Standing Orders Committee3424 10 Jan, 2013
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, having heard the last speaker presenting what seems to be a minority report…
Mr. Speaker: Members, before Mr. Nagamootoo… I invited the Government side to present a minority report. If one came, it came with my invitation from the meeting.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, except at the meeting, as a Member of the Standing Orders Committee, the Hon. Member did indicate that she would be presenting a minority report.
Ms. Teixeira: I did.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I take that as notice of admission that the status of that side has changed, in terms of its numbers, so I am really at lost to fathom when the speaker referred to “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” I think the electorate on November 28, 2011 threw the baby out. They are worried about the bath water now, whether it is portrayed or not, and we, in the Opposition, are here to remind the Government… [Mr. Ramjattan: It is to sanitise.] Yes. It is that we can sanitise the way business in this House has been done.
In regard to the Standing Orders,… I may say this, Mr. Speaker, I stand corrected, that I have been a Member of the Standing Orders Committee dating back from 1992. I do not find these Standing Orders to be immutable. I do not think that our Constitution is immutable. We are a young nation with new institutions and we are all experimenting with forms of governance, and we are experimenting with laws under which we should be governed. The laws spawn rules, regulations, orders, principles and these are the things, and sometimes rituals, in the way we do things. We have to change those rituals. After the elections - the people have spoken - we realised that the numbers had to correspond with the decisions of the people and that is a very pragmatic way at looking at how we can grapple with some of our problems. Rational thinking requires adjustment.
You cannot adjust without rationality, you cannot make the decision to do so and that is why when people are pruned to talk about rationality the premise of rationality lies or goes back to our people who made a rational decision to choose who is a minority and who is a majority in this House. And if you reject that rationality you are saying to the people you can go where you wish.
I want to say this, that in the decision, regarding Standing Order 85, there was, part of our history, a protracted struggle, by which we recognise that this Parliament should not be a rancorous forum, that all the parties need to work together in a Parliamentary Management Committee - how to run this Parliament as a deliberative and participatory forum. Having parity between the Opposition and the Government on a committee to manage the affairs of this Parliament is the least of political duty and obligation that we owe the Guyanese people that we could behave and run the institution as wisely and with cooperation as we could in all circumstances.
However, there were specific agreements that had been arrived at when our country had been caught in the flows of civil war and, perhaps, irretrievable destruction after the elections of 1997, when we had as a collective experience of the Guyanese people subjected to consultation and dialogue that resulted first in the Herdmanston Accord and later the St. Lucia Statement in which, not only the then President had to cede a part of her term in governance, but also to commit to a programme of consensus building and cooperation, in keeping with article 13 of our Constitution that required us to work together - all political parties and social organisations - for the well-being of our people on the basis of these very consultations and consensus building.
To say that we have just arrived by some form of compromise on the status quo continuing is not accurate. It was an imperative that grew out of struggles and the experience of our people that we have to be able to put a committee to run the affairs of this Parliament with parity on both sides. There is to be no unilateralism in the way Parliament should be managed and this should be the first example of when we will send a signal to the Guyanese people that the political actors can work together for the welfare of the people.
As regards to Standing Order 86, and I speak to the minority report, I do not say that the Alliance For Change claims credit for doing this. I ought not to have been singled out even if I had spoken, passionately, on the need for cooperation among the parties in the management of the Parliament. It was a joint desire of all the parties that we find common ground on a particular issue, so that there should be no equivocation and no reason for division on this issue. In Standing Order 86, we recall that the person who has just walked out of the House in anticipation of what I am about to say had claimed some filial relationship to something called proportionality and is taking this National Assembly to court in relation to how Committees should be composed on the basis that there was something called proportionality which had given the governing side an automatic majority and a right to have a majority in the Committees of the Parliament. Well the court made short shrift on that flawed argument on proportionality. The court wisely did not interfere with the sovereign exercise of the right of this Parliament to decide how its committees are to be comprised in accordance with its own rules. These rules, however, are the rules, which I have said, are not to be immutable because basically…
Sir, I recall, you said that we have things that we can go to after we would have been dismissed from here. I keep that in mind but I need to answer what I consider to be a mischief, a misrepresenting of what the majority on the Standing Orders Committee has decided, because it was a rational decision. In the old days we learned, Sir, in Politics 100, that the role of the Opposition is to expose, oppose and depose and in this Parliament I can see no other way in keeping with our democracy that one can oppose or one can expose if one does not become the watchdog of the rights of the people.
The Opposition theoretically is the alternative Government, but practically this Opposition is a Government in the Opposition benches because we have the majority of the people supporting us. That is the logic that dictates why this side must have more Members on the Committee than that side - the logic and dichotomy between a majority and a minority. That logic cannot be changed by tricky arguments. Also, Sir, by specific rules, specifically the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee dealing with natural resources, economic services, foreign relations and social services, what are they supposed to do in, keeping with the same Standing Orders that have been reformed? We had not changed the content of the direction, determined area of Government’s activity for scrutiny or specific examination. The Government cannot, as the old people will say, put a cat to watch milk. That is why there has to be a robust and vibrant Opposition to be able to put the Government under scrutiny on its policies. That is the rationality.
Request the assigned Ministers responsibilities for the sector to submit written or oral information, including Government documents and records about any specific area of Government policies and administration against… Do you want to put the majority over there to request of themselves to produce documents and policies when we have a situation in this country, Sir, where people ought to elect people to do things that are right, yet, we are setting up committees, inquiries and commissions almost every year to enquire what is wrong that this Government ought to do right? That is why there are all of those Commissions of Inquiry. Therefore in a country where the unemployment statistics is a state secret, the Government cannot be asked to scrutinise its own employment practices; where there is no Procurement Commission, this Government cannot be asked to scrutinise its own contracts and its own allocation. Therefore who should do it? It is the watchdogs for the people, the Opposition, which has a majority. These rules state that this Committee is to –
• “review existing legislation on government policy and administration for any of the sector;
• scrutinize government document, papers and records;
• visit any government activity or project in Guyana as agreed and arranged by the Sectoral Committee;
• in the discharge of their mandate to utilize the services of experts, specialists and other sources advice as the committee may determine;
• establish the timetable for the conduct of their work;
• submit periodic reports to the National Assembly on their work; and
• make recommendation to the Assembly on legislation or any other action that should be taken on matters falling within their purview.”
These are in relations to Ministers. These Parliamentary Sectoral Committees are specific and the composition of these committees in a rational way, we felt, ought not fall as victims to the Government; a minority Government.
In seeking to amend the Standing Order regarding the composition of the Parliamentary Sectoral Committees we felt that it was the right thing to do because it was in keeping with the nature of the revolutionary and progressive democracy we want to build that there should be full scrutiny of Government activities and that these Committees should have a majority of Opposition Members. Therefore the format has to change. When the Government had a majority, at one time, the Members dominated; they took the votes and placed themselves in the majority on the Committees. Now we believe that we are holding their feet to the fire and we are demanding accountability and we are questioning corruption, in which persons such as Mr. Ramkarran and Dr. Joey Jagan have described as pervasive. There is every reason, Sir, why we should have a reversal of what existed. A status quo situation was not, in fact, in relation to these committees being in a status quo situation.
In keeping with the same position, taking on proportionality, the proportion had moved; the arithmetic had moved in favour of the Opposition benches and therefore you cannot cede your numbers to a minority and so that is the imperative under which we acted. I fully support the decision taken in the committee. I support and endorse the report and I reject the minority report as being what it is - a minority report. [Applause]
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