The government used its parliamentary majority to pass a bill to address the welfare of all animals on Monday even as members of the opposition maintained that it was premature and in need of much broader consultation.
The Animal Welfare Bill, which had been sent to a special select committee in February of 2017, was presented for its third reading by Minister of Social Cohesion George Norton.
Norton, who had chaired the select committee, told the House that the opposition members had raised objections to several provisions of the Bill.
Their concerns included that regulations which dealt with animal handlers, trainers and the transport of animal should be available before the passage of the Bill and that the Bill referred to facilities which had not yet been built.
“These facilities should be constructed before the implementation of the Act,” Norton said, while reading from the committee’s report, which contained the opposition’s concerns.
Additionally, the opposition members warned that the Bill could lead to subjectivity, since there might be instances when citizens could be targeted by persons who would have been identified to perform specific duties.
They also warned that persons qualified to operate certain animal facilities could be penalised for non-compliance as soon as the Act is assented to, and they also urged a systematic education campaign for the farmers whom the legislation would affect, since they may be ignorant of the law and could unknowingly commit an offence, Norton shared.
It was further urged that members of the public should be educated on specific clauses of the Bill before it becomes law.
Though the Bill was considered clause by clause over a period of 18 months in the committee, the opposition expressed the view that the entire process was a mere formality.
Opposition parliamentarian Zulfikar Mustapha specifically accused the government members of the committee of ignoring concerns and using their majority to push through a Bill unchanged from its pre-committee iteration.
“We called for oral submissions from farmers who are the most likely to be affected by this Bill,” Mustapha said. His colleague, Alister Charlie, raised similar concerns, while arguing that only urban farmers were given the opportunity to participate in the review process, while rural and hinterland farmers were most likely to be affected.
Despite these claims, the Bill was accepted and passed after its third reading.
The Animal Welfare Bill (N0. 21 of 2016) is intended to address the welfare of all animals in relation to protection, life, health, slaughter, transportation and production. It is to also regulate the functions of animal shelters and pet shops as well as the use of animals in experiments or recreation and their conditions in zoos.
The explanatory memorandum notes that the Guyana Livestock and Development Authority is responsible for the administration of the provisions under the proposed law.
Under the protections outlined in Section 4, the Bill prohibits persons from, among other things, raising an animal in a way that causes or is likely to cause pain, suffering, fear or injury; increasing aggressiveness of an animal; and controlling behaviour of animals by punishment, including prong collars or training devices involving the use of electric current, or chemical substances, except when training working dogs. The Bill would also prohibit individuals from inciting or training animals to be aggressive against humans or other animals (except in the case of working and hunting dogs under the supervision of qualified persons) or training animals to fight or in any way associate with animal fights, including organising, attending, betting and advertising. If passed, the Bill would also prohibit the use of stimulants or illegal substances that enhance an animal’s performance in sports, competitions and shows. Persons who commit these offences would, under the proposed law, be liable for a fine of $100,000 and six months in jail.
Section 5 of the Bill makes it an offence for an owner to abandon an animal, whether domestic, companion, wild or otherwise, kept under his control; to expose a raised or cultivated wild animal to the wild or settle it in the wild, unless it is prepared for survival in such environment, in accordance with a special programme; and to inflict pain, suffering or injury upon an animal during training. A person guilty of such an offence would be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $50,000 and to imprisonment for three months.
Meanwhile, Section 6 of the Bill imposes an obligation on any person who injures an animal to render all necessary assistance or arrange for assistance to be provided to the animal. Sections 9 and 10 identify the circumstances where the owner or a veterinarian may humanely kill an animal. These circumstances include when medical treatment of the animal is likely to be long-lasting, cause suffering, and the outcome of the treatment is uncertain; if the animal has reached advanced age and its vital functions are failing; or if the animal constitutes a danger to the community.
The Bill also provides for the establishment and composition of an Animal Welfare Commission by the Agriculture Minister. This commission shall comprise no less than eight and no more than 12 members, who are required to be experts in the field of veterinary medicine, human medicine, biology, pharmacy, biochemistry and agronomy, as well as representatives from the animal protection associations.
The full Bill can be found at: http://parliament.gov.gy/documents/bills/7426-animal_welfare_bill_2016_-_bill_no._21_of_2016.doc