I refer to the article titled, (Manning admits error on UNC land gift) (SN March 16) that described a parliamentary incident in neighbouring Trinidad. I do this to draw attention to an example of the egregious misconduct practiced in the parliament of this very country. The Guyanese example reeks of misrepresentation and deception; of what has become the norm and that which should be found most intolerable.
In the SN article, which relied on original coverage in the Trinidad Express, it was reported that the T&T Prime Minister Manning expressed his regret in the Parliament for an earlier statement which, after subsequent enquiry, he found to be false. The report stated that if one gives false information to the Parliament, “it is the proper parliamentary thing to do, to return to the Parliament as soon as possible and correct the inaccuracy.” It goes without saying that this incident was characterised by standards and conduct of a truly higher calibre.
Just a few weeks ago, our own National Assembly was apparently deliberately misled by the Ministers of Finance and Housing concerning the specific matter of a payment of $4 billion to the state-owned Guy SuCo. The occasion was the presentation of Bill No. 1 of 2010 on January 11, 2010, in which the Minister of Finance sought approval to pay [in the future] that sum of money into the Corporation, while the Minister of Housing, Mr. Irfan Ali, added to the deception of the timing of the payment when, in answer to a question by AFC MP Sheila Holder as to how soon he could spend the $4 billion, he replied, “we are ready.” Notwithstanding the title of the bill, Supplementary Appropriation (No. 3 of 2009) Bill 2010, the two ministers, through both submissions, pretended-and led the parliament to believe-that this payment to Guy SuCo had not been effected, and that such payment was an event in the future.
I am now in possession of irrefutable evidence that when the Bill was presented by Dr. Singh for approval, and the supporting/corroborating statement was made by Mr. Ali, the money had already been paid to GuySuCo. Repeat: it had already been paid. Given the amount involved, the forum, the appropriation bill procedure, and the collusive ministerial effort, it appears that a crass subterfuge of the lowest order was perpetrated. It was where a known occurrence in the past was being capriciously parlayed as a future event; one requiring the attention and action of members of the highest body in the land; and one then unknowingly and inaccurately inscribed in the records.
There seems no doubt that the two ministers have committed a grave transgression for which they should be taken before the Privileges Committee of the National Assembly. In view of the evidence, there can be no reprieve or safe harbours of procedure, timing, semantics, misunderstanding, communication gap, or ignorance. The ministers knew what they knew, and very deliberately foisted what rises to the level of a blatant falsehood on the parliament.
To the detriment of this country, deception in public life has become unexceptional, and casual everyday, among our politicians; it is time that we start to root this out. In the circumstances, the acceptable options open are limited, unambiguous, and mandatory. The two ministers must: first, apologise to the parliament and the nation; and, second, immediately tender their resignations. Such mitigating actions would be decent and honourable. It is timely to recall that Dr. Singh is the person who persisted-and succeeded-in bringing his parliamentary colleague Ms. Deborah Backer before the Privileges Committee, for a statement she made about torture by members of the Guyana Defence Force.
In the interests of fairness and consistency, the two ministers should be subject to the same process.
I stand ready to participate in any truth finding procedure or inquiry.
And while I am committed to protecting the confidentiality of my source, I am prepared to present this evidence to the Speaker of the National Assembly, under the condition of credible commitments to information and source security. Still, the actions along the lines contemplated should not be left solely to a private citizen. It would be a most heartening development for parliament to activate forthwith available mechanisms to have this issue investigated as a matter of urgent, national importance.
Anything less would be a travesty; would pave the way for future misconduct; and could expose this deliberative body to further ridicule, and total irrelevancy.