As a person who believes that objective criticism can improve one’s approach and strengthen their case or cause, I wish to thank the Sunday Stabroek for its editorial, titled ‘Unparliamentary events’ (December 17).
It is surprising to me that the editorial author seems not to be reading the articles published in their newspaper, which I will refer to later in this letter. It is my sincere belief that had the writer taken into consideration the following hereunder articulated, the tone and message may have been different.
The editorial spoke about the context of what transpired in the Chamber of the National Assembly, but Editor, please recall that the singular issue that was at hand was inadequate time for the scrutiny of the Estimates. Days before, the beginning of the considerations of the National Estimates of 2018, the Business Sub-Committee of the Committee of Supply met to consider the allocation of time for ministries and budget agencies. The parliamentary opposition requested additional time for specific agencies and stated reasons for what could be considered a reasonable request. These agencies were the Ministry of the Presidency, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Public Infrastructure and the ten Administrative Regions. There was no willingness on the part of the Government Chief Whip, Amna Ally to allow for adjustments to the proposed schedule. Therefore, I suggested to the Chairman of the sub-committee that we take a break and resume, giving the member time to review and consult with her colleagues. When we resumed later that evening in the Business Sub-Committee, Ms Ally only offered an additional 30 minutes for the Ministry of the Presidency, and no additional time for the other ministries and agencies.
It is important to note that the Ministry of the Presidency’s budget was increased by some $3.63B. This agency was now budgeting for nine programmes – capital and current – an increase of four programmes from 2017.
In this construct, 168 staff were proposed; such was the magnitude of what needed to be scrutinised for the Ministry of the Presidency.
At 12.17 pm, when the Speaker sought to put the question, without allowing any examination of the Capital Estimates for the Ministry of the Presidency, I sought to bring to the House’s attention that the additional 30 minutes conceded by the government was not being allowed. I have never disputed the fact that the Speaker ruled me out of order. However, I indicated to him that I stand on a point of principle. The consequences emanating from that position are now known by all. Even if I was wrong, the actions taken can be considered unprecedented and could have been handled differently, for example, there could have been a resort to the Standing Orders to deal with such matters or when the Speaker left the Chamber there could have been a meeting of the Chief Whips that could have led to a resolution. The presence of the police in the Chambers and the assault on MPs seem not to have concerned the writer of the editorial, which suggested to have concluded that it was all contrived.
Had the editorial writer considered how the nation receives its information in relation to the manner in which the APNU+AFC government discharges its responsibilities, that person would have recognised the need for what was described in the editorial as the “…‘speechifying’ and interrogation in the National Assembly”. Stabroek News played no small part in its reporting of the various scandals; for example: D’Urban Park and Homestretch Development Inc, for which until now no records are available to be audited; the rental of the Sussex Street house as a drug bond (Stabroek News’s question of how Mr Larry Singh became aware of the government’s need for a drug bond still remains unanswered); the $605M sole-sourcing of pharmaceuticals from Ansa Mcal (the nation still awaits a definitive declaration of what sanctions will be/have been taken against those who were involved in this illegality); the 50% salary increase for ministers immediately after assuming office; and more recently, the now publicly-acknowledged US$18M signing bonus, and countless others on a daily basis. We are appreciative of the role Stabroek News has played in bringing information to the public.
In view of the above, these and other revelations can by no mean be considered “mendacious” allegations and “insinuations”. While some would want to adopt a ‘get it over quickly’ approach, the Committee of Supply is where the questions are asked, with expectations of truthful answers. A major function of the National Assembly is scrutiny of the executive by examining policies and spending proposed in annual budgets and other financial papers.
At no time did the parliamentary opposition plan to be disrespectful to the Speaker, or to flout the Standing Orders. However, it was a matter of grave concern that precipitated my actions, even though my reactions were spontaneous responses to unfolding events, I want to emphasize here that my retort to the Speaker was catalysed by my concerns that the interests of the public and taxpayers were not being adequately represented and occurred without prior knowledge of my colleagues. While a few may disagree with my approach, I am convinced that my cause was just.
The editorial writer referred to the crude behaviour of members of the parliamentary opposition and suggested that we took the crude extra- parliamentary behaviour to the National Assembly. What is this extra- parliamentary behaviour? Is it picketing exercises or is it holding meetings nationwide and discussing issues of national importance with our constituencies. Notably, we took our frustration and disappointment to the national stage by voicing our disapproval in the National Assembly. Please be reminded that we did not beat anyone in the streets; we did not burn any buildings; we did not create chaos in the main business district; persons were not robbed and assaulted and sexually molested; we did not call for ‘more fire’; we did not make the country ungovernable; we did not jeopardise the safety of any citizen; we were not involved in looting or the destruction of private and public property. We were merely behaving as any responsible opposition would in the face of constitutional violations.
The editorial writer seems to convey that the PPP/C Members of Parliament faked the fact that they were assaulted, citing what was deemed as “Manickchand’s histrionics”. Is it because the Stabroek News reporter did not see Ms Manickchand being assaulted, that it means it did not happen? The editor is not concerned about the presence of the police in the National Assembly and who authorised their presence and actions, since the Speaker claimed he did not authorise the police in the Chambers. Then the question remains as to who called the police. Was it the Minister of Public Security, Mr Khemraj Ramjattan, or the Minister of State, Mr Joseph Harmon? The editorial writer seems not to be concerned at all about the unauthorised entry into the Chambers by the police and how this matter could have been resolved differently.
The editorial’s intimation about the Speaker being fair and objective eludes the opposition MPs and thousands of Guyanese who have over time described his bias as entrenched and pathetic. The examples are:
the Speaker’s consistent denials of motions by the parliamentary opposition on matters of definite, urgent public importance;
the motion on the state of the rice industry;the motion on the collapse of the sugar industry and its implications for Guyana;
the Speaker’s refusal to grant permission to the Economic Services Committee of Parliament to visit and consult Guyanese in the sugar belt; and more recently, the motion of last Friday dealing with issues surrounding the US$18 million signing-bonus scandal and the government’s refusal to have it accounted as revenue reflected in the national estimates of 2018.
For the sake of space I have limited the examples to these but there are numerous others.
Is it that the government needed a diversion to distract public attention away from them because of the national outcry against their unconstitutional, illegal, and deceptive handling of the US$18M Exxon signing-bonus? The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo has spoken extensively on this matter.
I conclude by once again publicly acknowledging the role that Stabroek News has played in bringing information to the public. I continue to admire the quality of reporting by this newspaper. It is because of such admiration that I sought to bring to your attention a different perspective on matters that are the subject of this editorial. I sincerely think that had this perspective been taken into consideration at the time of writing many of the opinions expressed might have been differently stated.
The nation can be assured, as a law-abiding citizen, and as a lawmaker, there was no “belligerence” on my part. I was merely being alert and tenacious in my pursuit of fulfilling my constitutional mandate. Neither I nor any of my colleagues in the PPP/C are hamstrung by any lack of “linguistic versatility” as suggested by the editorial writer. This is evidenced by the quality and content of our debates, which is unmatched by the government side of the House.
I am not infallible and based upon my Christian values and upbringing, I remain open to useful and productive advice from any source that can serve the national interest.
Juan Edghill, MP