Jan 22, 2016 News
– gives own voice, passes it as amended
By Abena Rockcliffe
History was created in the National Assembly last evening. Following six hours of debate, a walk out,
and numerous back and forth deliberations between Members of Parliament (MPs) and the Speaker of the House, Opposition MP Juan Edghill moved to withdraw a Motion taken to the House in his name.
The Motion, if it was passed in its original form, would have seen all MPs publicly declaring their income tax return over the last 10 years. The Motion, though seemingly simple, was one which had teeth.
Dissatisfied with amendments made by the Government, Edghill sought to have his motion withdrawn. But by then it was too late. The Standing Order which gave Edghill the right to withdraw his Motion—Standing Order 36 (1)—also stated that the Motion could have only been withdrawn if there was no dissentient voice. So, much to Edghill and his colleagues’ disappointment, the Motion was allowed to stand after Minister Raphael Trotman opted to be that dissentient voice.
This case was unprecedented in Guyana’s Parliament. Edghill’s Motion carried one “whereas” and two resolve clauses.
In his one whereas clause he pointed out that all Members of Parliament are required to file annual income tax returns to the Guyana Revenue Authority in compliance with the Income Tax Act, Cap 81:01.
In his resolve, Edghill asked that all MPs, “in the interest of transparency and accountability in public office, make available to the public their tax returns to the Guyana Revenue Authority for the last 10 years on or before December 31, 2015.”
Further, he asked that the House “urges the government to expeditiously table legislation to give effect to this motion.”
The Motion attracted many Speakers. In opening yesterday’s debate, Edghill told the House that the Motion was one to remove the veil of secrecy. He said too that the Bill seeks to help change cultural perceptions that all politicians are corrupt.
Edghill posited that such a Motion would have helped to decrease the “harassment” public officials receive from the media “as now we will have a document to defend our honour.”
“Not only do we get flowers, we also get stones, so to protect ourselves and for the people to put confidence in us, lets pass this motion. It gives the people hope,” said Edghill.
He continued, “So people will not think you are running to high office to secure wealth. People must know they have elected officials who are not busy taking care of themselves, but busy taking care of the people of Guyana.
Edghill told his colleagues that the motion is one of the strongest anti-corruption mechanisms that can be put in place in Guyana at this time.
He challenged the Members on the government’s side to support the motion to show that they have “clean hands.”
“Every no vote will tell the nation my walk is not consistent with my talk. You will be telling them, I bluff you, I fool you, I am not sincere.
Sarcasm squeezing out of his voice, Edghill said, “that is not what you want to tell the people. Is it?
“If you vote against this motion it means you have something to hide,” said Edghill.
Edghill told his colleagues, that nakedness in this case is what is needed.
He even went further as to quote the late Bob Marley “if night should turn to day a lot of people would run away.”
“This motion is calling for light where there was darkness. The day of reckoning is now; the time to change the culture of politics in Guyana is now.”
Edghill continued, “If we say no we are confirming this popular perception that politicians are corrupt. We are noble men and we need to prove that.”
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo also spoke to the motion. He said that the income tax law requires one to declare taxes over seven years, while Edghill’s motion asks for the last 10 years.
Nagamootoo said that the motion violates the law. “It shows desperation behind bringing a motion of this sort.”
The Prime Minister sought to point out that some MPs earn tax-fee salaries and have pension which also do not attract tax. As he continued along this path, hinting at the Opposition Leader, the Speaker had cause to urge Nagamootoo not to single out any Member of the House by name.
Nevertheless, Nagamootoo continued, and this time he sought to point out, “I am not naming anyone, I am saying Opposition Leader.”
The Prime Minister said that the motion which is purported as one in the interest of the people and one to highlight skullduggery is too late. He said that the motion came “when the gate has been closed.”
Nagamootoo continued jabbing at the Opposition Leader when he spoke of a man who went to the court declaring that all he had in his account was $10M and was willing to give his wife half but subsequently built a $100M house. That inference was allowed by the Speaker.
But when Nagamootoo said that, MPs on the Opposition erupted. Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira shouted, “this should not be allowed!”
Nagamootoo responded, ‘you want to shut me up nah,” Teixeira responded, “come over here and you will see.”
It was then that the Speaker interrupted, saying that the debate had gone downhill.
Next to speak was Teixeira, who echoed sentiments that the motion would secure a better image for politicians.
She said, “Yes, we have the Income Tax Act, but are we supposed to aspire to a higher level of integrity.”
As he solicited full support from the House, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo referred to the motion as one that seeks to enhance transparency in public life. He said that it was those in the government who “lectured” Guyana on transparency and accountability. “Well here is a unique example to prove that it was not all rhetoric.
Jagdeo said that it is no excuse to say that PPP did not have such a motion in the past, so it should not come now. “If we believe in higher forms of transparency, the bar cannot be about what happened in the past, it should be about what is ideal and best for the country; that should be the bar to which we aspire.”
He said that since the government is convinced that corruption was perpetuated under the PPP then it should be anxious to have PPP MPs make public tax declarations.
“Would it not be the best thing to do? You guys should have nothing to worry about, only the PPP MPs will suffer.”
Jagdeo highlighted one of the reasons given for the “phenomenal” salary increase when the new government came into office was that Ministers were making way more money in private practice.
“If this is true then the nation should know. We should know those tax returns. The cabinet should be interested to find out if being duped.
Jagdeo referred to a statement made in Nagamootoo’s presentation which is that he usually file tax returns of $500,000 a year.
The Opposition Leader pointed out that that would mean that Nagamootoo was working for $1.5M a year which breaks down to $130,000 a month.
When Trotman rose to debate the motion, he said that the House was being asked to make legal that which is illegal.
Trotman said “you cannot ask the highest law making body in the land to do what is illegal.”
The illegality Trotman was referring to was the public declaration of tax.
He told the Opposition Members that they are within their rights to publish their tax declarations on a website. “If you so strongly believe in it, go ahead, lead by example.”
The opposition staged a walk out after its motion was hijacked and Nagamootoo moved beyond what is customary as he sought to wrap up a motion in someone else’s name.
The opposition returned to the House to secure the integrity of its motion, but that was to no avail.
The Motion was passed amended. Those Amendments will not secure public declaration. Those amendments basically call for support of mechanisms that already exist under the Income Tax law.
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