Natural Resource Fund Bill passed amid “disruptive” and “thuggish” Opposition behaviour – Ashni Singh

Chaos erupted in the National Assembly on Wednesday evening after the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition began disrupting the proceedings after the Natural Resource Fund Bill was brought up for debate.

Government Members of Parliament form a shield around Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh as he presented the Natural Resources Fund Bill in Parliament on Wednesday evening. This was after Opposition MP’s attempted to disrupt his presentation. In set are photos of the Opposition MPs’ disruption of Wednesday’s proceedings

The Opposition’s behaviour, which was described as “disruptive” and “thuggish” by Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh, escalated into a commotion at the Speaker’s table when coalition Member of Parliament (MP), Annette Ferguson snatched the Parliament Mace that was on the Speaker’s desk.
The crowded scuffle between Opposition MPs and Parliament staff was dragged outside the Dome of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), where National Assembly sittings are being held owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, and staff of the Parliament were successful in getting possession of the Mace, but not without being assaulted by the Opposition members.
Wednesday’s events unfolded with a protest action outside the ACCC, where Opposition supporters and other stakeholders were protesting against the NRF Bill, which has received widespread support from civil society despite being criticised by some quarters.
The National Assembly went on with its business, debating the Local Content Bill that was passed late Wednesday afternoon after hours of rigorous debates.
The session was suspended for a short break and when the sitting resumed, Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones requested that the NRF Bill be sent to a Special Select Committee to allow for “wide consultation”.
However, House Speaker Manzoor Nadir denied the request and called on Senior Minister with Responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh, to move a motion for the second reading of the NRF Bill. At this point, the Opposition MPs immediately stood up in protest and began hitting their desks.
Having recognised that 18 Opposition MPs were protesting, Speaker Nadir asked that the Opposition Chief Whip control his MPs.
But the Opposition continued with its disruptive behaviour and some members even whipped out placards.
This prompted the Speaker to order coalition MPs – Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, Sherod Duncan, Ronald Cox, Ganesh Mahipaul and Annette Ferguson – to withdraw from the Assembly.
The Speaker then went on to call on Minister Singh to proceed with his motion, but then the Opposition parliamentarians moved from their seats and gathered on the floor of the ACCC Dome, shouting slogans.
As a result, Speaker Nadir was forced to adjourn for more than an hour as the Opposition continued protesting. When the session resumed, Minister Singh began his presentation, but was greeted with the sounds of whistles which the Opposition MPs were using to interrupt him. In fact, they had gone as far as surrounding the Finance Minister on the opposite side of the room.
However, Government MPs quickly rushed to the aid of Dr Singh, who continued with his presentation even with the coalition MPs literally in his face blowing whistles. Eventually, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) MPs were able to form a human barricade around the Finance Minister as he continued with his presentation.
It was during this that Ferguson snatched the Mace off the Speaker’s table.
Even though his voice was constantly and continually drowned out by the Opposition members who were chanting and blowing whistles, Minister Singh was able to complete his presentation.
The Finance Minister reminded that the APNU/AFC Administration “forced” its Natural Resource Bill with “indecent haste” through the Parliament at a time when it had fallen to a successful No-Confidence Motion less than a month prior.
“They rushed through the Parliament, this Natural Resource Fund Bill which is now the Natural Resource Act. And when you examine that act, you get to understand the true reason why they rushed it,” he stated.
According to Dr Singh, glaring among these is the sweeping powers that were bestowed on the Finance Minister in the coalition’s Natural Resource Bill.

Minister Singh pointed out that the PPP/C Government has reversed this by presenting Natural Resource Fund legislation that allows for oil revenues to be insulated from political manoeuvring.
The PPP/C’s NRF legislation caters for the establishment of a Board of Directors to manage the country’s oil revenues.
“We came to seek parliamentary approval for the Natural Resource Fund Bill – a Bill that very substantially resembles theirs. As a matter of fact, about 21 clauses we preserved. Despite their flaws, we didn’t want to discard entirely what they brought to Parliament… But we addressed and corrected the most egregious and offensive of the clauses… the obscene ministerial overreach, etc, we addressed those.”
“Do you know why they want to delay the Natural Resource Fund Bill, no other reason than that this Bill, once enacted, will enable the utilisation of Guyana’s oil revenues to advance and accelerate Guyana’s development agenda, and they don’t want that accelerated development agenda to take place,” the Minister contended.
Nevertheless, just after the Finance Minister wrapped up his presentation and the process to commence the passage of the NRF Bill started, the live-stream feed was cut.
Speaker Nadir informed the House that the Control Room was disrupted. It is unclear whether this was a deliberate act.
Nevertheless, while the Speaker proceeded with the process to pass the Bill, the Opposition Members walked out of the Dome.
The NRF Bill was eventually passed. In fact, the House continued with the rest of the items on the agenda during which the livestream connection was restored.
Meanwhile, at the close of Wednesday’s National Assembly session, Deputy Speaker and Opposition MP, Lenox Shuman, who had joined the proceedings virtually, sought to distance himself from the events that transpired.
Shuman called the behaviour of the APNU/AFC MPs “unparliamentary”, saying that it does not set a good example for the nation.
“Leadership in itself should take a better course in resolving conflict and addressing longstanding parliamentary procedures and the constitutionality of Parliament itself,” Shuman stated. (G8)