Jul 19, 2016 News
By Jarryl Bryan
After tumultuous efforts and motions by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to get the Telecoms (amendment) Bill sent to a special select committee, the Bill was passed last evening with all of its clauses intact in the National Assembly.
This comes after years of the Bill being subject to deliberations, consultations and delays. Meanwhile, there have been clashes between Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T), Guyana’s sole telecommunications service provider over the years, and Digicel.
The Bill is expected to create a competitive playing field in the telecommunications sector, by providing for an open and liberalised sector. This, it is opined, will serve to attract investors and new entrants to the market.
PPP Member of Parliament Gillian Burton-Persaud argued that the Bill duplicated work done by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
This line was backed up by her colleague, Charles Ramson Jr., (who was repeatedly warned to stay within the merits of the Bill in his submission by Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland).
Ramson also argued that the Bill was a public relations flop and that the government missed a chance to fully engage the public and educate them about the particulars of the Bill.
The opposition posited that the Bill gave too much power to the Minister, in this case Telecommunications Minister, Cathy Hughes.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge, however countered that the Bill provided for any policy decision made to be rooted in on advise.
Greenidge also stated that advertisements were placed in the print media for consultations regarding the legislation. He said that the Government did make efforts at consultations.
Noting the circumstances under which the Bill was introduced, Greenidge stated that there was no need to send the Bill to a special select committee, but that the matter must be dealt with expeditiously.
PPP Chief Whip Gail Teixeira however stated that with the ever-changing Telecommunications landscape, there was certainly a need to have the Bill sent to a special select committee.
She argued that while the PPP failed in its attempts to improve the sector, such as with the Fibre Optic cable, the government of the day had to be responsible in addressing the issue.
Minister Hughes rebutted the attacks on the Bill. She chastised the opposition for not bringing the Bill to the floor for years, even as Guyana lagged behind in its telecoms sector.
She also reminded the house that it was former President Bharrat Jagdeo who had closed down small operators back in 2010. At this point Teixeira hurriedly rose, protesting that Hughes statements were a low blow and left the floor.
Hughes did not spare Ransom, querying whether the MP had read the Bill. She noted that when the Bill, along with the Public Utilities Commission Bill is passed, the Minister would be in the clear and not compromised.
The opposition made a last ditch effort, with Teixieira moving a motion to have the Bill sent to a select committee and her colleague Irfaan Ali seconding her motion.
The coalition vociferously voted down the motion and the Bill was considered clause by clause and passed.
Though it preserves the activities of the current providers, the Bill is expected to result in greater choice, better quality of service and lower prices to consumers.
It also addresses telecommunication networks and services expanding into unserved and under-served areas.
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