It is up to the Speaker to upbraid Member of Parliament Jermaine Figueira for using indecent language during the no-confidence vote in the House on Friday, Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs said yesterday.
In videos making the rounds on social media, a visibly shocked Figueira, who sat next to Charrandas Persaud on the back benches on the government side of the House, could be heard saying “what the (expletive) you doing?” as Persaud voted ‘yes’ to the Opposition PPP/C’s motion of no-confidence against the government. Just before using the indecent language, he struck Persaud on the hand. Haimraj Rajkumar, who was sitting on Persaud’s other side, hit Persaud twice based on this newspaper’s review of a video of the voting process. Persaud’s ‘yes’ vote ensured the fall of the David Granger-led APNU+AFC government.
The following day, Figueira issued an apology on his Facebook page.
“For all those who I may have offended or disappointed with the use of some colorful and unwelcomed parliamentary language in my perplexed and discombobulated state at the time in question, I offer my human apology,” he said.
When contacted yesterday on the issue, Isaacs insisted that he did not hear the utterance of explicit words and when informed that the MP has since publicly apologised, said that Speaker of the House Dr Barton Scotland is the person to deal with the matter.
This newspaper specifically inquired whether Figueira will be referred to the Privileges Committee or if there is any other way that the matter can be handled.
Isaacs explained that had Figueira assaulted the member, Persaud can report the matter to the police. “The parliamentary privileges committee doesn’t cover assault so he (Persaud) can report the matter to the police and let them investigate,” he said.
With respect to the language used, Isaacs told Stabroek News that “the Speaker can deal with that. That’s a matter for the Speaker of the National Assembly. He can be upbraided by the Speaker… the Speaker will decide,” he said.
Asked whether there are any sanctions for such behaviour outlined in the Standing Orders, Isaacs responded in the negative before adding that there are “things” that the Speaker can do. He said that the form of punishment will be handed down at Scotland’s discretion. “The Speaker can ask him to apologise after listening …he can upbraid him…Things like that,” he added.
In his Facebook post, Figueira, who represents Region Ten in the National Assembly, said in the midst of “our shock and awe, disappointments, we should never allow or encourage hateful and racist comments to be a part of our conversations.”
He stressed that this is not a Guyana for blacks or Indians but rather it is a nation for all Guyanese. “One people in this nation with a common destiny to achieve our Eldorado and provide a good life for all our people. When on social media, do not promote hate and racist rhetoric, rebuke it when it is seen. That’s one way to stop this historical conundrum that has plagued this nation,” he said.
Figueira also thanked the region for its support thus far before urging residents to continue this support in the upcoming elections.
“On another serious point, residents of Region Ten, we are coming back stronger than ever. Thank you for delivering victory again in greater numbers. 40 thousand strong. We need all hands on board, we got this. The revolution continues,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo filed the motion on November 15 declaring no-confidence in the APNU+AFC government. The motion was debated on Friday and five MPs from each side made arguments which, in total, lasted more than six hours.
When it was time to vote, the 32 Opposition MP’s duly declared their support for the motion while the first two government MP’s Audwin Rutherford and Rajkumar, both of the Alliance for Change (AFC) strongly declared their dissent.
As Isaacs called for ‘Mr C Persaud’ to cast his vote, shock reverberated through the chamber when Persaud voted ‘Yes’.
Shocked government ministers Volda Lawrence and David Patterson, who were sitting directly in front of the AFC backbencher spun in their seats. Recognising that he had incorrectly addressed the member, Isaacs called for the Honourable Charrandas Persaud, who, after calmly sipping from a glass of water, softly intoned “Yes”.
He subsequently repeated ‘yes’ three times.
Lawrence, the Minister of Public Health and Chairperson of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), with AFC leader Raphael Trotman whispering in her ear, stood to ask Scotland “for a timeout of two minutes.” However, Scotland rejected this saying that a timeout cannot be called during a vote.
Persaud’s defection resulted in the fall of the David Granger-led government which will have to hold elections within 90 days.