With the ambitious hydro project hanging by a thin thread, Prime Minister Sam Hinds yesterday wrote Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman advising that the government would seek to reintroduce two of the Amaila measures that the opposition had voted against last month.
Restoring the defeated and “lost” measures via the suspension of a series of standing orders would be most unusual parliamentary practice but last evening Trotman signalled that he is prepared to rule in favour to permit a full debate on this key project.
The majority Opposition defeated a crucial loans guarantee motion and thwarted a bill on an Amaila reserve area at a session of the House two weeks ago. A furious national row has since erupted as Government and the Opposition have fought a frenetic verbal battle over controversial aspects of the hydro project.
The US$840M project stands to become the largest developmental project ever in this country, and Government in the last few days has stepped up a frantic lobby to prevent its collapse.
The letter from Hinds is a last-ditch effort by the government in the face of a warning by the prospective developer, Sithe Global that if there isn’t consensus on it at today’s session, it will pull out.
Earlier this week, Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan, said he stands ready to support the Amaila measures, which would give Govern-ment a Parliamentary majority to get the project approved. However, Ramjattan wants crucial concessions, which Government may concede to, as a compromise would ensure the passing of the necessary legislation to see the project become a reality.
Trotman told Stabroek News yesterday that his ruling today on the Government’s request would be to put the matter to a majority vote in the House. “As Speaker I believe that notwithstanding the wording in Standing Order 64 that says that if a Bill is defeated it cannot be returned in the same Session of Parliament, the Bill and Motion can be returned with the approval of the majority of the House. This will be my ruling if there is a challenge”.
Trotman said that “the Guyanese people are entitled to hear a full and thorough debate on the pros and cons of the Amaila Falls project in the House before any final decision is taken and so I welcome this development and urge the parties to allow the Bill and Motion to be reintroduced so that the very important debate can take place. The potential for harnessing hydro power is too great and the matter too important to be cast aside because of narrow political motives. There are solid arguments for and against the project and these need to be presented to the National Assembly and a vote taken on the merits”.
In his letter, Hinds told Trotman that “as you are also aware significant efforts at the highest political levels have been exerted, including public consultations with national stakeholders, to reach agreement and to restore these items to the Order Paper and to save this national transformative project.
“In keeping with these endeavours and based on the public pronouncements of one of the opposition parliamentary political parties (AFC) that firstly, they were willing to support the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill and that secondly, they would be willing to support the said Motion if it were amended to make it exclusive to the Amaila Falls Hydro-Electric Project, the Government is therefore seeking under Standing Order Nos. 30 (d) and 31 permission to lay a motion for the suspension” of today’s business, being:
● Standing Orders Nos. 112, 26 (c), 28 (2), and 69 in order to allow the Hydro-Electric Power Bill 2013, and a Motion on the Limit on the Amount Outstanding Under the Guarantee of Loans ( Public Corporations and Companies) Act to be placed on the Order Paper of August 7, 2013; and,
● Standing Orders Nos. 112, 28 (2) and 31 to carry the said Bill through the first, second and third readings and the debate of the said Motion at the sitting of August 7, 2013.
The two measures Hinds noted the Government wants restored are the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2013, Bill No. 15/2013, and the Limit On The Amount Outstanding Under the Guarantee Of Loans (Public Corporations and Companies) Act ( Notice Paper # 195, (M75 Gov 25).
The letter was also released to Opposition Leader David Granger, and leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan.
Trotman said that although the Bill and Motion that the Government wants resurrected were lost and defeated respectively at the last Parliamentary session, these could be restored. “Standing Order (SO) 112 allows the Assembly to suspend any of its Standing Orders so we may suspend the Standing Order that says the Bill and Motion can’t be brought back, the Speaker said.
He explained that Article 165 (1) of the Constitution says: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the National Assembly may regulate its own procedure and may make rules for that purpose”.
The bill was described as lost as there was a tied vote while the motion was defeated by one vote – the margin of the opposition’s majority.