There are inconsistencies in the Speaker’s rulings on sub judice and other matters

Dear Editor,

As a Member of Parliament, I try not to play politics with the people’s business.

I am sure that my colleagues on both sides of the House would agree that I am respectful to all government MPs, and don’t usually get involved with heckling and name-calling as some often do. I get upset when I see MPs engage in activities unrelated to Parliament, for our sole purpose while in Chambers is to take care of the people’s business… nothing else!

I take my job very seriously, for I consider it a privilege to serve the land of my birth and the constituency I represent. After all, the quality of people’s lives depend on every decision we make as law-makers. Members of Parliament have an obligation to be truthful and factual, and not mislead the people of Guyana in their presentations. It is therefore imperative that the moderator of debates in the House, the Speaker of the National Assembly, remain politically impartial at all times. The main function of the Speaker is to ensure that the Standing Orders and Rules of the National Assembly are complied with. The Speaker interprets and enforces the Standing Orders and responds to Members’ points of order and gives rulings when necessary. His ruling cannot be challenged, except on a substantive motion to that effect. But someone has to have the credibility and courage to remind the Hon. Dr. Barton Scotland that he owes his loyalty to the dignity of Parliament, and that his role as Speaker of the National Assembly must remain politically impartial at all times. At the very minimum, he is expected to be fair in his rulings.

During the debate in the National Assembly last Friday on the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2018, the mover of the Bill, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, was allowed to make the most outrageous allegation that “under your government, Guyana was the second most corrupt country in this hemisphere. The Members on that side did it.”

On a Point of Order, the Opposi-tion Whip, the Hon Gail Teixeira asked that this disparaging remark be withdrawn as the AG was putting down the entire country with no evidence. She was told by the Speaker that that was not a point of Order, and disallowed. She again stood up, this time requesting the Attorney General to name the source he was quoting from. Sensing another unjust rejection from the Speaker, several Members of the Opposition, including myself, started chanting in support of justice, “Source, source, source.” The Chief Whip then used another Standing Order to ask the Member to withdraw his statement as imputing offensive language to those who were members of the former government. It is important to note that if this statement had come from an Opposition MP, we would have been expected to quote the source of this information. I guess by now, we’re all getting a bit tired of the double standards adjudicated from the Chair. As expected, after a brief dialogue with the Clerk, Ms Teixeira was asked to take her seat, and the Attorney General was allowed to continue his half-truths and innuendoes, misleading the nation once again, to hide the incompetence of a failing government. 

During a debate late last year in Parliament, my friend and colleague, the former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, made reference to a Kaieteur News article with the headlines, “Gov’t pays BK US$5.7M in out-of-court settlement for Haags Bosch”. Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, got visibly upset, stood up on a Point of Order and demanded that Nandlall withdraw the statement, claiming that no such article exists. Confident in his argument, the luminary refused to withdraw, and requested the Speaker’s permission to leave the Chambers for a few minutes to retrieve the newspaper article from his office a short distance away. But this simple request was disallowed. Nandlall was subsequently asked to leave the National Assembly after refusing to withdraw a statement he knew to be true. That article can be found here:        

Then on Monday, 25 June 2018, before the commencement of the Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill debate, the former Attorney General,  Anil Nandlall, produced certified copies of court documents to show that this matter relating to tied NDCs was sub judice and should not be proceeded with. He invited the Speaker to look at the court documents but he refused to do so. Instead, unbothered by the advice of perhaps the best legal brain in the entire Caribbean, the Speaker of the National Assembly calmly over-ruled Nandlall’s objection and proceeded with the debate.

In June 2016, the debate on the PPP/C’s Motion calling for the government to stop the Georgetown Parking Meter project was stopped as Attorney General Basil Williams advised the Speaker that this matter was then before the courts. Interestingly, this Motion remains asterisked on the Order Paper since then, meaning it is not up for debate.

Similarly in the 9th Parliament, a debate on an Opposition Motion on Angoy’s Avenue was deferred by the then Speaker Ramkarran as the matter was before the courts. The then AG presented the Speaker with copies of the court documents as was the right thing to do. 

Editor, it is interesting to note that during the entire life of this 11th Parliament, whenever a Member on the Government side objects to a matter being discussed or debated because it is sub judice, it is immediately disallowed by this Speaker even though no evidence is produced to verify this claim.

When this is compared to the aforementioned case, Anil Nandlall, with certified copies of court documents in hand, was over-ruled by the Speaker who, like government ministers, shows no interest in taking advice from Members of the Opposition. There are inconsistencies in the Speaker’s rulings on sub judice matters, and inconsistencies in his demand for source documents. This is the double standard I’m talking about.

The Hon Speaker of the National Assembly will be best advised to view some of the videos posted on social media to see how biased he appears, imposing his authority to disrupt an Opposition MP on a roll during the debates, or simply to prevent bad news from reaching the press. Case in point:

During the recent debate on Financial Bills, designed to establish a system to safeguard the financial framework of our economy, Irfaan Ali, another brilliant mind on the Opposition side, was extremely critical of the borrow and spend policy of the APNU-AFC government that is likely to see the economy accelerate into bankruptcy if allowed to go unchecked. He was most concerned that MPs have an obligation to not only scrutinize the Bills, but to ensure the Laws we pass impact the lives of Guyanese in a positive way.

The moment my colleague attempted to expose the dismal statistics to prove the economy was not performing, he was interrupted by the Speaker, who cautioned him continuously to “return to the Bill”. Now the Speaker is also an extremely brilliant individual. He must know the adverse effect these statistics will have on the government’s image if known, and the diminishing ability of its players to remain in office. And although he must have known the former Housing Minister did not deviate one bit from the core arguments of the Bill, he found it necessary to interrupt Ali’s presentation over and over again, perhaps hoping that he would lose his trend of thought, and be less effective. But the resilient Ali would not be deterred, and continued to exposed the indicators that show an economy in crises:

Sugar declined by 32.6%.

Rice declined by 6.4%.

Forestry has declined by 29.2%

Bauxite declined by 29%.

Current Account deficit increased by 68.2%

Gold Reserves declined by 87.2%

Market Security declined by 5.8%

International Reserves have declined by 22.4%

Domestic Borrowing to finance budget deficit has increased by 200.9%

Government Deposit has declined by 341.6%

Domestic Credit to the government has declined by 271%.

Net Deposits of public enterprises have declined by 41%.  

Loans and advances to residents have declined by more than $8.9 Billion.

Bank of Guyana Profit declined by 26.3%. 

Non-performing loans increased from $18 Billion to $29 Billion, meaning that 67% of those who took loans from the bank since this government took office in 2015, are not in a position to service those loans.    

Don’t take my word for it, view the entire video for yourself on the site below, to determine whether my criticism of the Speaker is justified. I think it is! 

Editor, it is not the intention of this letter to bring the Speaker or the National Assembly into disrepute. It is merely my hope that the dignity of the House prevails.

Yours faithfully,

Harry Gill,

PPP Member of Parliament

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