Minister noted that references to the “Troubles of the early 2000s” when drug gangs ran rampant, and even police stations had to be barricaded, and the GuySuCo debt of $87 billion inherited, were indeed necessary to remind Guyanese of what was inherited. The Prime Minister added that not only the past was recalled, but the issue of the quality of citizens’ lives was cited. He referred to the incremental improvements in the minimum wage, the raising of the tax threshold and tax concessions made since the current Government took office.
The Prime Minister described the period of prorogation which suspended the Parliament just prior to the last General Elections as a “comatose period”, proffered that legislation was amended, Local Government Elections held and more developments as promised during the previous election campaign. He added, “We intend to go down the road of securing this nation even in terms of constitutional reform,” and Government remains committed to the holding of regular Local Government Elections.
Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo took the floor after the Prime Minister and said that while the President’s speech was welcome, the procedures leading to the present debate left much to be desired. He noted that Friday’s Sitting was initially supposed to be used to debate a motion brought by the Opposition. He dismissed the President’s six addresses to the National Assembly as lacking in content, and took umbrage with the President’s claims about the past.
The Opposition Leader said that he welcomed the removal of the threatened black listing by Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), claiming it was mostly due to this Government, then in Opposition, that Guyana was put at risk.
Jagdeo noted that the economy is underperforming due to the policies being effected. He added that investments are “dying off” and listed those which came to Guyana under his party’s governance. He noted that it was hard to debate a policy speech that had no policies” and asked that Government attribute what they gained from the previous Government.
Regarding the period of the “troubles”, he said his party would support the “mother of all inquiries” into that period. In closing, Jagdeo said that once the Government’s policies will benefit the citizens and are fair, they will be supported. “If talk was valued and used to change lives, this Government would take the prize.”
Taking the floor next was Minister of Social Cohesion, Amna Ally who expressed her appreciation to the President for his latest address. She refuted claims from some quarters that the Head of State’s address was an imposition. Ally stated that the Head of State had every right to adumbrate his policies to the “august body”, adding that the President’s statements highlighted the need for social cohesion.
She was followed by Opposition MP, Ganga Persaud, who expressed hope that some of the policies outlined by the Head of State would “bear fruit”.
Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock rose in support, noting after the President’s address there would be no doubt as to the path Government would take, moving the country forward. He urged all to focus on what they need to do together so that all can achieve the good life.
Opposition MP, Allister Charlie then addressed the House and accused Government of lacking creativity in creating jobs and doing more for the people. He asked that they “practice what they preach, and bring betterment to the people.”
His colleague, Opposition MP, Juan Edghill said the opportunity to debate the speech was welcomed. He described the Ministry of Social Cohesion as a follow-up to the Ministry of National Mobilisation, stating that instead of cohesion there was exclusion since there was not participation by all, in many of the government’s programmes.
Supporting the President’s speech, which she said clearly outlined his policies, MP Dawn Hastings-Williams critisised the Opposition for boycotting the event. She was followed by Opposition MP, Nigel Dharamlall who opined that the speech being debated lacked vision and had a structural basis filled with platitudes.
The Opposition’s Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira then accused Government of giving only platitudes and called for solutions to deal with the ongoing crime situation.
Supporting his colleagues on the government benches, Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson highlighted the works executed by the previous Government versus the present Administration. He noted for example that $138 million was spent on the rehabilitation of D’Urban Park by the last Government, yet it remained “a jungle”. He then reminded of the new projects being undertaken and legislation being introduced by Government, and urged that the opposing side work with government to take the country forward.
Presentations were also made by other Opposition MPs, including Irfaan Ali.
Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman noted that the President’s address was a “fine speech”. It was meant to give a primer on the way forward and glimpse into the elements of the next Budget. The President needs to be near to the legislature hence the frequency of his addresses to the National Assembly, Trotman stated, “Hence we stand resolute in support of the President’s policies.”
The plans laid in Parliament by the President, he stressed, “is not all, as the best is yet to come”. He reaffirmed Government’s commitment to move the country forward, and “get our act together”.
Opposition MP, Anil Anil Nandlall countered the arguments put forward and listed several achievements of the PPP/C Government. He called for these to be acknowledged before any cooperation between the two sides could be realised. After a fierce debate over the demand to prove several claims put forth by the former Attorney General, the political Opposition walked out in protest voicing their displeasure after the Speaker instructed that Nandlall take his seat.
The debate continued with Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams rising in support of the President’s address. He spoke of the need to revise the “Whistle-blower Legislation” and the reason for the delay in the appointment of judges to serve. He recalled the “troubles” as a time when a “gangster took out advertisements”, and that he was given permission to conduct crime fighting activities. The fact that a Minister of the then Government was killed without an inquest; and men, women and children were also killed without mercy, were also highlighted by Minister Williams. It was a time when many youths were arrested without evidence and real perpetrators remained free, he added. “It was a black dot in our history.”
The need for changes in the Judiciary was also highlighted by Williams to ensure fairness and transparency in the justice system. He cited the several audits conducted after Government took office, and which have revealed criminal offences.
The need for special prosecutors was also noted. He recalled the appointments of Attorneys-at-Law Anil Nandlall and Sanjeev Datadin, as Special Prosecutors to prosecute former treason accused Mark Benchop. These were just some of the cases which saw “fiats” being given to them to pursue the case. The need for better and internationally recommended legislation to improve the justice system was also mentioned.
The final speaker was Prime Minister Nagamootoo. He thanked the remaining MPs for their patience and for speaking to the motion in a responsible manner. He noted that the proceedings demonstrated that democracy was alive, despite the actions of the Parliamentary Opposition which sought to cast aspersions on the Head of State’s address. He critisised the actions initiated by Opposition MP Nandlall, which he opined were disrespectful and, “could not be condoned by any standard of the law”.
He reminded that Government must not only be judged on promises made, but also on what was inherited. He took the time to recall some figures from the World Bank that show worse economic figures than were previously put forward by the last Government.
The criticisms of the current D’Urban Park Project were also put to rest by the Prime Minister who presented to the House plans made by the previous Government for the site, but which never materialised.
The Wind Farm Project, also critisised by the PPP/C was actually a continuation of what was an agreement signed almost five years ago. He stated that the Opposition’s actions were merely, “Old khaki pants of criticism, and opposition at all costs.”
He then commended to the House the motion that he put forward for the approval of the President’s speech.
A motion was then moved by the Prime Minister to have the upcoming National Budget be debated from 10am to 10pm over a five- day period, one week after it is presented. The motion was then carried. The next sitting will be on November 21, 2016.
By: Paul McAdam