Both sides are to be blamed for the melee in Parliament

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to your editorial ‘Unparliamentary events’ (Dec 17). Both sides are to be blamed for the melee. The Speaker mishandled the incident and it could have been avoided if he had simply adjourned the session and conferred with the leaders of both parties on a way forward after Juan Edghill had defied his instruction to sit down. Calling for police to resolve a political issue in parliament was uncalled for. The Speaker, Barton Scotland, pleads ignorance. He said he did not call the police, but hasn’t ordered an investigation. He should be criticized for not ordering an investigation. I don’t think the opposition would have called the police. Who did? And why? Who will be accountable for bringing the police into the Chamber?

The Speaker is the boss in parliament. So if he did not call in the police, he needs to find out who did. The Speaker also needs to find out how someone dressed as Santa Claus (we are told it is an assistant to a Minister) invaded the Parliament. Why is this incident not probed and the Minister who encouraged the act suspended. The Speaker and the government side have not acted even-handedly on unparliamentary behaviour.

The convulsion in Parliament began with an appeal to the Speaker for more speaking time.  The Speaker said there was an agreement on time. But the opposition never agreed to any time limit on the budget response. In fact, the opposition said it needed seven days for the queries on the budget while the government wanted to limit the queries to five days.

Juan Edghill felt he should be given more time since there was no opposition agreement on time allotment. The Speaker did not give him a hearing. A request for time turned into something much bigger — a challenge to the Speaker’s authority. And yes, Mr Edghill should be reprimanded. But the Speaker overreacted. The Speaker’s response, the government’s response, the police response, all add to one more bleak entry in a catalogue of parliamentary incompetence and condemnation. What the world saw was an act of bullyism. This was the most heavy-handed act carried out in Parliament by the government.

It is indeed a sad day for the country when MPs, including women, can be pushed around and/or assaulted by police; the police claim one of their own was assaulted. [Editor’s note: SN’s reporter at the scene witnessed a policeman who had had the buttons torn off his tunic being assaulted by two PPP MPs, whom she named.] During the melee, at least one female MP was assaulted by the police and can be heard screaming and seen crying.  Whoever cried rape should be reprimanded as should others who were involved in assaults.

Your editorial failed to mention that recording of the scuffle revealed a female voice (from the government side or in the public gallery?) laughing boisterously and continuing laughing throughout the incident. That was no laughing matter. That female should be reprimanded. If she is an MP, she should be suspended. If a member of the public, she should be banned from the gallery.

The police are condemned for being part of the brawl; they have no business coming to parliament unless a crime was committed, and the acting Police Commissioner has so stated. Should not the person who called the police be held accountable? The police cannot violently eject MPs from the chamber. They have become the butt of public outrage and a joke. They should stick to combating crime.

Deploying the police in parliament created a bad atmosphere and sets a bad precedent. Democratic parliaments don’t function in that manner, although we saw it recently in South Africa. It is a first for Guyana. It should be the last.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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