By Abena Rockcliffe
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) is convinced that it is the target of a “devious” plot which does not harmonize with the cherished democracy that is supposed to characterize the Parliament. The plot, according to opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, is one that aims to muzzle the opposition.
Further, Teixeira is of the opinion that the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland is a part of this plot.
Teixeira held a press conference yesterday at Freedom House. At that forum, she told the media of the perceived predicament facing the opposition and chronicled the series of events that led her to the conclusion that her party is being muzzled.
Teixeira said that she wrote a letter to the Speaker last week, under the requisite Standing Orders, asking him to convene an extraordinary sitting of the National Assembly at soonest in the public interest. She said that she noted that this was to debate the matters that are pending on the National Assembly’s agenda including opposition matters. The Opposition Whip said that she indicated that her side is willing to meet on any date in November, providing that it does not fall on a Saturday or Sunday.
She said that the Standing Order cited allows the Speaker and/or the government to convene a sitting in the public interest, or on a matter that is of public interest.
Teixeira’s appeal comes at a time when government, with the approval of the Speaker, moved to postpone a sitting from November 12 (yesterday) to an indefinite date. Government reasoned that Summit of South American-Arab Countries (ASPA) and other matters stand in the way of the availability of its Members. Government also said that it requested an earlier date, but later withdrew the request.
Teixeira said that as Chief Whip, she knew nothing about that request until the government statement was put out. She said that the PPP’s information is that there may be no sitting in November.
Teixeira indicated that yesterday morning she received a two-and-a-half page letter from the Speaker and he admitted that there are two limbs on which such a request may be considered. Those are; if it was represented by the government to the Speaker that public interest requires an early sitting or if the Speaker in his opinion sees it that public interest requires that the House should meet earlier than the date to which it stands adjourned.
Dr. Scotland ruled that the opposition lacks the locus standi to make a request of the kind contained in Teixeira’s letter. He indicated that even if the request was in order, given the fact that the matter which is the subject of the private members’ motion (salary increases) has been the subject of discussion in the public domain, he is of the view that the public will not suffer prejudice by the postponement of the sitting, neither would the public interest not be adequately addressed though the arrangement already in place.
In the circumstances, therefore, the Speaker said that the request by the opposition is not in order and would not be entertained.
The issue that the PPP is pressing to address is salary increases for government officials.
The order was made that the ministers, members of the national assembly and special offices receive increases in salary. When the order is made and gazette it becomes law, but it is required that it goes through a parliamentary process and if this gives a negative resolution, the order is to be reversed.
Citing technical parliamentary procedures in accordance with the Standing order and the interpretation of the general clauses in law, and the Speaker’s action, Teixeira said, “Therefore this deliberate postponement of the House sitting from November 12 to a date to be fixed and the denial of an appeal to the Speaker to do what is honourable and best, and allow for the sitting to be held in the month of November, basically says they are killing the motion of the opposition to call for a reversion or annulment of the salary increases.”
The politician added, “This is deliberate, conscious, planned orchestrated engineered, you pick the adjective to ensure that the opposition, in this parliament is muzzled.”
“I have been around in parliament long enough and I have advised the Clerk to please go into the records; because before I formally wrote on Monday, I reminded the parliament office that in 2012 or 2013, the government of the day had named the date of when we were convening. But after recess something happened, and therefore we asked for the date to be postponed to another. The Speaker then agreed, and a ton of bricks came down from the then opposition to demand, under the same standing order that we are quoting, that you had to go back to parliament and call for a postponement.”
Teixeira said that the government had to then go back and comply with the opposition.
According to her, “We may not have a sitting until sometime in January and if this doesn’t worry the Guyanese people, it should; parliamentary democracy is on the rocks.”
Teixeira stressed that Parliament is made up of rules, gentlemen’s agreements, practices, conventions and norms “not everything is written. But one thing a democratic parliament does not do, is try to muzzle the opposition, particularly in an issue that has created such public interest in relation to the exorbitant salary increases for the ministers.”
Teixeira opined that the Speaker was being unreasonable in his interpretation of the Standing Orders and was asked if she was inferring that he is part of the plot she spoke of.
Skunking her shoulder, she said, “You draw the inferences. I have made my position clear; we have seen this with previous speaker Mr. (Raphael) Trotman in the last Parliament, you take any inference how you like it.”
Responding to question about the similarities between this and the prorogation, Teixeira said it was a “red herring… those are two unrelated issues. There is no comparison and if you were to say that the Commonwealth Parliamentary group would laugh at you and laugh at any other party that tries to make a comparison between a motion in a sitting House and a no confidence motion”.
She told the media that if the government disagrees with PPP “all they have to do is have 33 people in the House and the motion is automatically defeated, but you cannot muzzle our right to speak.”
Asked if the PPP is pushing for a sitting now to bank on the absence of government members, She said, “I just know they are travelling plenty, I have been Chief Whip for the government and had extraordinary difficulties making sure that all Members were there for key issues. If there is a matter of importance to a government it behooves that government to come and protect and defend, and be righteous in its position…they cannot be righteous on this issue, because their arguments thus far in the press is utter rubbish about the rationale for the increase. Let them come into the House and say those things.”
“If the Chief Whip on the other side cannot ensure that all 33 are there does it mean that this Parliament will not be meeting?”
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