Gov’t hoping Speaker rules against motions on President’s pension, NICIL

Government is hoping that Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman will today disallow a number of motions in Parliament by the Opposition seeking to repeal the President’s pension and other benefits law, change the way some constitutional bodies function and compelling NICIL to put its monies into the Consolidated Fund.

Government at a press conference yesterday held at NCN studios called the motions unnecessary, ill thought out, without merit and inappropriate and an exercise by the Opposition meant to “tie up” the time of the Parliament and the Government MPs.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds (centre) flanked by Attorney General Anil Nandlall (left) and Finance Minister Ashni Singh (GINA photo)

The press conference was yet another manifestation of the government’s predicament in a Parliament controlled by the opposition – something the PPP/C has not faced in the 20 years since the restoration of democracy.

The Government at the press conference addressed in detail the nine motions by the Opposition for consideration at today’s sitting. “We think that these are hurried, premature, maybe not given the amount of thought that they should be given and I have been restraining myself from referring to them as abominable motions,” said Prime Minister Sam Hinds, who chaired the press conference that was also attended by Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh and Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall

The motions relate to finding the Hansard record for the period 1985 to 1992, three motions seeking to provide for the financial independence and autonomy of a number of agencies – such as the courts of Guyana, the Service Commissions (Judicial, Public, Teaching and Police) and the Audit Office of Guyana, to repeal the Former Presidents Pension and Benefits Act, a motion focused on changing the way the Privatisation Unit/National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited operates, one for the independence of the Parliament and another  to do with the right to assemble.

Speaking at the press conference yesterday,  Nandlall said these motions “demonstrate clearly that there is a lack of understanding and a lack of appreciation on many things, which include Parliamentary procedures and the existing process and mechanisms in relation to many of the issues that are raised in the motions.”

“The procedure…adopted by the honourable member Mr. Carl Greenidge in whose name most of these motions stand is wrong and misconceived. The procedure by way of motion is not necessary…it is not contemplated by the rules of the Parliament,” he said emphatically.

He said that some of the motions seek to challenge the legality of legislation. “Now the laws of our country provide clearly the procedure by which you can challenge the legality or constitutionality of legislation and it is by filing actions in the High Court to set those legislation aside or the sections of the legislations that you are contending are illegal or unconstitutional,” he said.

“We have imbued in our courts a power of judicial review of legislation and the Judiciary is the arm or branch of the Government which is resided with the responsibility and the jurisdiction to deal with those matters. Parliament cannot review its own legislation,” he pointed out. “It is not contemplated by the Constitution and it is patently wrong,” he said.

“Coming by way of a motion in Parliament is simply not the procedure provided for in our Constitutional construct for these things to be done this way,” Nandlall said.

Further, he said that the matter of the President’ pension is engaging the attention of the court and therefore any debate on it would be sub judice. “The case is pending before the Constitutional Division of the High Court. The Standing Orders clearly state that one is prohibited from making reference in any debate to a matter that is sub judice,” he said. “This motion is a clear and palpable violation of the requisite Standing Orders.

I have written to the Speaker of the National Assembly outlining my contention to him and attempted to persuade him in that letter not to allow the debate on that motion to proceed until the hearing and determination of the action filed,” he said.

Speaking at the press conference, Minister of Finance, Singh said that there was an abundance of literature that the Opposition could have availed itself of without having to bring the motions to the National Assembly. “Motions such as these are not the appropriate vehicle.

Secondly, in relation to a lot of the information that is being sought, I wish to make the point that much of that information is already in the public domain. We table annual reports of entities to the Parliament on a regular basis. In fact there has not been a single Parliament in this country like the Ninth Parliament when it comes to the volume of information that has been tabled,” he said. He noted that there have been no less than 100 annual reports tabled.

Further, the Minister expressed surprise that the Opposition is taking the line it is with the legislation when the very matters were among those being discussed at the level of the tripartite engagements. “All of the issues raised by the Opposition were addressed exhaustively and these issues included the matter of constitutional Commissions and their treatment in the Constitution and issues related to financial autonomy,” he said.

“It was pointed out at the time that these matters go to the heart of our Constitution. The matter of constitutional commissions, their independence and how they are treated are matters governed by our constitution. And were we to desire any sort of change in the current arrangement it would have to be a matter of constitutional enactment,” he said.

“I thought that we agreed that some of these matters would be studied further and would subsequently if found appropriate would have been referred to the appropriate committee of Parliament. The Committee on Constitutional Reform was identified as the appropriate place for these matters to be [dealt with],” he said.

On the motion to compel NICIL to put its monies into the Consolidated Fund, Minister Singh said that the body operates in accordance with the Companies Act. “NICIL is a company. It is registered as such and it is governed thereby. That is a fact. NICIL is audited by the Auditor General as a company and as a holding company or a group, a company with subsidiaries. NICIL’s consolidated financial statements are tabled in Parliament. NICIL has also made details of every single privatisation recently completed.

Minister Singh castigated the Opposition for an amount of $50 billion that he said was being bandied about as gospel as the amount being held by NICIL. He said that the Opposition has no basis for determining that amount of money. But when asked as the Chairman of NICIL how much money it was in possession of, he said he was not in a position to answer.

Nandlall said that the Opposition persons posing as independent media commentators have created this hysteria and that the press have assisted “them in spinning this thing around.”

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