PNCR seeks parliament debate on GPL, range of issues
By Patrick Denny
February 15, 2003
PNCR leader Robert Corbin yesterday announced that he had written the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran SC, requesting a meeting of Parliament on Wednesday to debate a motion on the electricity crisis and other issues of urgent importance.
The PNCR has been boycotting the National Assembly for almost a year as a result of what it sees as the failure of the government to implement decisions agreed upon in the Jagdeo/Hoyte dialogue and its intention to attend a session on Wednesday was being seen yesterday as a positive development in political circles.
The proposed motion in Corbin's name calls on the government among other things to support a freeze in electricity rates at their present levels until all agreements made or to be made with respect to Guyana Power Light (GPL) have been approved by a two-thirds majority of Parliament.
It also calls for the establishment of the parliamentary management committee and the implementation of the other agreed constitutional reforms as well as the implementation in accordance with a defined schedule of all decisions made in the Hoyte/Jagdeo dialogue process. The ruling PPP/C and the opposition parties have deadlocked over the composition of the parliamentary management committee and sectoral committees and their convening would require a compromise.
The PNCR motion calls too on the government to establish a select committee to mount a public enquiry into the functioning of the Police Force; and an emergency fund and rescue programme managed with the involvement of the opposition parties to address the plight of the unemployed and particularly the unemployed youth in the many villages in the country. It also calls for the government to end its opposition to arbitration as a means of settling disputes in the public sector; to engage the Public Service Union in proper wages and salaries negotiations, and ending its arbitrary alteration of negotiated settlements between trade unions and state agencies.
On Wednesdays, under Standing Order 20(2), private members' business takes precedence over any other. Standing Order 8 (2) on which, Corbin has also based his request provides for the Assembly to be convened, during an adjournment, if it is represented to the Speaker by the Government, or the Speaker is of the opinion that the public interest requires that the Assembly meet on a day earlier that than that to which it stands adjourned.
The government appears to be amenable to parliament being convened since a release from the Government Information Agency yesterday quoted Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud as saying, "The Government has always regarded Parliament as the appropriate forum for raising issues of concern. Consequently, the government will always be responsive to requests for debates on national issues."
He is quoted as saying too, "Parliament is the most suitable forum for discussions and debates and I am happy that the Opposition PNCR has come over to this view. In fact, I am looking forward to working with the PNCR in Parliament so as to have a vibrant Parliamentary programme."
However Standing Order 23 (2) provides for a 14-day period before a Private Member's motion is placed on the Order Paper. Informed sources told Stabroek News that this could be overcome if the Standing Orders were suspended to allow the debate on the motion. This would require agreement by the parties rather than a decision by the Speaker.
Briefing the media yesterday Corbin said, "The convening of the National Assembly for the purpose of dealing with private members business will also convey the seriousness of the commitment of the government to implementing the urgent outstanding Parliamentary and Constitutional Reforms and will attest to the good faith about which President recently boasted."
Corbin reiterated his party's commitment to constructive engagement "to resolve the deepening and dangerous crisis which threatens the well-being of all people of Guyana." He said his party's participation in the work of the parliament beyond Wednesday "would be determined by the government's response".
He dismissed suggestions that the PNCR was using the parliament as a convenience insisting that his party was providing the opportunity for the government in the highest forum in the country to inform the nation about the crisis in the electricity sector.
Corbin said the debate would allow the government to bring all the agreements it was proposing to enter before the National Assembly.
He contended that the range of matters covered by the motion would also demonstrate to those people who believe a PNCR return to parliament would solve all of our problems, the extent of the crisis facing the country.
Vincent Alexander, who was also at the press conference, said it would also be an opportunity for the PPP to show what is meant by the trust and good faith it talks about.
Expanding on what the motion was calling for in the establishment of the standing committees and new constitutional commissions Corbin said it required not only implementation in accordance with the letter and spirit of the constitution but the allocation of the required budgetary resources to ensure that they function efficiently and effectively. He said that he is yet to see any evidence of these preparations.
Yesterday's announcement follows a number of consultations Corbin has been having since his election as PNCR leader on February 1, with the other parliamentary opposition parties as well as groups in civil society about the problems facing the country. Among the civil society groups he has met is the Guyana Trades Union Congress, which requested a meeting to explore new avenues and clarify some of the positions he mentioned in his post-Congress address at the Square of the Revolution.