By Abena Rockcliffe
The National Assembly yesterday passed a motion that will see the establishment of a National Veterans Commission. This happened without the support of Members of Parliament sitting on the government’s side, who were noticeably few in attendance.
For some reason, the simple motion attracted a high degree of drama on the floor of the National Assembly. The heckling was at a level where House Speaker Raphael Trotman interrupted Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds’s speech, threatening to take a five-minute recess for the Members on the Opposition’s side to get their act together.
He noted that the House was sober when Opposition Leader David Granger made his presentation, as those on the government’s side managed to contain themselves.
In Granger’s presentation, he noted that the rest of the world is far in front of Guyana in terms of making adequate provisions for those who served in disciplined forces and services after retirement. He said too that he is convinced that more youths would be lured into joining the disciplined forces if assured that they would be treated with respect and dignity at the end of their tenure.
Granger didn’t hesitate to reference to other amenities that military men and women were offered during the days when the late Forbes Burnham sat at the helm of the country’s administration, including his promise to give 10 hectares of land to those who served with distinction.
The Opposition Leader, who is a retired Brigadier, on the lighter side, said he is looking forward to his share.
Just after Granger’s presentation came the contribution of People’s Progressive Party Member of Parliament, Odinga Lumumba. Lumumba told the House that under the PPP, Guyana has seen a professional army, where no member was asked or forced to “sell a mirror (his party’s newspaper)” as opposed to what happened back in the day when soldiers, even officers, were forced to sell New Nation (PNC’s newspaper).
He said that the PPP accepts Granger’s submission so that things can be made even better and the military could proudly fly the Guyana flag.
However Hinds, contrary to what was reflected by his colleague, said that the PPP could not support the motion and what it calls for.
Hinds told the House that the government is no less concerned about veterans than the Leader of the Opposition. He said, however, that even though “we” all might want to do great, “we” first have to do well.
Hinds asserted that in doing well, the country first has to secure a strong economy. He said that the time that will be taken to focus on such a Commission is time that will distract from necessary focus needed to grow the economy.
He then said again “we all want to do good, but we first have to do well or there will be no money or resources to do good things… there will be nothing for anybody.”
That statement forced AFC’s Moses Nagamootoo to heckle “is because y’all thieving, that’s why there is nothing for nobody.”
Notwithstanding that comment, Hinds moved to blast the opposition for its non-support for the Specialty Hospital that would have provided better health care for all, including Veterans.
He concluded by saying that he feels as if the government is and has been doing what “really matters.”
Alliance For Change (AFC), unlike the government, supported the motion. The party’s support was made known through its female member Catherine Hughes, who took a different outlook to the motion.
She said that the AFC views the motion as the country’s commitment to protect and ensure the contributions of all members of the disciplined forces are always recognized.
While Hughes lauded the men for their contributions, she focused more on the fearless and noble women that served as well.
She mentioned Clarissa Riehl who managed to be a ranked officer as a second lieutenant; she later became the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.
Retired Staff Sergeant Beverly Somerset was also mentioned as the first female to climb Mount Ayanganna in 1992 when some of her male colleagues dropped out.
Hughes said that the sands of times can be harsh to some veterans after the heyday has passed. She said some would be forced to seek employment elsewhere, after retiring at 40, in a highly competitive job market…”worst cases end up homeless.”
Granger, in closing, thanked those who contributed to the motion, including Shadow Minister of Home Affairs Winston Felix who gave good representation for injured members of the Police Force.
Granger noted however that he regretted the line the government took but was thankful for the democracy that allows for the majority to decide.
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