Speaker blocks questions on house rentals for ministers

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$500,000 rent package

In a surprise decision, Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, has disallowed a list of questions from the Opposition on Friday. These questions, had they been presented, sought information on the rental of buildings for government

Speaker of the House, Dr Barton Scotland

ministers.

The Opposition, in presenting the questions, noted that the issue is pertinent in the wake of recent revelations that a house was being rented for Junior Minister of Natural Resources, Simona Broomes, for $500,000 a month.

In addition, these payments were being made from the Parliamentary Office, and were outside of the housing allowance that is usually granted. This revelation had prompted significant backlash from the public.

House Speaker Dr Scotland acknowledged that the tabling of the questions satisfied certain stipulations of the Standing Order (18) regarding oral questions without notice, and that the topic was an important one, but he nevertheless announced that he was disallowing the questions on the basis of time and place.

“The question is one which is important. The question has attracted comments far and wide, and certainly it continues to attract comments and attention,” the speaker said. “But the question must be urgent and related to the business of the day. On those two counts, I have therefore disallowed this question.”

The questions

The questions which were put to the Speaker by former Attorney General Anil Nandlall had called on Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo to provide information on the circumstances surrounding the “administrative decision” that was taken to rent accommodation for junior and senior ministers.

It also enquired into the limit on the amount of rent that could be paid, and the factors taken into account before making this decision.

In addition, Nandlall had planned to enquire into whether accommodation would still be rented if the minister already owned property in the city.

Additional questions for Nagamootoo had included: “Are ministries also paying rental contracts for ministers’ residential accommodations? Is this policy guided by availability of financial resources? Would the minister inform the National Assembly of the number of residential accommodations which were or are currently being rented for ministers, and the rate of rental for each of those premises from May 2015 to date?”

Questions would have also been posed to Finance Minister Winston Jordan. These questions included inquiries into whether the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) or the Ministry of Finance had granted approval for these arrangements. Documents showing approval would have also been demanded to be provided to the National Assembly.

Back in May of 2017, Dr Scotland had disallowed the Opposition party’s motion on the removal of the unpopular Value Added Tax (VAT) on private education.

The motion was moved by Parliamentarian Priya Manickchand and submitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly on April 27. It was expected to come up for debate at the upcoming sitting the next month.

In June of 2017, the Speaker had also disallowed a request from the Parliamentary Economic Services Committee to conduct public forums focusing on the issue of Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo) downsizing.

The Committee had made its request since May 31, 2016 to conduct these public forums in Regions Three, Four, Five and Six on specific dates between June 7 and June 30th, 2017.

The request was made under Standing Order (95) 8, and the purpose of the public forums was to receive the views of the various stakeholders in the respective communities and prepare a report to be submitted to the National Assembly.

In a letter dated June 5 and addressed to Clerk of Committees, Letta Barker, the Speaker had said that a public forum did not seem appropriate for the Committee to undertake.