As the first sitting of the National Assembly in the 12th Parliament got underway on Tuesday, the Opposition APNU/AFC coalition staged a walkout in protest over the appointment of the representative of the Joinder List, Lenox Shuman, as the Deputy Speaker.
The coalition had nominated former Speaker Raphael Trotman for the post but in the end, it went to Shuman, who was nominated by the 33-seat majority PPP/C Government.
After not getting their way, the APNU/AFC parliamentarians staged a walkout, where returning Member of Parliament, Cathy Hughes, expressed the party’s dissatisfaction with the choice for Deputy Speaker.
“We’re most concerned and disappointed because I think that that was just another indication of the lack of willingness to work together and to be able to consider and to uphold some of the long-standing conventions that relate to the operation of the Parliament,” Hughes stated.
However, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira contended that while the Speaker traditionally comes from the Government, there is no specification as to which side of the opposition or which opposition party must take up the post of Deputy Speaker.
In fact, she reminded that it was the APNU/AFC – as combined Opposition parties before coalescing – that first broke that tradition in 2011 when they hijacked both posts from the then minority PPP/C Government.
“I want to remind Mrs Hughes, and the entire APNU/AFC, that post 2011 election… when we proposed, as the governing party, Mr Ralph Ramkarran to be Speaker, they defeated that motion and proposed instead Mr Raphael Trotman as Speaker. And when it came to Deputy Speaker, they proposed Deborah Backer. So it was the first time in the Parliament that the Opposition, or even the Government, had a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker,” the PPP/C Executive recalled.
It is for this reason, Teixeira, who has several years of parliamentary experience both as a Government and Opposition MP, pointed out that she will not accept any of the coalition’s “feeling of righteousness” on this issue.
“They are the ones who broke the tradition post the 2011 elections. And we have not broken the tradition, we have upheld it, the Government having the nominee (as Speaker) and also proposing the nominee (as Deputy Speaker) from the Opposition. So we are compliant with the tradition that the Opposition holds the Deputy Speaker and the Government holds the Speaker,” the Parliamentary Affairs Minister argued.
While speaking with reporters following her party’s walkout from the sitting on Tuesday, Hughes contended that the coalition should have gotten the Deputy Speaker post since it secured more votes than Shuman’s Liberty and Justice Party (LJP).
She further posited that Shuman’s advisory post in the new Administration could be a conflict of interest.
Dispel APNU/AFC claims
However, Shuman subsequently took to social media to dispel claims that his new role in the National Assembly will be a conflict of interest with his appointment as a Government advisor on the aviation sector. He reminded that his party is apart of a Joinder agreement with two other political parties – A New and United Guyana (ANUG) and The New Movement (TNM) – to make decisions as a collective in Parliament.
As such, he asserted that he cannot make any decisions on his own and will have to consult with his Joinder partners before voting or taking any decisions in the National Assembly. To this end, Shuman posited that there should be no conflict of interest because of his two positions.
“Advising the Minister of Public Works on aviation, that is a very technical advice that I offer. I don’t go out there and offer political advice on aviation so I don’t how that conflicts with a political agenda because our political movement is the Liberty and Justice Party, the New Movement and A New and United Guyana,” he explained.
Further, the newly-elected Deputy Speaker went on to say that he intends to work with all the political parties to ensure that all of Guyana moves forward. He even pointed to the fact he joined the coalition MPs in voting for its nominee, Joseph Harmon, as Opposition Leader.
“I hope that my colleagues in the Opposition don’t just continue with this position… and that we can all work together in the interest of Guyana,” Shuman further contended.
Together, the Joinder parties secured one seat in the National Assembly and will be taking up the position on a rotation basis with Shuman serving the first term. (G8)