Minister within the Ministry of Education Nicolette Henry has issued an apology for any “inconvenience, embarrassment or distress” caused by the opposition PPP/C’s walk out of the jubilee flag-raising event on Wednesday night over what it said was inadequate seating for its members.
In a statement issued yesterday, Henry said the PPP/C delegation arrived later than had been agreed and used the incorrect entrance. She added that by the time other invited persons had been asked to give up their seats to ensure that the opposition members were seated, the PPP/C members had walked out.
There was no specific apology by Henry to the PPP/C, which had alleged that other people were being seated while its parliamentarians were standing in a passageway. And in spite of Henry’s explanation, the PPP/C yesterday maintained that the government treated its members with disrespect at the event.
Stabroek News was told that the number of invitations sent out for the VIP section was far in excess of the seating capacity.
In her statement yesterday, Henry noted that the opposition, having confirmed attendance to the flag raising ceremony, was briefed by her on the time of arrival (all members were requested to be seated by 9.45pm); the entrance to be used (North Western (Homestretch /Vlissengen Road)); and seating arrangements (the Opposi-tion Leader was to be seated in the Presidential Section with all other past Presidents and Prime Ministers, while all other PPP members were to be seated in the other VIP section).
She added that on the night of the event, the opposition arrived at 9.55pm and approached from the South Western entrance (Hadfield Street). She said that had it not been for the police’s insistence on them using the North Western entrance, it would have resulted in the opposition and the president arriving on the tarmac at the same time. Henry said Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo as well as PPP/C MPs Irfaan Ali, Anil Nandlall, Juan Edghill and Clement Rohee then proceeded to the presidential section, while the remaining members remained standing in a passageway. She noted that an usher was told that they would only sit when they could be assigned seats together.
According to Henry, upon her arrival in the presidential section, Jagdeo indicated that there were concerns with the seating and she assured him that she would address it immediately. “…so I proceeded by personally asking other invited persons to give up their seats to ensure the Opposition members were all seated together,” she said, before noting that as soon as the persons began to give up their seats, the opposition walked out. “In the circumstances I wish to state that as the organiser of this event I apologise for any inconvenience, embarrassment or distress this incident may have caused,” she added.
‘Breach of protocol’
In a statement released on Wednesday evening, the PPP/C said that upon their arrival at the VIP section, its parliamentarians found no seats set aside for them, except for Jagdeo, former Prime Minister Sam Hinds and two MPs. The PPP/C said the majority of the MPs were left standing and appeals were made to Henry and Attorney-General Basil Williams but to no avail.
It had said that while dozens of people were escorted to and seated in the VIP area, after standing for over half-of-an-hour in the passageway and with no seats made available, Jagdeo, Hinds, accompanied by the MPs and their spouses, departed.
In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, the PPP/C said the opposition was standing “unequivocally and firmly” behind its account of the events.
According to the opposition, the issue at hand is that while the minister gave all assurances that seats for all PPP/C MPs and their spouses were reserved for the flag raising in the VIP section, no seats were reserved for them or any other VIP dignitaries.
It admitted that while the invitation stated that everyone should be seated at 9.45pm, that was the time the PPP/C delegation arrived and only to find that the VIP section was full.
“Minister Henry’s statement lacks any appreciation that there was a breach of protocol in the seating of the opposition MPs in the VIP section, and that this was humiliating and disrespectful and further that she reneged on her public assurances on May 24 given to the Leader of the Opposition and PPP/C MPs that our seats were reserved,” it said.
The PPP/C also suggested that Henry knew that more invitations were distributed than seats were available yet she took no precautions to ensure her assurances were upheld.
It added that an unequivocal apology by the government was in order and Henry’s statement missed the mark.