September 25, 2016

The Speaker is trampling on our freedom and dimming the light of democracy

Sadly, I have had to often write about the vulgar disregard that the Speaker of the National Assembly of Guyana has for Guyana’s democracy. He continuously tramples on the freedom and democratic rights of the people’s representatives, conducting the affairs of Parliament as an unabashed partisan and full member of APNU/AFC. The Speaker shamelessly manages parliamentary business as if he is the chief cook and bottle washer of APNU/AFC, making a total mockery of our democracy, dimming its light and sabotaging our freedom.

Consider the travesty last week during the consideration of a bill when voting resulted in a 32-32 tie between APNU/AFC and the PPP/C. Our Parliament, under its Standing Orders, and the Constitution, has clear rules declaring that a tie means the motion is defeated. There is no room for interpretation. Just in case, I re-checked the Standing Orders, even though I know the Standing Orders by memory because I chaired two Special Select Committee reviewing these Standing Orders and made several amendments.

This is what Standing Order 48 states: (1) Save as otherwise provided in the Constitution or in these Standing Orders all questions proposed for decision in the Assembly or in Committee shall be determined by a majority of the votes of the elected Members thereof present and voting. (2) The Speaker or any other Member presiding shall not vote unless on any Question the votes are equally divided, in which case, except as otherwise provided in the next paragraph, he or she shall have and exercise a casting vote. (3) A Speaker elected from among persons who are not Members of the Assembly shall have neither an original nor a casting vote and if, upon any question before the Assembly when such a Speaker is presiding, the votes of the Members are equally divided, the motion shall be declared lost.

The Standing Orders could not be clearer – in the absence of a majority, the motion is lost. Speaker Scotland cannot use his authority to break the tie since he is not a voting Member of Parliament.  It is illegal, a disgrace and an utter disregard for the Standing Orders for the Speaker to declare that the motion was passed. It is a vicious assault on democratic norms and rules and inflicts a serious wound on our democracy. Dr Scotland, by this action and by the way he has conducted the affairs of Guyana’s Parliament, has sunk to a shameless partisan depth and has taken our Parliament to a brazen and vulgar place equal to the most depraved management in the annals of Parliament anywhere anytime.

What made the action of Scotland most disgraceful is that the immediate former Speaker and Deputy Speaker were part of the collusion to seize the authority of the House. Mr Trotman, one of APNU/AFC’s 32 votes last week, was the Speaker before Dr Scotland, during the 10th Parliament. As Speaker, Trotman rightly declared motions defeated several times when the vote was tied, in accordance with the Standing Orders. He was absolutely right then, just as Scotland is absolutely wrong now.

Sabotaging Parliament is always a prime focus for dictators. APNU/AFC is intent on trampling the freedom and the authority of the Parliament as it reinforces authoritarian rule in the land. As we observe the 50th anniversary of our independence, the Speaker is doing all he can to remind us of the punishing period after independence that our people endured under a PNC dictatorship. Taking away the freedom of the Parliament after a rigged election represents a total abrogation of the democracy we fought for and won in 1992, and is a stark reminder of the post-independence period until 1992 when Cheddi Jagan and the PPP were muzzled in Parliament.

The problem is that by the time democracy was restored in 1992, Guyana was one of the most indebted countries in the world, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a poverty rate above 66 per cent, a GDP less than US$300 per capita, the worst infrastructure of any Caricom country, a collapsed economy and social indicators in education, health, housing, sanitation and nutrition that were last in Caricom and a life expectancy threatening to fall below 60. We are back on this familiar path as APNU/AFC tightens the noose and take total control of the Parliament, the Police, the Army, the public service. The coalition rules, not by the people’s mandate, but through a suffocating authoritarian rule, using the services of willing bottle washers.  (Send comments to doc_ram@hotmail.com)

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