By Kiana Wilburg
These derogatory remarks were not used during a recent “cuss-out” at Bourda Market or a rum shop brawl.
These terms came out of the mouths of Guyana’s respected Parliamentarians in the National Assembly during the 2015 budget debates and deliberations.
On several occasions, like an overworked boxing match referee, Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland, appealed to Members of Parliament to engage “in a clean debate.” At times, he was forced to slam his gavel to call the House to order, given the harsh trading of insults. Often he implored, “Members I am certain we can use better language, we can do better than that in this Honourable House.”
But it was like throwing the proverbial water on duck’s back, as even last Friday before the House moved into its one-month recess, this behaviour was on display again.
Members during the 2015 debates were so caught up in their trading of insults that they often forgot to extend the courtesy of being silent when the Speaker was addressing the House.
Several Parliamentarians throughout the debates expressed that they felt the Honourable National Assembly was transformed into a Fish market given the behaviour of some members.
Speaking to the issue, Prime Minister and Leader of the House, Moses Nagamootoo said that he believes that members on both sides could have done a better job in showing respect for the Parliament.
“I sincerely believe that we could have conducted ourselves in the House with decorum and respect for each other, in spite of the fact that we have a political divide and the fact that we belong to two different political blocks. Additionally, there are members of the House who just recently held positions in high offices such as Advisor to the President and ministers. But while one might forgive the Opposition backbenchers who are new for certain unparliamentary conduct, I cannot say the same for those who know what they are saying and intend to say what they are saying and the intention is to disrespect, demean and degrade members of the government,” said the First Vice President.
Nagamootoo believes that because he tabled the No-Confidence motion which led to the PPP administration being dethroned in the last elections, he and other members have been targets of abusive remarks from those in the Opposition benches.
“I am seen by the PPP as the one who took office from them and who triggered a process where they are in the Opposition and so they blame me…It’s a letdown and it hurts their ego and when egos are wounded it is not expected that they would have consideration for others ,” added Nagamootoo.
But the Prime Minister said that while he expected the heckling and statements that bordered on blatant disrespect, one comment from an Opposition member shocked him the most.
He said that he did not expect such “low” behaviour from the Opposition’s Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira who he has worked with for many years.
“She looked at me in the face and said “you are the son of a b***h” in the parliament …this is not heckling. It is a disease of the mind that would allow you to be so condemnatory in the House.”
The politician said that the posture of the Opposition is to “show that they are big and bad.”
The Prime Minister believes that while heckling is characteristic of most Parliaments, in his opinion, the Opposition went too far.
Kaieteur News spoke with Teixeira on the allegation which other members from the government’s side claim to have heard and she categorically denied it. The Opposition Chief Whip said that she would never use such terms as she believes that it is even disrespectful to women.
Nonetheless, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall is of the view that heckling is an acceptable aspect of parliamentary life. He did concede that both sides of the House were guilty of making disrespectful utterances in the House and going overboard. But what he found most disturbing was the “consistent shouting” from the government’s backbenchers, particularly from Junior Minister of Social Protection, Simona Broomes.
He said that the behavior of Broomes and those similar to hers “transformed the honourable House into a fish market.”
Nandlall said he even appealed to the government members to calm Ms. Broomes.
“I do my own heckling but I am complaining about Broomes and that particular group. Their behaviour bordered on disrespect for the House and the Speaker. Members from the Government side who called us thieves several times were also out of order and it was nothing but unparliamentary behaviour.”
The Former AG claimed too that there were racial slurs uttered by the Prime Minister against the Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo. He claimed that Jagdeo was referred to as a “coolie bully.”
Nandlall said that Nagamootoo tried to substantiate the use of the word by saying he was merely quoting a letter writer in the daily newspaper.
“Imagine if someone used the N-word in the Parliament and tried to give an excuse that it was a letter writer they are quoting. How would that make you feel? It is wrong. Racial slurs should not be encouraged at all let alone in the House,” added the former Attorney General.
Nandlall said that it is most unfortunate that the Speaker did not reprimand any of the Government Parliamentarians for their crude language in the House.
But for Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan, he believes that there will always be heckling as it is part and parcel of a robust parliament system.
Ramjattan said that while heckling should have limitations, he believes that it should be left to the Speaker of the National Assembly to determine what really constitutes “crossing the line.”
“Members should be allowed to heckle. We have freedom of speech. We have a right to say how we feel about the other side and there are strong personalities in the House and so you will find at times that we will cross the lines and reach some low levels when it comes to heckling. But I don’t think heckling should be curbed. We will only get to the subtle, witty and effective quality of insults with practice,” expressed The Public Security Minister.
As for government’s constant referral to the Opposition members as thieves during the budget 2015 debates, Ramjattan saw nothing wrong with this.
“This was not out of order. It was not unparliamentary for us to call them thieves. This is absolutely correct given what we know,” an impassioned Ramjattan exclaimed.
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