I should have had adequate notice of ‘scandalous’ motion amendments

-Speaker says on clerk’s complaint

Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs has taken issue with what he termed “blame” being cast on him and his staff by Speaker Raphael Trotman over the delivery of amendments to a motion in a timely manner but Speaker says the amendments were “scandalous” and required careful attention.

Asked about the matter yesterday at a press conference, Trotman said he had not seen the complaint by the Clerk as set out in a letter to him, dated January 14th.  And while he added that he has the highest respect for the Clerk and his staff, he contended that the PPP/C’s amendments to Opposition Leader David Granger’s motion for an inquiry into criminal violence were of such magnitude that he should have been given notice of it prior to the convening of the National Assembly.

Sherlock Isaacs
Sherlock Isaacs

Trotman said the amendments made such serious and grave allegations against persons, including Members of Parliament, that were they allowed they could have caused “civil war” the very next day. He stressed that some of the practices observed in the past nine parliaments cannot be observed in the tenth parliament because there is too much at stake.

In his letter to Trotman, Isaacs said that it was with “great dismay” that he and his staff endured the explanation given to the Assembly last Thursday as it relates to the amendments “whereby you sought to cast blame on me and the Parliament staff for failure to deliver copies of the amendments to you in a timely manner.”

Isaacs pointed out that the practice he inherited is that when amendments are submitted, they are circulated to Members of the Assembly in the Chamber as soon as possible in order to give them ample time for perusal. He said the practice can be substantiated by a ruling given by former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran on December 14, 2006, pertaining to amendments.

“Due to this conventional practice, the amendments to Motion 47, Opposition 29 were expediently circulated in the Chamber. Amendments are routinely given to the Speaker when he arrives at the National Assembly and this has been the case with these amendments,” Isaacs explained.

He also pointed out that a similar practice is observed in the Parliament of Trinidad & Tobago and other Parliaments in the world. Also attached to the letter were opinions by Ramkarran and Clerk of the Trinidad & Tobago Parliament Jackie Sampson, which were sought by the Clerk to support his position.

Isaacs said that while he concurs that Trotman may not have had adequate time for proper perusal of the amendments, they were given to his secretary prior to the commencement of the sitting.

“It is not the first time that you have been publicly critical of me and the Parliament staff. As such, it is my humble submission that I and the staff of the Parliament Office of the Parliament of Guyana make great efforts to observe the Standing Orders and the rules and practices as they relate to the work of the National Assembly. Our works and efforts have not gone unnoticed as we are complimented in and outside of Guyana. Nevertheless, on the rare occasions when errors were made, no public admonishment, embarrassment or humiliation ensued. Instead, private correction and encouragement were received,” the Clerk said, adding that he and his staff will continue to do their best and serve the National Assembly and will continue to look for the support of Trotman and all other members of the National Assembly.

‘No blame’

Trotman yesterday said he did not lay blame on anyone, adding that the issue was not raised with him but when he receives the letter he would respond.

According to Trotman, when he convened the Assembly last Thursday and started to go through the documents before him, he noticed a document that said “amendment”.

“It contained, in my opinion, scandalous matters and I was disturbed about it and I felt that I ought to have been shown this documents before the sitting and some of the material in it should not have been published and I also said as per the Standing Orders, the Speaker determines whether or not a motion is in order in terms of its contents, does not seek to impugn anyone’s character and so forth,” Trotman said.

He added that it necessarily follows that the amendments to such a motion should come under the scrutiny of the Speaker.

“That document made some very, very grave, serious allegations against persons, some of whom are in the House and some of whom are not in the House. And I thought and I still believe that it ought not to have been circulated, I should have been given prior notice, [and] that there was sufficient time for doing so,” Trotman maintained.

He said while he was in no way casting blame on anyone, “many of the practices of the past nine Parliaments cannot be observed in the tenth Parliament. There is too much at stake. A misspoken word or a misstatement can derail so much and so I think it is well known that extra-caution has to be taken at every step of the way with everything we do.”

He pointed out that in the past there was majority rule but everything said or done in the tenth parliament “has to be above board, has to pass scrutiny and so we all have a duty.”

Trotman pointed out that because the amendments were included, APNU has accused him of approving the amendments and it went as far as to a letter being prepared to be sent to him.

He said the clerk is an excellent one and he could not function without him and that his respect has grown for him and his staff as he is impressed with their function. But he said had the amendments gone forward, the country could have seen a civil war the very next day and in some “African countries war tanks would have surrounded certain offices based on what was contained in the amendment.”

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