Hoyte knocks over law books - but GEC bill passed
by Michelle Elphage
July 30, 1999
THE Government majority yesterday passed a controversial Bill for the privatisation of the electricity sector, during which leader of the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC) Mr. Desmond Hoyte angrily knocked several law volumes to the floor.
The PNC also led a walkout from the Parliament chamber.
This was preceded by the banging of paper-weights and loud heckling by PNC members, during a 55-minute speech by Prime Minister Sam Hinds, who has responsibility for the power sector.
Mr. Hinds opened the debate on the Electricity Sector Reform Bill 1999, linked to the privatisation of the Guyana Electricity Corporation (GEC) in a joint venture with the CDC/ESBI consortium.
Hoyte, during the Prime Minister's speech, threw down several volumes of his set of the Standing Orders. The volumes fell in the divide of the House.
Only The United Force (TUF) stayed to register formal opposition to the Bill, since leader of the Alliance For Guyana (AFG), Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine also walked out with the PNC members.
"We want the agreement before the debate...Show us the agreement," was shouted over at Mr. Hinds, who continued speaking, though he could hardly be heard over the PNC babel.
Speaker Mr. Derek Jagan four times chided the opposition members about their conduct, warning that he might have to exercise his powers under the laws governing the House, and ask the hecklers to leave.
Jagan pleaded with members to behave with the decorum as prescribed in the Standing Orders, noting that the debate was being televised and children might be witnesses to "this kind of behaviour."
At one point, the Speaker was forced to his feet and had to repeat his interruption several times, as he could not be heard above the banging and shouting.
He eventually gave a stern warning to PNC member Mr. Andy Gouveia requesting him to "stop making that amount of noise."
Gouveia then got up and walked out, but the PNC members continued and Jagan again interrupted, telling members that if they did not want to listen to the Prime Minister's speech, they could go outside.
"I do not wish to name any more members," he cautioned.
It was then that Hoyte and several other PNC members left the chamber, returning some minutes later near the end of the Prime Minister's presentation.
The final walkout came after Jagan refused an amendment tabled by Roopnaraine to the motion for the second reading of the Bill.
The opposition parliamentarian was requesting that the debate be deferred to a date no later than 10 days after each member of the House was given copies of the deal the Government reached with the overseas investors for GEC, to "permit each member to take an intelligent interest in the debate."
Outside, Hoyte got out of his vehicle a block away from the Parliament buildings and led a group of picketers against the GEC privatisation legislation.
About mid-day yesterday, Police threw up steel barricades on streets ringing the Public Buildings, keeping out vehicles even before the start of the sitting at 14:00 hrs.
Several media personnel attending the Parliament and lawyers going to the Georgetown Magistrates Court, in the same vicinity, were forced to park their vehicles and walk to their places of business.
No afternoon session of Court was held.
"Our GEC needs much fixing immediately. Electricity supply in Berbice may get worse before it gets better", Mr. Hinds urged.
"There is need to proceed expeditiously. We have been at this task for well over three years," he told the House.
"We have a good partner in CDC/ESBI (Commonwealth Development Corporation and the Electricity Supply Board International of Ireland) who would deliver an electricity supply, not for free, maybe not what we may like to pay, but at the lowest possible sustainable prices and no one can do better than that."
"Altogether, there have been three years to study the Bills that were presented in 1997 and, based upon a process that I personally initiated in early March of this year, five months to study the amendments to the 1997 laws..."
Earlier this week, Hoyte had told reporters at the party's Georgetown headquarters, that if they cannot see the agreement and proposed licence that will be granted to the overseas investors, the party will not support the GEC bill.
But Mr. Hinds said although the Government has not been unmindful of calls for copies of the agreements and licences entered into with CDC/ESBI, the documents were not necessary to the passage of the Electricity or the related Public Utilities Commission Bill 1999.
"Those documents may be helpful, but they are not essential at this time for considering these bills...Whilst it is true that there is harmony between the bills and the agreements, the licence and schedules being developed...I hope that my presentation has shown that the bills can stand on their own, can be considered in their entirety and passed on their own standing during this session," the Prime Minister contended.
He promised that the agreements and the licences granted to CDC/ESBI will be laid in Parliament before they come into effect.
"When one considers the facts, it is pointless to talk about secrets. Licences have to be gazetted to come into effect and we are committed to laying the agreements in Parliament," Mr. Hinds said.
Minister of Housing and Water, Mr. Shaik Baksh, who also rose to back the Bill, said the Government is pursuing a "very dynamic" programme of privatisation since it entered office seven years ago.
"Nothing the opposition has done, including the walkout, will prevent this process from continuing to finality."
Outlining a number of benefits attached to the deal, Baksh said everyone stands to gain in the process.
He said there will be protection of employees who are to be carried over to the new company, and consumers will also be safeguarded.
"Privatisation is to ensure that people from all regions in the country benefit from a reliable supply of electricity," he argued.
TUF Leader, Mr. Manzoor Nadir, speaking briefly against the legislation, said it was sad that the opposition was not given all the information it needed to have informed consideration of the Bill.
"The buck must stop at Parliament. All those who have been elected to represent the people...this principled position with respect to fully participating in the debate puts the opposition at a serious disadvantage, without the agreements," Nadir contended.
He added his disappointment that the Bill will be "pushed through" without regard to the other members who have their constituencies to represent.
However, Mr. Hinds said it was not a question of arrogance on the part of the Government.
Rather it had to do with what is practical.
"How a negotiation can be carried through in a practical way. Those accusers when they look back and see the big change in the electricity sector...it is they who are arrogant," he said.
"We are not colonialists nor neo-colonialists...We find there are practical reasons, reasons of money, to go ahead and privatise the GEC."
Sask Power Incorporated of the Saskatchewan Canadian province pulled out of the GEC privatisation process last year amid PNC anti-government street demonstrations in Georgetown and violence and rising tensions.
The firm cited political instability as its main reason for withdrawing.
The three parliamentary opposition parties - the PNC, AFG and TUF - in 1997 walked out of parliament when a Bill to reform the electricity sector came up for debate.
Only one opposition Member of Parliament, Mr. Phillip Bynoe, of the PNC, broke ranks with his colleagues to support the legislation.
The bill was, however, passed with the government's support, since it only needed a majority backing to carry it through.
The opposition parliamentary parties walked out from a meeting with Mr. Hinds last weekend, to protest the withholding of key documents on the GEC privatisation.
Mr. Hinds said the meeting at his Georgetown office "adjourned quite early" after representatives of the PNC, AFG and the TUF indicated they "could not effectively consider" the imminent deal without additional information.
The documents detailing the agreement with the CDC/ESBI consortium will not be disclosed until the arrangement is closed, Mr. Hinds said.
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