PNC/R walks out of Parliament over Doodnauth Singh's appointment

Guyana Chronicle
June 16, 2001

OPPOSITION and People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte led a walkout of his party's parliamentarians from the National Assembly yesterday afternoon over the appointment of Mr. Doodnauth Singh as the new Attorney General.

Mr. Singh, a distinguished Senior Counsel, recognised in Guyana and around the Caribbean, was sworn in as a technocrat Cabinet Minister yesterday by President Bharrat Jagdeo in the presence of President of the Guyana Bar Association, Ms. Anande Trotman, Senior Counsel, Mr. Rex McKay and other lawyers and others.

But Hoyte and his party members turned their backs on the new Attorney General as he rose to take his oath as a Member of Parliament.

The PNC/R MPs, in a statement, said their walkout from Parliament was "an initial response" to Singh's appointment which it called "an unhealthy development in our governmental affairs."

They claimed the government was undermining the process of dialogue now in progress, with the appointment.

The PNC/R called the appointment "an affront to the people of Guyana and the international community."

It accused Singh of "unprofessional conduct whilst being the Chairman of the Elections Commission" and said his "unilateral declaration of the results of the December 15, 1997 elections is notorious throughout the region."

The main Opposition party also referred to remarks attributed to Singh when it sought to block the swearing-in of Mrs. Janet Jagan as President after the December 1997 elections and said his alleged statement then was "heinous".

It also accused Singh of "unethical conduct in appointing himself Counsel for the Elections Commission when he was the Chairman and also named as a respondent in the 1997 elections petition matter" and said this was "an embarrassment to members of the legal profession."

It called the appointment a retrograde step and an insult to the intelligence and good sense of the Guyanese people.

"That the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana should even have considered Mr. Doodnauth Singh for such an appointment is a reflection of his thinking and his personal contempt for the Guyanese people", the PNC/R contended.

President slams PNC/R statement

By Mark Ramotar

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday slammed a statement issued by the Opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) which he said "totally distorts" what is going on in the country and attempts to say things he did not say.

The President spoke to reporters at the Office of the President yesterday in an effort to put the statement by the PNC/R "into perspective".

The PNC/R stated that President Jagdeo, at a meeting Wednesday with small business people/street vendors, reportedly said he would "disregard protocol (and) disregard all those little petty rules that are there".

According to the PNC/R statement, "If Mr. Jagdeo is of the view that he is not bound by the Constitution or any other law, can ignore or override the law at will, or can `freely intervene' in any area in which he is not empowered by law, then (PNC/R) will have to take all appropriate action to bring him to an understanding of his limitations and keep him within the confines of the rule of law."

In responding, President Jagdeo said he was finally happy that the PNC/R recognised that the essence of a democratic state and a well-ordered society was that all citizens from the President down are required to respect and uphold the law.

"I am glad that finally the PNC has realised this and I hope that it will lead to a pattern of behaviour that respects and upholds what they have written in the statement," the Guyanese Head of State said.

"I think what is problematic with the PNC and why they are responding in such a way is because of what I said at the City Council..."

"I said and I still stand by it - that I will disregard protocol and I will disregard all the petty rules that are there, bureaucratic rules which will prevent me from dealing with the problems of the people of this country and I will continue to do that."

"I see they are not very happy with it and (they feel) that I should operate within the framework of the Municipal Laws and I think that in spite of what they have been saying quietly to the vendors that the Government must do something...they are not happy with the steps that I have taken", the President said.

Mr. Jagdeo also said he wants the vendors to know that although the PNC advocates that it is sympathetic to the cause of the vendors when he acted, they are now saying he should have acted within the confines of the municipal laws and that this is a municipal problem.

"Well, I don't feel that it is just a municipal problem," President Jagdeo said.

"It affects people of the country...vendors have a right to make a living and I think the Central Government and my Government will ensure that that happens and will work along with the City Council on this matter."

The President also pointed out that there have been other attempts to distort what he had said.

"I see some of the news programmes say we should disregard what the court said...what I actually said is that the courts of Guyana should take cognisance of the agreements reached between all the parties and the Central Government to resolve this issue when they make a ruling."

President Jagdeo contended that the PNC statement showed the true nature of the party.

He also noted that he reserved the right to intervene and solve the problems of all the people of this country.

"I do not believe that a certain section of this population belongs to the PNC...they are behaving as though a certain part of the population belongs to them and only they can speak or represent issues on behalf of that section of the population."

"Every single citizen has the right to have his problem resolved by elected representative of all the people of this country and I will behave that way," President Jagdeo declared.

"If it's the vendors, and they have a problem I will deal with it and if it's the bauxite workers then I have to deal with their problems too; and whether it's people in Albion, Linden or any other part of the country, I will deal with their problems..."

President Jagdeo also pointed out that the City Council had a choice whether to enforce the law for the removal of the vendors or to give them a grace period.

"We had an agreement with the City Council, the Central Government and the vendors, in an effort to seek a permanent solution," he said.

According to President Jagdeo, the vendors will be moved and in about three months the necessary facilities to accommodate them should be in place so that they can continue earning a living.

The original ruling of the court would have been respected and the City Council would have had their problems solved, he pointed out.

"This allows a win for is not disrespectful to the courts in any way because courts are grounded in societies and they have to help solve people's problems too."

He also noted that courts normally take cognisance of agreements reached outside of the court and "in this case" there was an agreement outside of the court on how the issue can be settled.

The matter, however, is still being heard in court.

But according to the PNC/R, President Jagdeo is not above the law and cannot disregard the law when it suits him.

It said the President has no power to order the transfer of Policemen or interfere in the operational command of the Police Force.

According to the PNC/R, this power is vested in the Commissioner of Police exclusively under the provisions of the Police Act Chapter 16:01.

The PNC/R was referring to the President's visit to East Berbice last week, amid violence and anti-crime protests which led to the transfer of Police ranks from the Albion Police Station.

But President Jagdeo pointed out that he had discussions with the Police Commissioner before he met the residents of Albion.

According to him, these transfers had already been agreed to by the Police Commissioner even before he (Mr. Jagdeo) spoke with the crowd at Albion.

"...some of the transfers at the Albion Police Station took place even before my visit there," he said. "I go to my meetings prepared," he pointed out.

The PNC/R also said that President Jagdeo has no power to issue firearm licences which under the Firearms Act Chapter 16:05 is vested in the prescribed officer who is "the police officer for the time being in command of the police in that division and any police officer under his command not below the rank of assistant superintendent".

The party said too that it has noted with "amazement the inane response" by the Office of the President to what its leader Mr. Desmond Hoyte had to say at his recent press conference on the question of extra-judicial killings by members of the Police Special Target Squad, popularly known as the `Black-Clothes Police'.

Hoyte, in a statement at the press conference on June 12, accused President Jagdeo of acting illegally in ordering the transfer of policemen, promising to give firearm licences to certain persons and undertaking to organise armed vigilante groups.

The Office of the President, however, clarified that the President "reserves the right to freely intervene and address the concerns of any and all Guyanese".