Gov’t puts hold on local gov’t bills

-after losing bid to delay parliamentary sitting

The government yesterday shelved its parliamentary business after a failed bid to force an adjournment of the National Assembly’s sitting to win consensus with the opposition on the contentious Amaila Falls Hydropower Project.

Reservations over two of the four local government bills were also among the reasons given by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds for the intended adjournment of yesterday’s sitting, even as the combined opposition charged that the executive does not have the authority to unilaterally adjourn the National Assem-bly and that the business of the House should continue.

The defeat of Hinds’ motion for an adjournment was expected as both APNU and the AFC had publicly objected to him writing Speaker Raphael Trotman indicating that the executive had adjourned the sitting. As a result, Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud’s absence from the sitting was seen as calculated. At last week’s sitting, Persaud had remained mute when called upon to read the bills, even though Hinds hinted that the government may be willing to forego the reservations it has about two of the bills, if the administration’s Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill and its motion to raise the debt ceiling—both to facilitate Amaila—were given safe passage by the opposition.

In favour of Amaila: The Progressive Youth Organisation, the youth arm of the ruling PPP, yesterday staged a protest on Brickdam, near Parliament, in favour of the Amaila Falls Hydro Project.  The protest coincided with a sitting of Parliament yesterday. (Arian Browne photo)
In favour of Amaila: The Progressive Youth Organisation, the youth arm of the ruling PPP, yesterday staged a protest on Brickdam, near Parliament, in favour of the Amaila Falls Hydro Project. The protest coincided with a sitting of Parliament yesterday. (Arian Browne photo)

With the next sitting scheduled for August 7, three days before the start of the annual parliamentary recess, it is unlikely that the four local government bills will be dealt with before the next session.

In moving for the adjournment of yesterday’s sitting, Hinds stressed that the government wanted to find ways to bring both the Amaila Falls project and overdue local government elections to the people of Guyana.

“Mr Speaker, we in the PPP/C are committing to having both of these—to have Amaila for the great reduction (in electricity tariffs) it will bring to our people and country in the provision of electricity and also the local government elections,” Hinds told the House.

However, he said the government had “great reservations” about two of the local government bills. The government feels one of them has constitutional issues, he said, adding that nevertheless in service to the people it wanted to go forward with it.

As Hinds spoke, the chants of members of the Progres-sive Youth Organisation (PYO) protesting the opposition’s vote on the Amaila Falls project could be heard from outside the Public Buildings.

Hinds said the government thought at one time it had an agreement with the opposition on the Amaila Bill and the debt motion but was later told only Amaila would be approved. But the government needs both measures to go ahead with the project, which has been advanced as being one that will greatly reduce power costs for the Guyanese people.

“Our position remains that we would like to consummate that agreement… reaching that agreement, a new atmosphere, a new relationship between us and in that atmosphere we could forego, we could forbear on our substantial reservations on the two local government bills with which we do have such reservations,” Hinds indicated.

Gail Teixeira speaking yesterday
Gail Teixeira speaking yesterday

He asked that the sitting be adjourned to August 7 so as to provide more time for the two sides to re-establish the accord that they had reached for about half an hour during last week’s sitting. He said once an accord is reached, then it would set the stage of some increased trust and understanding between the two sides, which would enable them to go forward.

‘A movement in bad faith’
However, Opposition Leader David Granger said that there is no agreement which is likely be consummated over the 13 days before the next suggested sitting as there was no agreement on the table and no approach by the executive to the opposition to reach an agreement. As a result, he said it would be a waste of a good opportunity to continue with the normal business of Parliament.

“There is nothing on the table for us to discuss and the attempt to postpone the sitting of today without consultation with the opposition even though it is now said that the opposition is party to an agreement will be regarded as a movement in bad faith and that it was a deliberate attempt to obstruct the democratic process of this House,” Granger said to loud table thumping by his colleagues.

Granger had written Trotman yesterday morning seeking a debate, as a matter of urgent public importance, on government’s attempt to adjourn the sitting. However, he was denied by Trotman, who nevertheless allowed him to make a statement on the issue. Granger said the House took a decision during the last sitting to have a sitting yesterday and it cannot be overruled by the executive but only in accordance with Section 8:2 of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly.

Basil Williams making a point yesterday
Basil Williams making a point yesterday

Government’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira later said she found the comments by Granger that no agreement would be consummated and there was none on the able “most distressing,” while revealing that President Donald Ramotar had called Granger to express his concern about what had happened in the Assembly on July 18th and to say that there should be efforts to try to find a resolution on the Amaila Falls issue. She also revealed that Ramotar wrote Granger yesterday morning, stating that the objective of the postponement and the justification of the request “was based on the best intentions to allow good faith efforts between the government and the opposition to reach agreement on the way forward on parliamentary matters relating to Amaila Hydro Electric Power Project.”

