On Sunday 19th August Stabroek News published Mr Ralph Ramkarran’s blog Conversation Tree in which he said, “The Clerk to the Parliament, Mr Sherlock Isaacs, politely explained that alcohol is provided only on special occasions.” He also reported that “Minister Hughes said that the parliamentary lounge she is familiar with does not serve alcohol but a variety of teas, juices and water. But on special occasions, such as Christmas and other special events, alcohol is served. It is also served at the MPs’ expense when it is a personal occasion, such as a birthday”.
Let us leave aside Minister Hughes’s statement, on the ground that she may be biased in her account of the situation. On Monday, August 20th the editorial in the Stabroek News stated that “it has been confirmed that alcohol is being served in the House to Members of Parliament”. Editor, “it has been confirmed” tells me nothing. Who made this confirmation? Even if you have a video of members drinking, you should establish when the video was shot. Remember, both the Clerk and the Minister said that alcohol is served on “special occasions”. That is not “is being served” which suggests a continuous exercise. I have heard that they may have alcohol at the end of the budget debate, but I have never been there, so I cannot say that “it has been established”; all I can say is that “I have been told so”. So who “established” that alcohol is being served? And given that the Clerk, so Mr Ramkarran says, stated that alcohol is “provided only on special occasions”, it seems pretty useless to ask him now all the questions that SN lists.
Now – given Mr Ramkarran’s blog on Sunday and Stabroek News’ editorial on Monday, somebody has to be lying, or let us say, more politely, somebody must be mistaken. We have four choices:
a) the writer of the editorial in Monday’s Stabroek News was “mistaken”, and it was NOT confirmed that alcohol is being consumed in the House, or
b) whoever “confirmed” this was “mistaken”, or
c) Mr Ramkarran was “mistaken” when he wrote that Clerk “politely explained that alcohol is provided only on special occasions” or
d) the Clerk was “mistaken” when he made that statement. (I cannot imagine that the Clerk does not know whether or not alcohol is being served, so if it is he, in his case I would have to say “lying”). So who is mistaken/lying?
Mr Ramkarran also said:
“The quarrel in Parliament over food and drink is most unusual because it is MPs themselves who created this situation. When I first entered Parliament in 1997, MPs were served “tea”, consisting of non-alcoholic beverages and sandwiches……..When I returned to Parliament as the Speaker in May 2001, a full lunch was served in paper plates with plastic forks and spoons. Consistent agitation by MPs led to the improvement in the presentation and quality that now prevail. The past and current governments have approved the parliamentary budgets after detailed consideration. It is hypocrisy to complain now.” There follows a somewhat hilarious account of the demands for special culinary choices by various MPs, but I would suggest that your readers get hold of Sunday’s edition of the SN newspaper and read it for themselves. It is on page 7, facing Sunday’s editorial.
On a more serious note, I would like to point out to both Stabroek News and Kaieteur News, something that they should both know: contracting the services of a caterer to provide meals when Parliament is in session is not something devised by the present government. On the Government web site for Parliament I found this, dated 13 December 2013:
“The National Assembly of Guyana, today, signed a three-year contract with the Windjammer International Cuisine and Comfort Inn to supply meals and snacks for sittings of the National Assembly and Committee Meetings.
“The entity, which has been providing meals to the parliamentarians, parliamentary staff and the media among others over the past six years, was chosen to supply meals to the National Assembly through a selective tendering process. Two other restaurants were chosen as part of the tendering process but were unable to submit bids.”
Six years before 2013 when this contract was awarded takes us back to 2007; and Mr Ramkarran states that full lunches were served in 2001. That means contracts for meals have been in existence for about seventeen years now. The 2013 contract would have come to an end in 2016. A new contract would then have been signed, l assume, for another three years. As Mr Ramkarran pointed out, Parliament scrutinizes the Parliamentary Budget; I have not read that any Parliamentarians objected to any of these contracts. I want to know if the purchasing of alcohol today, with a cost, as Mr Jagdeo reportedly suggested, that “might be just as much as the cost for food”, was included in the budgets that were scrutinized? As Mr Jagdeo is further reported saying, “It’s a huge amount of alcohol that gets consumed and imbibed in the Parliament…..fancy, fancy liquor”. (Given that, according to the report, he says that he eats in a separate room and does not go to the lounge where said alcohol is imbibed, I am not sure how he knows as a fact how much is imbibed). How is this “huge amount” of alcohol paid for? The budget, either has provision for it or not. If there is a provision, why was this not queried when Parliament was scrutinizing the budget? And if there is no provision for alcohol, how is the bill for it paid? Does Parliament not scrutinize the accounts of parliamentary expenditure as well? There must surely be a regular cheque issued for $700,000 or however much the alcohol costs per session, payable to some entity; so how is this payment for alcohol hidden from parliamentary scrutiny? I cannot imagine that our Parliament has a contract for the supply of meals that does not state that x meals will be supplied at $y per serving, or something similar. So how does one double that amount and no questions are asked? (Remember, Mr Jagdeo reportedly said that the alcohol costs as much as the food). Furthermore, given that, as Mr Jagdeo says, the PPP Parliamentarians do not partake of this orgy, we are left with the proposition that the coalition members alone imbibe $700,000 worth of alcohol or perhaps even more per session, without getting blind drunk. Remember, there are videos of the sessions (just look at that Parliamentary web site), and members of the media are present when Parliament is in session. How on earth do they manage it???
And what kind of media do we have that does not think to ask these questions?
Whether drunk on “special occasions” or at the end of budget debates, alcohol is being consumed by MPs within parliament at taxpayers’ expense and the public has a right to be told who approved it, when it started, the frequency and cost to taxpayers. These questions should not be obscured by semanticism.