St Lucia Agreement goes into action

- Way clear for PNC MPs return

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
July 11, 1998

The National Assembly yesterday unanimously approved the Election Laws (Filling of Vacancies in the National Assembly) Bill 1998, after 53 minutes of discussion and two amendments to the published draft.

The Bill allows the PNC to extract the names of those persons, including those elected by the regional democratic councils, who lost their seats in the National Assembly, to be once again declared members of Parliament, if it so desires.

The Bill satisfies one component of the St Lucia Statement, signed during the CARICOM Summit by President Janet Jagan, PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte and CARICOM Chairman, St Lucia's Prime Minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, on July 2, in Castries, St Lucia.

Deputy Speaker, Martin Zephyr, presided over Friday's sitting in the absence of the Speaker, Derek Jagan SC, who is out of the country.

Persaud, who piloted the Bill through all of its stages, in a presentation which, he said, flowed from his heart, told the House that the Bill would be assented to in time for the Assembly to be convened on Wednesday, July 15, to allow the PNC parliamentarians to subscribe to the Oath and to take their seats in the House.

Persaud said that the government had introduced the legislation in keeping with its intention to make the Assembly a truly deliberative body.

He noted that the government had indicated to the PNC in writing its willingness to sponsor legislation to allow it to re-name the same members, when it was apparent that their seats would have been vacated as a result of their absence from the House.

With the presence of the PNC parliamentarians, Persaud said, he foresaw, "a deliberative parliament to foster ideas and advance the process of democracy for the overall well-being and welfare of the nation," and so contribute to the fulfilment of the nation's desire to see the country move forward.

He said: "Standing Committees will be established to permit full participation of members and there will be consultation to further strengthen our democracy.

"In fact, this very bill is evidence of the PPP/Civic government's commitment to broaden the democratic scope to allow full participation and to pursue the path of inclusion."

But, he said, the government's objective of satisfying the aspiration of the Guyanese people, could only be achieved by cooperation which he hoped would be forthcoming.

Noting that peace and stability was an essential pre-condition for development and attracting local and foreign investment, Persaud observed: "if we really and truly have the people's interest at heart, nothing will be done by anyone ... and particularly those of us who serve the National Assembly, to inhibit investors coming into the country to explore what we have got for the overall benefit of the nation."

Persaud said that he expected that the Bill would open up a new chapter in the history of the country "that will witness in the future rational, objective, legal, constitutional and lawful approaches in all matters."

He noted that in all parts of the world, dialogue was a most powerful weapon, when used advantageously; disagreement was a healthy sign and dissent welcomed. But he stressed that "...disagreement and dissent must not be allowed to descend to a level where any injury or harm will be done to the people of this country and the country as such."

Commending Stabroek News for its "excellent" editorial published Friday, the minister observed that the media had a significant responsibility to help promote democracy which was not confined to the narrow walls of the parliament chambers, but extended to every nook and cranny of the country.

"Criticism is welcome, provided it is objective but one must strongly condemn the media or anyone moving into the world of sensationalism and reporting which is not constructive and objective," Persaud said.

"Journalists must be respected. Their profession is risky whether as writers or photographers. They have an important role to play and we must develop a culture which takes into account all the facets which constitute true democracy."

Though both The United Force's (TUF), Manzoor Nadir, and Alliance For Guyana's (AFG), Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, supported the Bill, they differed on to the improvements in the functioning of the Parliament, since the PPP/Civic government came to power. But they were at one on the need for reform to allow Parliament to function more effectively.

Nadir said that he saw the Bill as historic only because it appeared to be the first step towards making the National Assembly more deliberative.

He said that in the past five years, Parliament had been merely a rubber stamp for Cabinet decisions. But, the TUF parliamentarian noted that if Parliament was to be fundamentally reformed, the PPP/Civic would have to change its approach to governance, lest the peace and stability the country needs, is put in jeopardy, not only by the PNC, but also by the other parties represented at the various levels of the government.

He said that the government should split the chairmanship of the standing committees between itself and the opposition in its efforts to create a new political culture. Also, he said, the government needed to reach out to those communities where it did not enjoy a representational majority, and pointed to its approach in Region Nine (Upper Essequibo/Upper Takutu) where the regional council is being led by TUF, as one which could only breed resentment.

Dr Roopnaraine on the other hand, said that the last Parliament was a significant improvement on previous parliaments though a lot still needed to be done.

He said that Guyana could lead the way in the function of regional parliaments by implementing reforms which would make the National Assembly an energetic watchdog of the executive arm of the government.

Noting that there were reforms which could be carried out ahead of constitutional reform, he suggested extension of the system of standing committees to include committees on poverty and crime. He said that these two areas could benefit from an all-party approach in finding solutions to the problems they present.

Dr Roopnaraine also supported the reintroduction of Members' Day, which he said had lapsed during the last Parliament.

Also, he stressed, peace and stability were not the only pre-condition for development and attracting investment. Other conditions just as critical, he said, were social justice and open and transparent government and equality of opportunity.

Dr Roopnaraine also recommended that with a Minority Leader now available for consultation, government should consider reviewing some of the decisions that had been made without the benefit of consultation with him.

Winding up the debate, Persaud reiterated that the Parliament, since the PPP/Civic came to office, had been reinvigorated and passion breathed into the Standing Orders.

He noted, while conceding that he was blowing the government's trumpet, that the records would show that the government had a proud parliamentary record, with its readiness to suspend the Standing Orders to debate matters of urgent public importance an indication of its willingness to respond to the concerns of the people. He stated that the government did not restrict its response to opposition questions only to Members' Day, but had answered all those which had made their way to the Order Paper. Persaud said that in reference to the need for social justice, equity and open and transparent rule, the government was committed to these ideals and had enacted legislation in an effort to ensure that they were achieved. More importantly, he said, the government was committed to supporting an orchestrated campaign for national unity.

Before the debate on the Bill, Zephyr read a statement prepared by the Speaker on the reasons why the seats of the 25 PNC parliamentarians had been vacated. He cited as a precedent, the fate of Dr Ganraj Kumar, whose seat in the Third Parliament was declared vacant by then Speaker of the Assembly, Sase Narain, JP, OR.

Dr Kumar was declared an elected member of the National Assembly after the 1973 elections. But at the eighth sitting of the House his seat was declared vacant as Dr Kumar had absented himself from seven consecutive sittings of the Assembly without leave of the Speaker, the statement by Speaker Jagan recalled. As a result,the statement said, Dr Kumar's seat was taken by Elinor Da Silva whose name was on the same list as his.

Also tabled yesterday, was the Proclamation signed by President Janet Jagan on June 29. The Proclamation made under Section 123(1) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, Chapter 8:02, declared that the provision of Title 10 shall be in force in the City of Georgetown. The Proclamation was tabled by Prime Minister Sam Hinds and went into force on June 29, even though information on it was not published until July 1.

Also, Human Services and Social Security Minister, Indra Chandarpal, tabled regulations made under the Co-operatives Societies Act (Cap 88:01) cited as the Co-operative Societies (Amendment) Regulations 1998, which came into force from July 8, 1998.