…session marred by major disruptions from APNU/AFC MPs
…as Speaker suspends 7 of them
The National Assembly on Thursday afternoon passed the $383.1 billion 2021 Budget in the absence of the APNU/AFC Opposition Members of Parliament, who disrupted the examination of Budget Estimates resulting in several of them being suspended for the day.
As House Speaker Manzoor Nadir attempted to proceed with what was supposed to be Day 3 of the Consideration of the Budget Estimates for the various Government Ministries, he was forced to suspend the morning session shortly after it started.
This was after the APNU/AFC members began to bang on their desks after their demands for Government MP Minister Kwame McCoy to be removed were not immediately dealt with.
On Wednesday, an allegation surfaced that Minister McCoy reportedly assaulted Opposition MP Tabitha Sarabo-Halley – something the Minister vehemently denied.
Speaker Nadir had indicated that the Opposition needed to bring a proper motion on the issue, for which he would set aside time to hear, but the APNU/AFC members were not satisfied.
In fact, Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones reinforced that the APNU/AFC female MPs are “uncomfortable” with McCoy’s presence in the Assembly, and threatened that they would not proceed with the consideration of estimates unless he is “removed from the precincts of the National Assembly”.
However, Government Chief Whip Gail Teixeira objected to this, calling it “out of order”, since it was not raised at the appropriate time; that is, under the ‘Personal Explanation’ slot.
“If the members want to bring a motion, they can at the appropriate time and with appropriate procedures. But this should be totally rejected. The other side cannot ask for the removal of a member, especially when there is a lot of doubt and questions about what happened yesterday,” Teixeira contended.
She also reminded that it was the Opposition which had announced that there is a Police investigation ongoing into the incident.
Speaker Nadir agreed with the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, and outlined that the rules explicitly state the procedure to be adopted. He also informed the Opposition that they are supposed to indicate to him beforehand, via the Clerk of the National Assembly, that they intend to make a personal explanation.
Nevertheless, he told the Opposition that they can bring a motion to the House on the issue, and as he was about to dissolve the Assembly into the Committee of Supply to resume the consideration of the budget estimates, the Opposition MPs stood up and started to bang on their desks loudly.
Speaker Nadir twice requested that they take their seats so that he could rule, but to no avail. He went on to rule that, “the Opposition can bring a motion, for which I am going to set a time later today to be heard.”
But his ruling was drowned out by the loud uproar in the Assembly, thus forcing him to suspend the sitting.
That suspension lasted for some three hours, and when the session eventually resumed in the afternoon hours, the Opposition Members continued with their disruptive behaviour.
The Speaker, nevertheless, proceeded with examination of the budget estimates, but this was being drowned out by persistent disturbances.
During this time, Speaker Nadir requested MP Jones, on several occasions, to have his members cease the disruption.
“Honourable Member Mr Jones, I am asking once again that all the Honourable Members which are standing please be seated,” the Speaker expressed.
The Opposition members, however, refused to take their seats, and continued banging on their desks, thus resulting in the Speaker suspending the Opposition Chief Whip from the day’s proceedings.
“Honourable Member Mr Jones, I called on you three times, three times to take your seat, along with the Members who are standing. At this point, Honourable Member Mr Jones, you are going to be suspended for the rest of the sitting,” Speaker Nadir said.
Following that encounter, the House Speaker continued with the consideration of the estimates in spite of the noise being made by the Opposition Members.
The Speaker later suspended APNU/AFC member MP Sherod Duncan after he was caught recording the proceedings even after parliamentarians were warned against such actions.
“Honourable Member Mr Duncan, I have already stated that filming in the House is not permitted. I will now have to suspend you for the rest of the sitting. Can you please turn your recording device off,” the Speaker ordered.
Moreover, APNU/AFC Parliamentarians Jermaine Figueira, Vinceroy Jordan, Natasha Singh-Lewis and Amanza Walton-Desir also faced the same fate as Duncan as they, too, were caught recording the Assembly.
Opposition Member Shurwayne Holder was also suspended after he, too, repeatedly refused to take his seat after being asked three times.
During all this, Opposition MPs were persistently hitting on the desks loudly even as the Speaker went ahead with the consideration of the estimates. This forced Speaker Nadir to invoke Standing Order 75 (3), which gives him the power to consolidate the current and capital expenditures for the various programmes and sub-heads under each Ministry, thus allowing the Committee of Supply to go through the entire budget for each agency rapidly without interruption.
However, those efforts were drowned out by the disturbances from the Opposition side of the aisle, which continued for nearly 30 minutes before Coalition MPs finally walked out of the Dome of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), where the parliamentary sitting was being held.
2021 National Budget
Following a short adjournment, the Assembly approved the 2021 National Budget on Thursday afternoon.
The PPP/C Government presented the $383.1 billion 2021 Budget, themed “A Path to Recovery, Economic Dynamism and Resilience”, on February 12. It is the administration’s second budget in six months and its first full-year budget. This was followed by a week-long fiery debate by MPs from both sides of the House and the commencement of the Consideration of the Budget estimates on Tuesday, which was initially slated to run for five days.
Senior Minister with responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh, has since expressed his disappointment with the behaviour of the Opposition Members of Parliament during what he describes as a critical stage in the budgetary process.
“It’s very unfortunate that they withdrew and opted not to participate in the second half of the process,” Dr Singh said during an interview immediately after the passage of the 2021 National Budget this afternoon. He added, “The second half of the budget debates, which is the consideration of the budget estimates, is a critical part of the budget process because it allows the entire Parliament to scrutinise the detailed expenditure allocations, to ask questions, to provide answers and explanation – which are very important for purposes of public information and making sure that people understand what is in the budget in detail that the Budget speech doesn’t really capture.
“We were going through this process and, in my mind, this process was going very well. They were asking questions and we were providing answers. I really feel strongly that this is a very important part of the budget. It is very unfortunate that the Opposition chose to withdraw themselves from the latter part of the consideration of the estimates, thereby denying the Guyanese people to learn more at a detailed level what is in the budget.”
Meanwhile, at a subsequent press briefing at his Ministry, the Finance Minister noted that much work had been put into the crafting of the Budget, with major contributions coming from large sections of society.
Dr Singh also stated that crafting of the Budget involved ‘tremendous work’ by the staff of the Ministry of Finance as well as Cabinet, which led ultimately to its conclusion prior to being presented to Parliament.
He recalled that many stakeholders, following consultations with Government and their perusal of the Budget, had stated publicly that the 2021 Budget included a wide range of initiatives intended to move forward the development agenda in Guyana, and that it was expected to benefit all sections of the country.
Further, the Minister said he was immensely grateful to all who contributed to preparation, consideration, and approval of the Budget.
“Special thanks to the technical staff of the Ministry of Finance and all other Government agencies, Parliament Office, the Guyana Police Force, and the media… and, of course, special thanks to the thousands of citizens and other viewers who tuned in to the proceedings over the past few weeks,” Dr Singh posited. (G8)