Grabbing Speaker’s Mace: Privileges Committee must submit report on APNU/AFC MPs by June 1
The Privileges Committee of the National Assembly has been given the date of June 1, to submit its report on what sanctions, if any, should be taken against eight A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Members of Parliament who participated in the infamous mace grab of December 29, 2021.
Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira, who had moved the original motion to have the MPs taken to the Privileges Committee, on Wednesday last moved a new motion to have the deadline for the Committee to submit its report extended from February 24 to June 1, 2022.
It was explained in the motion that the committee’s work was unfinished due to the intense discussions between the committee members, who met three times since it started its work on February 18, 2022. The motion was subsequently passed on Wednesday by the National Assembly.
“And whereas the Committee of Privileges was mandated to enquire whether the named Members committed to the Committee of Privileges have violated any of the Standing Orders, Customs, Practices and/or Conventions of the National Assembly and to determine the sanctions available and can be applied by the National Assembly,” the motion reads.
“And whereas owing to intense discussions on the procedure to be followed with respect to the matters before the Committee, the Committee was unable to submit its report to the National Assembly within the required one month… the committee needs additional time to continue and conclude its work,” the motion further explained.
According to the Parliament of Guyana website, “Any matter which appears to affect the powers and privileges of the Assembly is referred to (the Privileges) Committee, whose duty is to consider any such matter and to report thereon to the Assembly.”
Back in January, Teixeira had moved a motion to have the eight Opposition parliamentarians – APNU/AFC’s Chief Whip Christopher Jones and MPs Annette Ferguson, Ganesh Mahipaul, Sherod Duncan, Natasha Singh-Lewis, Vinceroy Jordan, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley and Maureen Philadelphia – sent to the Committee, which is akin to a court.
A few days later, Teixeira and Opposition MP Khemraj Ramjattan were added to the membership of the Privileges Committee which would be determining the sanctions, if necessary, that would be applied to the eight Opposition parliamentarians accused of misbehaving in the National Assembly.
The Privileges Committee at the time had comprised Prime Minister, Brigadier (Retired) Mark Phillips; Attorney General Anil Nandlall; Culture, Youth and Sport Minister Charles Ramson Jr; MP Sanjeev Datadin; former Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson, and former Education Minister Nicolette Henry. Henry has since resigned from Parliament, with her seat taken by People’s National Congress Reform’s Volda Lawrence.
On December 29, APNU/AFC members protested the hearing of the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Bill, which they wanted to be sent to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee for review. Coalition MPs stood banging on their desks when the Bill was called up for debate and subsequently gathered in the pit of the dome of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), where National Assembly sittings are being held owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bill was eventually passed late in the evening, but not before the Opposition protest escalated into a physical confrontation with Parliament staff, after one of the MPs snatched the Parliament Mace from in front of the Speaker, Manzoor Nadir. In the process, the symbolic Mace was damaged. A new, smaller mace had to be produced by the Speaker.
Some Opposition MPs also went into the Control Room of the ACCC, where they ripped out connections for Internet and microphones, causing the live feed and virtual connections to be disrupted.
Moreover, Opposition parliamentarians have been accused of assaulting – both physically and verbally, including the use of racial epithets – the Personal Assistant to the Speaker, who was trying to protect the Mace. The Mace is the most integral part of the National Assembly’s setup, and if it is not in the House, no business can be conducted.