Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo is expected to move a motion in the National Assembly to suspend the Standing Orders to allow three bills to be laid, debated, and passed at tomorrow’s sitting of the House in what the PPP/C has branded a flagrant violation of parliamentary democracy.
“This move by the government to deny scrutiny and to rush through these bills further exposes the new administration for its undemocratic actions. Their actions fly in the face of positions taken by the APNU/PNCR/PNCR-IG and AFC in previous parliaments,” the party said in a statement yesterday.
Stabroek News had reported last week that the Order Paper for tomorrow’s sitting of the National Assembly lists for first reading the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2015 and the Anti-Terrorism and Terrorist Related Activities Bill 2015.
In their statement, the PPP/C said that at 1pm yesterday, their Members of Parliament started receiving copies of bills slated for first reading on the Order Paper for tomorrow’s sitting. The package also contained a motion to be moved by Nagamootoo suspending the Standing Orders to allow for all three bills to go through all three stages at tomorrow’s sitting. The motion had received the leave of the Speaker, the release said.
It noted that the three bills listed in the motion are the Municipal and District Councils and Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill No. 14 of 2015, the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill No. 15 of 2015 and the Anti-Terrorism and Terrorist Related Activities Bill No.16 of 2015.
“It is noteworthy that none of these bills were seen before (yesterday) afternoon and although they were dated as being gazetted on December 9th and 10th, none has been posted on the Official Gazette Guyana website nor on the Parliament of Guyana website,” the release said.
The PPP/C charged that this is a flagrant violation of parliamentary democracy which is premised on the highest law making body being able to scrutinise and examine legislation as well as to provide ample time for the public to know what business is before the National Assembly and to be able to be informed and to exercise the freedom to express their views on the matters before the House.
Checks by Stabroek News on the Official Gazette Guyana website last evening found that only the Municipal and District Councils and Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill was posted. The PPP said that a cursory glance of the bills is revealing. The statement pointed out that the Municipal and District Councils and Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill has to do with Local Government Elections (LGE) and it increases the number of signatures required to support a political party list under Proportional Representation.
“These amendments essentially make it extremely onerous or may even deny smaller parties from participating in the LGE,” the statement declared. “These amendments are undemocratic and must be opposed by all,” it said.
Further, it said that the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) (No.2) Bill has also not been made public and therefore has not been given adequate time for scrutiny by Members of Parliament nor the public and civil society.
“One has to ask why the rush on this new AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill when the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs has denied that Guyana is not compliant with FATF? Why isn’t there the same urgency to set up the AML/CFT Authority and the FIU as provided for in the government’s AML/CFT Amendment Act 2015,” the party questioned.
The AML amendment bill, just months after key amendments to the law were passed following a bitter three-year battle, will lend credence to arguments raised by the PPP/C and others that the bill passed by government in June this year fell short of the complete requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which has had Guyana under review for several years now.
Meantime, the third piece of legislation, the Anti-Terrorism and Terrorist Related Activities Bill is a brand new 98-page bill which again no one has seen, the PPP/C said.
“Due to the nature of the bill, developments in other countries on terrorism and concerns with human rights here in Guyana, this Bill should be properly and publicly scrutinised in a Parliamentary Special Select Committee,” the party asserted.
It recalled that the Final Report of the Special Select Committee on the Needs Assessment of the Guyana National Assembly, April 10th, 2006 which was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly specifically amended the Standing Orders “to prevent Ministers moving that bills be considered “forthwith” and “not allow bills to be taken through all their stages in one day” unless in a case of an emergency.” These particular amendments had been championed by former Opposition MP Sheila Holder, the party noted.
It said that the report included recommendations that bills must be circulated in advance and made accessible and available to the public and “all major and/or complex bills would be sent to a special select committee.” The PPP said that even prior to that report, the Parliamentary Management Committee had agreed that all “major and “or complex bills would be sent to a special select committee.”
According to the statement, since 2006 with the new Standing Orders, the PPP/C government abided by these rules and parliamentary conventions and norms.
“In contrast, since the beginning of the 11th Parliament on June 10, 2015, the APNU+AFC government has suspended the Standing Orders in order to railroad through legislation on more occasions than the entire period between 2006-2015 under the PPP/C administration,” the statement charged.
It called on the Commonwealth Secretariat, the European Union, the United Nations and in particular the UNDP, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Organisation of American States, the Caribbean Community, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank “to note this new assault on parliamentary democracy by the APNU+AFC Coalition Government and to take a stand in support of parliamentary democracy in the 11th Parliament.”
The PPP/C also called on civil society and “progressive and democratic” Guyanese to express their opposition to “the consistent erosion and abandonment of parliamentary democracy by the APNU+AFC coalition Government.