She opined that when “Honourable men at the highest level indicate by their body language, by the nuances, by the subtleties of engagement, that there is an opportunity for… resolution, that we, sir, as simple politicians, must grasp that opportunity to find resolution in the interest of our country and our people.”

She added that while the government can be called delusional and other names, it firmly believes in doing all that is possible to get consensus when it can be reached, even if it required a postponement for breathing space and to allow negotiators to meet. She disclosed that APNU’s Joseph Harmon and Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon have been named by the two parties to discuss matters and to try to resolve issues every Thursday morning.

“I have been around enough in politics to see enough of this, where at the worst of times, with violence out on the roads in 1997, I have been around long enough to know in the midst of the violence talks were going on and agreements were reached, Mr Speaker,” she said, while noting that in the post-2001 elections period, which saw violence, leaders were talking and this led to accords and constitutional reforms.

She said the danger that faces the National Assembly and the political environment of the country is the “myopia, the myopic approach,” while noting the need for the ability to know what the battles are and which one would be fought down to the teeth and which one they can reach agreement on. Saying that the country is at a critical juncture, Teixeira warned that what is going on will “end up with egg on everybody’s face.”

‘Cavalier’

Meanwhile, AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo said his party did not support the adjournment, while pointing out that the fashion in which it was first communicated was very “cavalier” and that it appeared as if they were being made to submit to the fiat of the executive.

“Anything outside of this House that tells the House or anyone that it ought to meet or not to meet is ultra vires of the procedure and the norms of this honoured House,” Nagamootoo stated, adding that the way the adjournment was initially communicated was part of the approach of the executive to stamp its authority and domination over the assembly.

In reference to Ramotar’s statement that the voting down of the two bills last year was  “an act of terrorism,” Nagamootoo said there was no act of terrorism against the development of Guyana and for an assault to be launched against the assembly is “abhorrent and unnecessary, unacceptable and should be recalled.”

The “assault,” he said, was done to set the “mob” against the House and he noted that they have seen the “rabble” being mobilised to say they want hydro and that it is an attempt to hold a dagger at the throat of the Parliament.

Members of the government objected to the words “mob” and “rabble” being used as it was felt they were in reference to the protest action outside of the Parliament. Speaker Trotman intervened and cautioned Nagamootoo that legitimate protest has always been recognised in the country and other groups and parties have protested and the right of any group should be recognised and not be seen as “a dagger being held to the throat of the House.”

Nagamootoo said since the last sitting the AFC has not been consulted on anything that may have the effect of a forward movement on the issues that were before the House. According to him, the government rejected a compromise offered by the AFC last week and as such the party would not support the motion to hold up the work of the Assembly.

According to Teixeira, there have been precedents set in the House as it relates to adjournment of the assembly as the Ninth and Tenth parliaments had postponements made on the request of the government and this cannot be ignored.  She said there have been six such postponements between 2006 and 2013. She said the government’s right to postpone a sitting is enshrined where the relevant Standing Order states that “When the House is adjourned to a date to be fixed it is only the government that can name that date.”

She also noted that at the last sitting, the two Amaila issues reached a tie and were not defeated. In reply to this, APNU’s Chief Whip Amna Ally commented that the tie was reached on a “Technical problem.”

“It is not my problem that your people not in your seat my dear or their seat, sorry,” countered Teixeira in reference to APNU MP James Bond being on his feet when he voted, therefore rendering his vote null and void and allowing for a tie on the bills. She also pointed out that the Standing Order said that a member must be seated when voting and this was further reinforced by Trotman, who said that member must be in his/her seat when voting as that is the accepted time order rule of parliamentary practice.

In a fiery speech that saw her being heckled continuously by members of the opposition and exchanges between members of both sides resulting in the steady intervention of Trotman, Teixeira said that the people of the country “want Amaila”. To this, the opposition members started to chant “Local government, local government” as they thumped the tables.

She said because the Amaila matters were not defeated, they can be brought back to the House and could be done with the support of the House.

APNU MP Basil Williams was of the opinion that a grave danger was averted by the non-postponement of the sitting, saying the government attempted to usurp and hijack the powers of parliament and that of the Speaker.

Williams argued that Persaud’s absence was to ensure that the local government bills did not go forward in the event that the opposition voted down the motion to adjourn the sitting.

Williams, who chaired the Special Select Committee that examined the bills and returned them to the House, said the government has been vigorously opposed to local government elections while the opposition has been pleading “…let our people go PPP, let our people go.”

“But they still wish to maintain a stranglehold on our people in the communities in which they live, they do not mean to empower the people… as is guaranteed by the constitution of this land,” he said.

He added that was the real reason for the unilateral attempt to adjourn the sitting, while saying that the delay suggests the bills would not be passed.

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