A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) said yesterday that it intends to propose cuts of its own to the budget and it is still to coordinate with the seven-seat Alliance For Change with a view to ironing out which of that party’s proposed cuts it will be supporting.
APNU held a hurriedly announced press conference in one of the committee rooms in Parliament at the evening break during the consideration of the estimates yesterday. In attendance were Leader of the Opposition David Granger, Deputy Speaker Deborah Backer and Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams.
The party also gave its reaction to the ruling by Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman on the authority of the House to amend the estimates.
“I believe the ruling of the Speaker this afternoon is a landmark ruling which asserts the authority of the National Assembly and also asserts the accountability of Ministers of the Government to the Assembly,” Granger said.
He said that over the life of the 10th Parliament, members of the Opposition have been subjected to abuse by the Government Information Agency (GINA). “We have been called unruly, reckless, accused of dictatorship, accused of constitutional violations, accused of sowing confusion and the National Assembly has been described as a stage for antics and extremists,” he said.
Granger pointed out that previous rulings of the Speaker have been described as travesties.
“Now that the Speaker himself has spoken, [it is hoped] that this abuse by the Government will be brought to an end,” he said.
Granger said that APNU has demonstrated its goodwill in seeking a meeting with President Donald Ramotar which was held on Monday. He said that the party will continue to reach out to Government.
“We are concerned with the national interests and we are glad that this ruling here today has asserted the Assembly’s right to amend measures brought before it by the Executive branch,” he said.
The APNU and PNCR Leader said that the intention is not to cut but to get the parties to perform their duties better. He said that any minister who spends unauthorised funds will be sanctioned.
In addressing questions on the party’s position on allocations for the Ministry of Home Affairs, Granger said that the APNU has taken a decision not to support measures advanced by Minister Clement Rohee and said it would have to coordinate its position with the Alliance For Change. “We are not going to embark on any measure that is going to hurt our citizens, members of
Government service, policemen, soldiers, firemen and prison officers. We are not going to take any measure that will hurt our public servants,” he said.
Backer said with the decision by the Speaker, Government has now come to the fork in the road. “The Government now has to decide…will they continue on that road [of Opposition vilification] or will they reassess where we are,” she said.
It is a new dispensation and we will have to keep on pressing…last year people did not think that it would come to this stage. People felt that last year – because of what the Chief Justice is purported to have said – that we could not even do this.
“We will use every tool in our toolbox to ensure that Ministers understand that they are responsible to the people and if they are not prepared to be responsible then sanctions will follow that lack of transparency and lack of accountability,” she said.
“We don’t have all the answers as we sit here today but we continue to look at ways we could enhance governance. We want a Governmental system which though while not perfect will make the average Guyanese say yes, we are satisfied,” she said.
“And we also have to be responsible…we can’t go on a witch hunt…we want ministers to be more responsible and to understand collective responsibility and if they don’t perform they will be called on to answer,” Backer.
On the ruling, Williams said that once the House is proceeding on its internal business, it has all the independence it needs to go about its business. “So it does not make sense you running to the court…the court cannot determine the content of a motion that any member wishes to bring to the Parliament,” he said. “That has happened before…it should not happen now because of this ruling,” Williams said.
“You must remember that all of the cases the Attorney General went to the court with he lost. The court could only answer what it is asked and every question he has asked in four different cases he has lost. But what did he do? He did not accept that but he purported to use the State media to disseminate what he wanted to,” he said. “We hope that this here is a lesson to the Honourable Attorney General that as leader of the Bar and principal legal advisor to the Government he has to act with propriety and not distort the decisions of high judicial functionaries such as the learned Chief Justice,” said Williams.
Williams said, “To make it clear, if a minister breaches a decision of the Parliament he could be sanctioned by the Committee of Privileges which sanction will be upheld.” Illustrating by way of an example, Williams said that if a Minister is sanctioned, the Sergeant at Arms of the Parliament could prevent him or her from entering the National Assembly.