In the late evening of Thursday May 4th, PPP/C Member of Parliament Ms. Priya Manickchand received a letter from the Clerk of the National Assembly informing her that “the Speaker has therefore directed,… that the motion published on the Notice Paper No.95 of 2017 (the motion on the revocation of VAT on education goods and services) cannot be proceeded with in the National Assembly”. The letter stated that “…. if allowed the motion would be in contravention of Standing Order No.26(e)”. Standing Order No. 26 (e) states that for a motion to be admissible “it shall not revive discussion of a matter which has been discussed in the same Session”.
The matter which the Clerk referred to was the motion calling for revocation of Order No.18 of 2016 and the reinstatement of the Schedules 1 and 11 which existed prior to Order No 18 of 2016, Value Added Tax ( Amendment of Schedules) Order 2016, brought by myself in January 2017, which was defeated.
The word “Session’ in the Standing Orders refers to the five year term of the said Parliament. When the same word appears in the Standing Orders as “session” it means the period between the months of October 9th of one year to August 9th of the following year of a given parliament.
It should be noted that the Clerk had received Ms. Manickchand’s motion on April 25th, 2017. The Speaker amended it and had approved it as amended on April 26th 2017, after which it was put on a Notice Paper (No. 95) and then included on the Order Paper on April 28th for the May 8th 2017 sitting paper. This was then circulated on April 28th, 2017 to all Members of Parliament.
According to Erskine May Parliamentary Practice, 23rd Edition, the House (refers to a sitting of the National Assembly), not the Speaker, decides on whether a motion already on the Order Paper can be withdrawn and sets out how it is to be done. It is the mover only who can ask for his/her motion to be withdrawn from the Order Paper before the question is put to the House and, if that happens that request is subjected to a vote of the House.
Therefore, the House could vote for the motion to remain on the Order Paper, go through the debate and be put to the vote. Or, if the House supports the request for a withdrawal of such a motion, it can then be made again in the same Session. The Guyana Standing Orders No. 36 makes similar provisions. The time for objection, or, a request by any Member to the Speaker for the withdrawal of a motion due mainly to irregularities is/was at the time when the motion is/was placed on the Notice Paper and circulated not when it is on the Order Paper.
Therefore the House, nor the Speaker, has the power to remove a motion from the Order Paper. The Speaker only has the power to defer a motion once on the Order Paper if it is found to be sub-judice. The House can vote against the motion when the motion is debated and question put, but not before.
Thus the procedural argument for the removal of the motion on the revocation of VAT on goods and services on the Order Paper is highly irregular, improper and in breach of the Standing Orders and parliamentary conventions.
Furthermore, the rationale for the removal of motion is highly flawed; the motion on the Order Paper of May 8th 2017 sitting does not call for the same action to be taken as did the Annulment Motion on Notice Paper No. 82 brought by myself which called for “the repeal of Order No. 18 of 2016 .. to reinstate and bring back into force the Schedules 1 and 11 existing prior to Order No. 18 of 2016. This referred to all the items that were previously zero rated including education goods and services.
The new motion calls on “the government to direct the Minister of Finance to take immediate steps to revoke Order No 18 of 2016 imposing VAT on education goods and services” and “the government to reinstate Schedules 1 and 11 prior to Order No. 18 of 2016 on education goods and services.” In essence this is an amendment to the previous motion which is normally acceptable in all legislatures.
Secondly and more importantly, Standing Order No. 26 (e) which the Clerk quoted in his letter could not conceivably be rigidly applied to tax measures/bills/orders and motions. Tax measures, in particular, have been changed by this government in 2015, 2016 and 2017, including ones relating to VAT, all in the same “Session” of the 11th Parliament! The motion on the revocation of VAT on education goods and services refers to a tax measure.
More fundamental is the fact that it would be inconceivable to consider that no matter can be reviewed by the legislature in a 5 year term of a Parliament. Obviously the Speaker’s interpretation of the Standing Orders would affect both government and opposition alike. Does this mean that next year were the government to review its position on VAT on education goods and services, it could not do so? This is too ludicrous to contemplate! And we shall wait to see what happens in the coming year.
Logically, if judicial decisions can be reviewed, provided for in statute by the Judicial Review Act, then why is it not possible for the Legislature, the supreme law making body in the country, to review a decision or partially amend a decision, as is the case with this PPP/C ‘s motion? It certainly is not the first time this happened.
Standing Order No.25 (3) (Questions for Debate) allows by way of a substantive motion for rescission for any Member to raise a question substantially identical in the same Session with regard to a question for debate that has been proposed, debated and decided. Whilst Standing Order 25, 1 (a) (ii) allows for any member to bring any motion for debate reducing the charge upon the Consolidated Fund or any other public fund. The motion on the revocation of the VAT on education goods and services is in compliance with these Standing Orders.
Once again, we have witnessed the overturning of the Standing Orders, and further abuse and infringement of the Parliamentary Opposition’s rights in the House.
Coincidentally on the morning of May 4th, 2017, the PPP press conference, chronicled some of the latest of these infringements in the Legislature which included the Speaker’s editing of all questions and motions made by the Opposition members including the massive deletion of 11 of the 17 clauses in the motion calling for the revocation of the Commission of Inquiry on Land, also listed on the Order Paper for May 8th, 2017 sitting. The Speaker even went so far as to amend the motion calling for the revocation of goods and services by adding words to the mover’s motion without any communication with the mover. And then, seven hours later withdraws his approved motion!
Gail Teixeira, M.P.
Chief Whip Parliamentary Opposition
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