Marathon debate on PNC/R motion

Guyana Chronicle
February 20, 2003

Related Links: Articles on politics
Letters Menu Archival Menu

AN ATMOSPHERE of cordiality prevailed in the National Assembly yesterday as members of the Government and Opposition parties in Parliament engaged in debate which lasted late into the night on a motion submitted by Leader of the main Opposition PNC/R, Mr. Robert Corbin.

According to Corbin, Guyana faces "a crisis of major proportions" and he suggested to the Government that emergency actions are needed now to address the effects of "this national crisis" facing the country.

"Our concern about the perilous state of our economy and the future of Guyana has motivated our actions here today," he told the sitting of the National Assembly which, like the previous occasion, was held at the Ocean View Convention Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, as repairs are continuing at Parliament Buildings.

"We are grateful that the Government has agreed to have the necessary Standing Orders be suspended to permit this motion to be taken to its finality today and I am glad that we are able to recognise that the issues raised in this motion are of serious concerns to all the people of Guyana," Corbin said.

He also expressed the hope that the Administration would not only listen but be prepared to act positively.

"Let there be no misunderstanding, however, of our presence here today", he said, urging the Government to address the issues that caused the PNC/R (People's National Congress Reform) to boycott Parliament since March 2002.

"Our presence here today is a fair demonstration of goodwill as we pursue our motto of putting Guyana first," the PNC/R Leader told the National Assembly.

Corbin's hour-long presentation highlighted the party's concern about escalating electricity rates, the functioning of the Police Force, unemployment, the role of Parliament, including its management, and the establishment of the Parliamentary Standing Committees, the issuance of licences for private radio stations, the implementation of decisions made in the Jagdeo/Hoyte dialogue and what the party sees as political interference in the public sector.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds, in response, said the PNC/R had failed to accurately analyse the issues and a number of resolutions called for by the party either missed the point, were impractical, or needed amendment.

The Prime Minister, however, accepted that there is "some merit to the motion" and that it provides for substantial debate.

He described the motion as "broad-based and sweeping".

Noting the PNC/R's concern for the economy, Mr. Hinds called on the party to urge their supporters not to lose hope but to work for development.

He noted that in this age of globalisation and trade liberalisation, markets are constantly being threatened which impacts not only Guyana but all countries competing in the world market.

The Prime Minister registered the Government's welcome to the PNC/R's return to Parliament and expressed the hope that the party will continue to honour its commitment and obligation to the use of Parliament as the highest forum for debate and discussion on the nation's issues.

An amendment to the motion in the name of the Prime Minister was also circulated in the National Assembly.

It stated that be it resolved that the National Assembly calls upon all parliamentary parties to take the following actions urgently:

** support the Government of Guyana to keep the pressure on Guyana Power and Light Inc (GPL) to conduct more efficiently and effectively operations so as to provide sustainable rates; to ensure regular briefings of the private sector, consumer associations, trade unions and political opposition and to promptly lay before this National Assembly all new agreements, memoranda and commitments which would have been entered into;

** sign on to the National Development Strategy and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper as part of the national plan to develop our country and to give support to the 2003 Budget as an annual expression of this plan;

** immediately establish a Disciplined Forces Commission, as provided for by our Constitution, to examine the structure, composition and functions of the Disciplined Forces and to make recommendations generally with a view to promoting their greater efficiency;

** collaborate fully with the Administration and participate fully in the monitoring and implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper which has as one of its objectives the reduction of unemployment in Guyana;

** establish the Parliamentary Management Committee as provided for in the St. Lucia Statement of 1998 to bring about meaningful change in the conduct of the business of the National Assembly within the spirit and letter of the said agreement;

** immediately implement the already agreed Constitutional Reforms including the appointment of the Service Commissions, the establishment of the Sectoral Committees, the Standing Committee on Continuous Constitutional Reform, and the Ethnic Relations Commission;

** support the Administration in its efforts to grant permission and issue licence for the establishment of private radio stations after the passage of Broadcast legislation;

** support the Administration in implementing all outstanding decisions, if any, made in the Hoyte/Jagdeo dialogue process; and

** support all efforts to create a democratic, unified and accountable trade union movement and support the Administration's efforts to improve the relationship with the union on the basis of the Guyana Public Service Union's commitments, respecting norms and laws governing industrial relations and its avoidance of political interference in the internal affairs of that union.

Mr. Hinds also spoke at length on the above issues, especially on the electricity situation.

Agriculture Minister, Mr. Navin Chandarpal said the national economy cannot improve unless there is an environment which allows for the full participation by all Guyanese.

"Unless we are able to have a proper approach and understanding towards uniting and involving our people, we would not be able to utilise the potentials that we have," he stressed.

He said, too, that the People's Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Government sees as critical, "the need for building trust" among the various stakeholders involved in moving Guyana forward.

In this regard, the Agriculture Minister urged the members of the National Assembly to work together, and that despite the several problems facing the country, to look to the future with confidence.

Ms. Sheila Holder of the Guyana Action Party-Working People's Alliance (GAP-WPA), stressed to the National Assembly the critical importance of building a culture of peace and trust in society. She also urged the Government to find more innovative and effective ways of dealing with the crime scourge which has plagued Guyana for almost a year now.

Holder, in her presentation, also made reference to the Government's approach to the economy and claimed that the Administration was not giving effect to the National Development Strategy (NDS).

Chandarpal said two things needed to be considered with regards to this view by Holder. "A total acceptance of the NDS would be dependent on the parliamentary process (for it to be finalised)...and, two, what we need to take into consideration is that while the NDS has not been finalised and fully adopted, many of the sectors are indeed guided by what is inside the NDS," he said.

Chandarpal noted that the agricultural sector is guided by many of the elements in the NDS.

He also spoke out against the merits of a proposal by the PNC/R that Ministers should not be on the Sectoral Committees.

Chandarpal also vigorously defended the Government's position to expand the sugar industry.

The motion by Corbin referred to the "serious difficulties in the rice industry (and) an uncertain future for the sugar industry", but Chandarpal indicated that although the sectors might be facing some difficulties due to various factors, including world market prices and inclement weather, the future of both industries remains bright.

"We have to recognise that with the high dependence that we have with these two major commodities, we cannot afford to take any steps that would lead to either a reduction in the production of these sectors or to allow them to become uncompetitive.

"That is why we have been approaching these sectors in essentially two directions. One, to be involved with other countries that have similar interests in order to deal with those challenges that relate to global impacts, and working together in terms of negotiations at the WTO (World Trade Organisation) level, working together within the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) groups to deal with challenges that are being posed by other countries, and working together within the countries of the CARICOM region to take some common approaches," the Agriculture Minister said.

He also noted that one area the Government was putting a lot of effort into at the moment is agro-processing which could lead to better income as well as more jobs.

Housing and Water Minister, Mr. Shaik Baksh, like the Prime Minister, spoke at length on the electricity sector, and bluntly stated that the current management contract of GPL needs to be terminated and a new contract worked out.

Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran also spoke glowingly about the late Leader of the PNC/R and former President, Mr. Desmond Hoyte at the start of yesterday's sitting.

A minute's silence was also observed for Mr. Hoyte who died on December 22 last.

Observing the opening session of yesterday's sitting were special Commonwealth envoy, Sir Paul Reeves and Mr. Chuks Ihekaibeya of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Site Meter