…”will honour all my responsibilities”
…Volda Lawrence returns to parliamentary Opposition
People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Leader Aubrey Norton has officially been appointed as the country’s newest Opposition Leader, replacing Joseph Harmon who only served in that capacity for less than two years.
Norton was elected as Opposition Leader on Wednesday, following his swearing-in as a Member of Parliament (MP) by Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, under the watchful eyes of Speaker of the House, Manzoor Nadir.
Both he and long-time PNCR member Volda Lawrence were sworn in as new parliamentarians following the controversial resignations of former Opposition Leader Harmon and former Education Minister Nicolette Henry.
In his first interview with the media as the newly-minted Opposition Leader, Norton made it clear to reporters that his party would continue to represent the people and scrutinise the Government in Parliament.
“I feel good to be chosen, not only to represent our people but to be Leader of the Opposition at this stage… we are elected to represent the people, scrutinise the Government, push for transparency, ensure accountability, we are going to do just that,” Norton said following his appointment.
“There are a number of priorities: the first priority has to be to ensure we hold the Government accountable, to ensure we scrutinise what the Government is doing, and to ensure we go out into the villages and communities and understand the concerns of the people and to represent them,” Norton said when asked about his top priorities in the new position.
Asked if he would push for an engagement with President Dr Irfaan Ali and his Government, Norton expressed, “in keeping with the Constitution, I will honour all the responsibilities of the Leader of the Opposition”.
In terms of changes to the Opposition benches, Norton said that there was likely to be a shifting around of shadow ministerial functions. For instance, a new shadow education minister will be announced.
Meanwhile, Lawrence emphasised that her wish to serve her party guided her decision to re-enter the parliamentary fray. According to her, her party called on her to serve and she answered that call.
“It feels good to be back, to be once again given the opportunity to represent people, especially people who don’t have a voice. And also to be able to be involved in the development of our country, even though it’s at the legislative level,” Lawrence said.
Norton said that Lawrence was recalled because of the contributions and experience she could bring in the arena of finance, economics and accounts.
Prime Minister, Brigadier (Retired) Mark Phillips has already made it clear that the Government was ready to work with the new Opposition Leader, expressing during his contribution to the 2022 Budget debates that, “we are ready to work with whoever is appointed or elected Leader of the Opposition in the interest of Guyana…what we ask in return is for the new Leader of the Opposition to accept the legitimacy of our Government. This is a government that was elected by the people of Guyana”.
Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo had also revealed that the Head of State was hoping to meet soon with the new Opposition Leader on the reinstation of a number of constitutional service commissions.
Harmon, who had stepped down as Opposition Leader on January 26 this year following mounting pressure from the new PNC Executive, had initially planned to remain an MP, but last month announced his resignation from the House.
Harmon had contested for leadership of the PNCR, but lost to Norton who won by a landslide victory. David Granger, who was the immediate past Leader of the PNCR, did not contest for re-election. In fact, neither Harmon nor Granger was elected to the Central Executive Committee of the PNC – the highest decision-making body of the party.
Lawrence has been accused of electoral fraud, and has since been charged following the March 2020 elections. It is alleged that on March 5, 2020, with intent to defraud, Lawrence uttered a report purporting to be a true declaration of all votes cast in District Four for the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, knowing same to be forged.
The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition accounts for 31 of the 32-seat parliamentary Opposition, while the joinder list, comprising A New and United Guyana (ANUG); the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) and The New Movement (TNM), occupies the remaining seat.
The governing People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) holds a one-seat majority in the 65-seat House, having won 33 seats. (G3)