Jagdeo’s pension threatens showdown in Parliament today
Government and the two opposition parties in the National Assembly are heading for a major Parliamentary showdown today over a number of motions being tabled by the latter. One of them is the repeal of a controversial multi-million dollar pension package for former Presidents.
That pension package is the centre of a court action filed by Desmond Trotman, a Parliamentarian for A Partnership For National Unity (APNU) who is challenging the constitutionality of the Former President’s (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act 2009.
In a last minute push to have the opposition rethink the motions, senior officials of the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) yesterday said that the motions which are being tabled mainly by APNU are flawed and clearly in breach of established Parliamentary procedures.
Whether the motions will be allowed for debate will rest on Speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Raphael Trotman.
During a press conference at the NCN studios, Prime Minister Sam Hinds said that the nine motions by the opposition were clearly “hurried, premature” and not “given much thought”.
The motions would have come swiftly on the heels of the recent $21B cuts that the Parliamentary oppositions, APNU and the Alliance For Change (AFC) made to the 2012 National Budget recently.
Also at the press conference were Ministry of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh and Minister of Legal Affairs, Attorney General, Anil Nandlall.
Following the November 28 National Elections which saw the PPP/C losing Parliamentary control since taking office in 1992, both the AFC and APNU had vowed to use their majority in the House to make sweeping changes. The budget was the first to feel the hammer.
The opposition then laid several of the motions which are to come up today. Some of the motions including forcing National Industrial Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and the Privatisation Unit, to release more information on transactions.
The Alliance For Change had claimed that NICIL was holding on to almost $50B, proceeds of the sale of state properties, including companies and lands. Both AFC and APNU want the monies in NICIL’s accounts to be transferred to the central account- the Consolidated Funds.
Government has stoutly refused saying that nothing in the law says the money must be transferred to the Consolidated Funds.
It has also denied that there was that much money in NICIL’s coffers.
According to the Prime Minister yesterday, the motion to repeal the Former President’s (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act 2009 may be plain vindictiveness and spitefulness by the opposition.
Hinds served briefly as President in 1997 and is eligible to benefit from a Presidential pension which according to the opposition is likely to be over $2M monthly, inclusive of free electricity, security and cash.
According to Hinds, one of the motions filed by Carl Greenidge, a senior APNU Parliamentarian and former Minister of Finance under the PNCR administration in the 80’s, calls for financial independence of the courts and several service commissions, a situation that the PPP/C is clearly against of the financial lack of control situation that is likely to occur.
This, he said, “goes against the grain” and the PPP/C “finds difficulties in proposals like that”.
Regarding a motion to force NICIL to provide more information, Hinds insisted that the sale of state lands and properties is published in the required forums including the National Gazette.
He also blazed the opposition for now seeking to force independent agencies to hand over monies. This is in contrast with moves, dating back to the 80’s to make these same agencies more independent.
Lack of understanding
Attorney General Anil Nandlall made it clear that the opposition motions showed a clear lack of understanding and appreciation of parliamentary procedures. There are distinct processes and mechanisms to deal with issues there, he stressed.
Parliament’s Standing Orders say how questions could be asked whether orally or written and both AFC and APNU should have known that there was need for the motions.
Regarding the motion to repeal the President’s pension act of 2009, Nandlall was of the opinion that since APNU’s Parliamentarian, Desmond Trotman, has already filed a constitutional motion in court challenging the Act, bringing a motion in the National Assembly would be wrong and against Standing Orders which would prevent discussions from taking place until the outcome of that matter.
Nandlall said that he would change his stance on the matter if the court case is pulled before the National Assembly is convened today. “This motion is in palpable violation of the Standing Orders.
The PPP/C, through Nandlall, has since written to the Speaker of the House, urging him not to allow this particular motion to be heard.
Ministry of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh also insisted yesterday that the Opposition parties have erred by tabling the motions.
They could easily have asked questions and the government would have provided answers. It is a fact that the PPP/C in the last Parliament, answered all questions that were asked.
More than 100 reports of Government agencies were laid during the Ninth Parliament.
Moves to have Government agencies like NICIL, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and the Guyana Forestry Commission; hand over its monies will require legislations being laid, not via motions, the Minister said.
Singh also criticized the Opposition who after pressuring government to release information on the planned Marriott Hotel and Amaila Falls Hydro Project, gave not a whimper, a clear indication that they were just grandstanding politically. The reality is that information is available.