…as opposition protests ‘gag’ on MP
Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, yesterday vacated the
parliamentary chambers after Opposition Parliamentarians protested a ‘gag’ on their colleague, Nigel Dharamlall.
Prior to the Speaker vacating his seat, Dharamlall was making his contribution to the debate on a motion calling for the revocation of the Commission of Inquiry surrounding the claims of Amerindian land titling, the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans and any other land titling in Guyana.
During his presentation, Dharamlall had accused the government of intending to ‘decimate’ Amerindian people and Amerindian communities. The use of the word ‘decimate’ caused Minister of State Joseph Harmon to rise on a point of order to ask the Speaker to request Mr Dharamlall to withdraw the term.
According to Harmon, the word ‘decimate’ connotes a wipe-out and that is not the intention of his government. Dharamlall after being asked to withdraw the word conceded. However, the manner in which he proceeded with his presentation was not readily accepted by the Speaker.
The Speaker reminded Dharamlall of the subject of the debate and that his presentation should
be so guided. Dharamlall said that if the COI will deal with issues that are germane to the people of this country then Government needs to take note of what is taking place with land elsewhere.
He added that he is worried about the policy of the APNU+AFC government, particularly as it relates to the sugar workers, “where they are now unable to toil the lands that their fore parents came here to do.”
Dharamlall was reminded again about the requirement of relevance of his argument to the motion before the National Assembly by the Speaker. Scotland told the PPP/C MP that if he chooses to ignore this, he would be asked to take his seat which would be the end of his contribution. The MP speaking on the issue of sugar lands was deemed irrelevant to the Motion by the Speaker.
The Speaker’s position was contested by Dharamlall who asked for clarity since one of the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the COI is to “examine and make recommendations of any other matter concerning land titling which the commission deems relevant to the mandate.”
Quoting the mandate, Dharamlall said “The mandate of the Commission of Inquiry says, ‘to examine and make recommendations to resolve all issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired to freed slaves and claims of Amerindian land titling and on any other matter related to land titling in Guyana.”
Based on the mandate of the COI, the PPP/C MP believed that he was allowed to address all issues pertaining to the 83,000 square miles that comprises Guyana.
At this point, the Speaker asked Dharamlall to take his seat and proceeded to ask Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr George Norton, to make his presentation as the next speaker on the Motion.
This move was heavily contested by the PPP/C as the entire opposition stood in the National Assembly to protest to the supposed ‘gag’ on their colleague.
The Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira, addressed the speaker saying that the COI has three pages of TORs on which any member of the Assembly can speak.
On behalf of the Opposition, Teixeira asked the Speaker to reconsider his position on Dharamlall. The Opposition members remained standing despite the Speaker recommending that they take their seats.
Teixeira argued that shutting down a speaker is unacceptable and that Dharamlall did not breach any standing order. Quite vociferously Teixeira reminded the Speaker of the robust rebuttal Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman towards Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo was allowed by the Speaker on Thursday.
The Speaker then left the Chambers while Dharamlall encouraged by his colleagues stood and finished his presentation despite Government MPs chanting repeatedly “All time disrespect, all time disrespect!”
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo speaking on the issue outside of Chambers said that it was unprecedented whereby there is a Member of Parliament that continues to speak after the Speaker vacates his chair.
He said that he believes this type of behaviour is a tactic of the Jagdeo opposition to stir disruption and unrest in the country.
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