PNC ends Parliament boycott

By Michelle Elphage
Guyana Chronicle
July 16, 1998

PEOPLE'S National Congress (PNC) leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte yesterday ended an almost five-month PNC boycott of Parliament heading elected party members to take their seats in the National Assembly.

He marched down Brickdam to Parliament Buildings with hundreds of supporters from the 1763 Monument Square just after mid-day.

As Hoyte, in a shiny charcoal grey suit, and his Members of Parliament entered the Parliament buildings, supporters on the opposite side of the street, with Police ranks standing by, cheered and held several placards aloft.

The sitting of an almost packed House presided over by Deputy Speaker, Mr. Martin Zephyr started at 2:07 p.m. with Hoyte taking the oath about 10 minutes later.

Former Prime Minister under the PNC Government, Dr Ptolemy Reid was in attendance along with several other backers of the main opposition party.

Twenty-two of the 25 PNC members took their oath and Zephyr announced that leave from the sitting was granted to PNC member Mr. Neaz Subhan.

Two others named on the PNC list after the December 15 elections, Mr. Winston Murray and Mr. Loris Ganpatsingh were absent.

Mr. Dunstan Barrow who sits next to Hoyte in the House, has been returned as the party's Chief Whip for the 7th Parliament.

Others in the front row were Ms. Clarissa Riehl, Mr. Kadim Khan, Dr Faith Harding, Mr. Lance Carberry and Mr. Ivor Allen.

Party General Secretary, Mr. Aubrey Norton sits in the second row of the opposition benches with Attorneys-at-Law, Ms. Deborah Backer and Mr. Raphael Trotman, Mr. John Simon DeFreitas, Dr Dalgeish Joseph, Ms. Cyrilda DeJesus and Mr. Andy Gouviea.

Eight of the PNC MPs have been returned from the last Parliament.

The National Assembly is to meet again Thursday and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud told the Chronicle that the issue of constitutional reform is likely to come up for discussion.

"We will honour every element of the St. Lucia Statement and the Herdmanston Accord, especially where the legislative process is concerned," Persaud said.

He said that after yesterday's sitting he spoke with Barrow and as is usual, will consult with the other parties for next week's sitting.

"Constitutional reform will have top priority," he stressed.

Police said the PNC march to Parliament buildings was incident-free and some supporters headed up Brickdam in the direction of the 1763 Monument Square at the close of yesterday's sitting.

The St. Lucia Statement signed by President Janet Jagan and Hoyte on July 2, was laid in the House yesterday by Foreign Minister, Mr. Clement Rohee who also tabled the Protocol amending the Treaty establishing the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) (Protocol II).

Minister of Finance, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo moved several financial motions, including one to increase the airport travel tax from $1,500 to $2,500.

"The Government now has to take the lead in making Parliament more authoritative,", Mr. Manzoor Nadir, leader of The United Force (TUF) said after yesterday's sitting.

He said now that the hurdle of the PNC entering Parliament has been crossed, the next step would be to make the Assembly more deliberative.

"We have to give Parliament some authority now...the oversight that Parliament can have over the functions of Government, how we can move to amend the Standing Orders (the rules of Parliament) so that we can have vibrant committees...and that the Opposition will have the opportunity to help important committees so that we can have another check in the system of Government", he said.

The Minority parliamentarian said that with two strong ethnic groups in the country, there will always be charges of victimisation, discrimination and political favouritism, but added that the solution would be to broaden the functions of Parliament.

"Parliament cannot be seen to be just a rubber stamp," he said.

"This means that we have to look at parliamentarians being full-time people...and that persons can identify with those who are elected to represent them."

The TUF, Nadir said, has not yet put forward parliamentary reform proposals but will soon be doing so.

General Secretary of the People's Progressive Party (PPP), the main partner in the governing PPP/Civic alliance, Mr. Donald Ramotar said while he welcomed the return of the PNC to Parliament, he thought the march by the Minority party was a bit "uncalled for."

But, looking at the way forward, he hoped the PNC will now be raising the concerns it has in Parliament, "the right forum for this."

"We were always of the position that the PNC, if they were interested in constitutional reform, they are now in the right place to raise those issues," Ramotar said.

He noted that the Government has been committed to constitutional reform since the 1992 elections, pointing out that the process was started in the last Parliament.

"We now hope that they (PNC) will take this matter seriously and work expeditiously so that we can meet the deadline," Ramotar contended.

"The deadline is not only our responsibility, it's the responsibility of all the parties in Parliament."

The St. Lucia Agreement, an extension of the Herdmanston Accord signed by the President and Hoyte in January, reiterates that a Constitution Reform Commission is to submit its report to Parliament by July 16, 1999.