The parliamentary opposition has expressed outrage at a late decision to postpone yesterday’s sitting of the National Assembly, which government later said was necessary to facilitate an urgent meeting with its Members of Parliament (MPs) on a no-confidence motion that was filed against it by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
“They had to know they wouldn’t be here long before now. They could have done the courteous thing and informed us so our [MPs] would not have to come here and wait on them and then have the sitting postponed,” Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo told reporters inside the Parliament Chamber yesterday afternoon.
While Jagdeo said he was unsure whether the motion, which was filed in his name, resulted in the postponement, a Department of Public Information (DPI) press release subsequently confirmed it to be the reason and informed that the sitting of the National Assembly would be held on Monday.
“Given the submission of a Motion of No Confidence yesterday, the Government felt it necessary and urgent to convene a meeting to apprise and brief all Members of Parliament,” the release, which was issued at 5.16 pm, said.
The sitting was scheduled for 2 pm and up until the release was disseminated the opposition was given no official word regarding the reason for the postponement.
The release said the Government of Guyana requested a postponement of the scheduled sitting of the National Assembly from yesterday to Monday and that the Clerk of the National Assembly subsequently confirmed that the sitting will be held on the requested date and that all MPs “have been formally notified.”
According to DPI, there is precedent, going back to 2011 and 2012, for the request for postponement. “Under the PPP government, four requests were made for postponement without explanation,” the release pointed out, before adding that given its parliamentary majority, the government is confident that the no-confidence motion would be “solidly defeated.”
The DPI release did not say when the request was made nor did it indicate why the information was not communicated to the opposition earlier.
It was Deputy Clerk Hermina Gilgeours who, around 1.45 pm, announced the postponement to those seated in the Parliament Chamber.
Stabroek News was later directed to Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs, who directed this newspaper to government.
“…You have the get the reason for the postponement of the sitting from the government,” he said before confirming that it was the government that requested the postponement.
Efforts to contact government’s Chief Whip Amna Ally and Minister of State Joseph Harmon were futile. Later this newspaper was told that all government members were at a meeting at the Ministry of the Presidency.
Later, Jagdeo made it clear to reporters that the PPP/C did not file the motion in an attempt to capitalise on the absence of President David Granger. The president is currently in Cuba receiving treatment after a cancer diagnosis. It is unclear when he will return to Guyana.
Jagdeo clarified that the government’s voting power will not be threatened given that the leader of the government’s business is Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who is now the acting president. He made it clear that government can still maintain its 33 seats (a one-seat majority), if the law is followed correctly.
As it stands, he said Nagamootoo could not participate in the National Assembly.
“Any minister who performs the function of the president should not be in the National Assembly because when the president is in the National Assembly it becomes the Parliament. So, that person has to vacate the seat and there is a provision where they can temporarily appoint another member to the House who would have full voting rights and upon the return of the president, that person would then resign and the prime minister in this case will resume his seat in the House,” Jagdeo explained.
Jagdeo reiterated that the opposition has legitimate reasons for filing the motion. Among the reasons he listed yesterday were: the level of taxation that government has imposed on people, which he estimated at some $60 billion in three years; the loss of “30,000” jobs; bad
negotiations, which he said has cost the country billions of dollars through bad contracts; the settlement of cases to tune of tens of billions of dollars; unbelievable levels of corruption; and the squandering of money in several areas, inclusive of local travel, food, maintenance of vehicles and rental of buildings, all for government.
He assured that whenever the motion comes up, the opposition “will be ready to debate it,” before adding that the party has succeeded by just filing the motion, which has made the government “sit up and take notice of these issues that we are dissatisfied with.”
He voiced his belief that going forward, the government, cognizant of the reasons for the motion, would be forced to bring a better budget. The proposed 2019 national budget is expected to be presented to the National Assembly soon.
Jagdeo noted that the PPP/C was prepared yesterday to go through the agenda, which included the consideration of the budgets of the various constitutional agencies.
Representatives of several constitutional agencies whose 2019 estimated budget allocations were due for scrutiny as well as school children and members of the public were already seated in the public gallery when the announcement was made.
This newspaper observed students from several secondary schools–Queen’s College, President’s College, St. Roses, Mahaicony, Dora and West Demerara along with child rights activist Nicole Cole and CEO of the Rights of the Child Commission (RCC) Amar Panday. One student said that she was invited by the RCC, which is seeking just over $47 million for 2019.
Jagdeo apologised to the children and the other persons, while informing them that the government side of the House did not show up.
Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira also indicated that she was clueless about the reason why parliament was called off. She said that some government MPs did not “get the message fast enough” as on arrival they were told to turn back.
Based on Stabroek News observations, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder, Education Minister Nicolette Henry, Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Minister Sydney Allicock, Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan, Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources Simona Broomes, Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection Keith Scott and government MPs Audwin Rutherford and Richard Alleyne showed up. As was the case with other persons, they were immediately informed upon arrival that there would be no sitting. No government MP took up a seat in the Chamber.
Teixeira recalled that about five minutes after taking her seat in the Chamber, the Deputy Clerk appeared and over the microphone informed that the sitting had been postponed. She said that the opposition members who were seated immediately objected, as the procedure is that after the Speaker convenes the sitting, a motion seeking the postponement is put and it is later moved by a vote.
She recalled that a similar situation occurred while the current government was in opposition and said that it was on Granger’s insistence that this procedure was followed by the then governing PPP/C.
“This is totally unheard of,” she insisted, stressing that all she was seeing is government vehicles coming and going.
While stressing that there is noting the opposition can do to protest the deviation from the procedure, she said that at the last sitting the two sides “brokered” a deal that they would meet as an expanded group before yesterday’s sitting to discuss the constitutional bodies and how they would be handled.
The meeting was set for Thursday afternoon just before a business subcommittee meeting. She said while 10 opposition MPs turned up, no government MP attended. Given the absence of the government, the Speaker did not conduct the meeting.