The newly sworn-in parliamentary opposition will work with the government once there is fidelity to promises made to the populace during the elections campaign, newly-appointed leader of the opposition Bharrat Jadgeo said yesterday.
“I think our country deserves this, to see maturity in this Parliament, decorum in this Parliament, that their business is done here,” Jagdeo, a former president, said in his first address as Opposition Leader to the National Assembly yesterday.
He spoke shortly after Speaker Dr Barton Scotland confirmed the appointment following his nomination and selection during a brief meeting attended by the Speaker, all opposition Members of Parliament and Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs. His appointment as Opposition Leader effectively makes him the unofficial leader of the PPP. With the PPP/C no longer holding the presidency of the country it is General Secretary Clement Rohee who should have been elected Opposition Leader. He, however is number two to Jagdeo in parliament.
In his brief address, Jagdeo said that there is a grave responsibility now on the shoulders of the opposition to ensure that the country continues to move forward, that benefits are delivered to the people and that the people experience a better life.
“We all have an obligation to the people of this country—on both sides of the House—to do so,” he said, while adding that the new opposition’s approach will be different from what occurred in the previous Parliament, where he noted that there was the cutting of programmes to the detriment of the services of the people and which led to economic activities being affected. “We will never, ever, in this National Assembly, seek to remove benefits from people, whatever the constituencies or whether they voted PPP or APNU in the last elections. We will consistently try to enhance benefits to our people,” he assured.
Moments before his address, Jagdeo told reporters that the new opposition will be very different and will not be cutting benefits from the budget as had been done previously by the APNU and AFC while they were in the opposition.
However, unlike the combined APNU and AFC opposition in the last Parliament, the PPP/C does not have a majority and would therefore be unable to vote down budget allocations, except in the absence of more than one government MP or where it has the support of at least one government MP.
Jagdeo said the opposition is urging the government to fulfill the promises it made in its manifesto. “They can’t come and say we didn’t do it… we are saying that if they do not do this, then they are breaching all the promises made to the electorate,” he said.
He added that the PPP/C had to expose the “spurious arguments” made by government that the country is bankrupt and therefore it is unable to do much of what it had promised. “We pointed out that two months after they have assumed office they have announced a bigger budget with a smaller deficit. How could you say the country is bankrupt when you propose a bigger budget with smaller deficit? Deficits can only be financed by revenue and the revenue this year is higher than last year,” he said, while adding the PPP/C government left behind tens of billions of dollars in grants when it left office as well as over $800M in loans for various projects to finance the budget deficit.
“We will be here to expose any attempt to move away from what they have promised the electorate. We are gonna be talking about policies that they are putting in place that will harm the interest of the country in the future…we are going to hold them to account on many of the issues that they talk about so I see that’s the essential role of the opposition,” Jagdeo stressed.
Already, he said, the government has made a “fundamental shift” from what the PPP/C had done and has inserted a politician in the processing of duty-free concessions as well as giving the cabinet a no-objection role to play in the approval of budgets.
“So what they have done is cleverly inserted a politician back into the processing of duty-free concessions. The mere fact that [Minister of Business] Dominic Gaskin now chairs Go-Invest board, when we always kept the chairmanship at a technical level, it means that a minister now… will go to a board chaired by the minister who will then now recommend the duty-free concessions to GRA. This is a recipe for corruption and lawlessness,” he said.
Asked about engagements with President David Granger, he assured that the PPP/C, despite its objections to the elections results, will be fulfilling its role as the opposition. “There is a government in place and we are in opposition. We are going to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities,” he said.
Jagdeo also told reporters that he is excited about his newest role.
“I was truly, truly happy to be out of competitive politics but since I have made this commitment [and] I am back in, I don’t do things by half measures, so I am starting to feel the excitement of Parliament again. I didn’t come here for ages, since 1999,” he said.
Asked if he is expected to serve for the next five years, he responded that if the PPP/C wins the elections petition case, then there will be early elections and if not “we will win the elections in the next five years.”