Death-squad debate motion disallowed again
PNCR boycotts Parliament By Andre Haynes
Stabroek News
March 20, 2004

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The PNCR boycotted yesterday's sitting of the National Assembly after Speaker Ralph Ramkarran again disallowed a motion by Opposition leader Robert Corbin for a debate on the death squad allegations.

The late delivery of three orders that were also to be considered at the sitting was cited as another reason behind the PNCR MPs boycott. Outfitted again in aprons with messages that referred to the allegations, the MPs walked out of the Ocean View Convention Centre just as the entrance of the speaker was announced, signalling the start of the proceedings.

After the start of the sitting, Ramkarran immediately instructed that in future anyone who is improperly dressed, including MPs, be barred.

In a press statement yesterday, the PNCR explained that given the occurrences, it could not justify participation in the sitting of the Assembly, which was attended by Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, who has been linked to the death squad. The PNCR has said that it will not participate in any events at which the minister is present.

On Monday, at the sitting of the Assembly for the year, Ramkarran disallowed a motion moved by Corbin for an adjournment to debate the allegations as a matter of urgent public importance. In his ruling, Ramkarran cited several reasons, including the late delivery of the motion, which he received less than two hours before the sitting commenced. And though he noted that the issues in the motion were not without merit, he found that they did not satisfy the textbook definition of 'a matter of urgent public importance'.

Corbin, noting Ramkarran's arguments, resubmitted the motion on Wednesday.

However, in a letter to Corbin on Thursday, Ramkarran again disallowed the motion, which he said needed an extensive overhaul to make it admissible.

"The motion is too long to be corrected and to obtain your approval of the correction in sufficient time for a notice paper to be prepared and circulated. As it stands, the motion requires extensive overhaul to render it admissible," Ramkarran wrote in the letter.

He concluded that the motion conflicted with Standing Order No. 35, which deals with the Contents of Speeches and requires that the conduct of MPs be raised only upon a substantive motion for that purpose.

He found that in the motion the conduct of the Minister of Home Affairs is not raised, but rather, it is assumed. He added that on the basis of that assumption there is no call for the condemnation of the minister's involvement but for his resignation and for an independent inquiry into the allegations.

Though he said he was unable in the time allotted to analyse the motion in the writing, he also found that it also breached several other conventions. He pointed out that if any part of a motion is found out of order it will render the entire motion out of order and a notice of motion that practically incorporates a speech cannot be submitted. In this vein, he also indicated that "my distinguished and esteemed predecessor" Sase Narain repeatedly rejected motions that contained either argumentative or long notices.

Before he cited the reasons for his veto, he had also noted that the staff of Parliament would have been engaged until very late the same day preparing the Supplementary Order Paper and other materials for yesterday's sitting. He also noted that the staff would be engaged on the day of the sitting with physical preparations.

Corbin responded yesterday in writing, expressing his disappointment and his disagreement with the Speaker's decision.

"As usual, I am obliged to accept your ruling and the reasons you have advanced for it, albeit I wish to respectfully disagree with your reasoning," Corbin wrote in reply.

"Be assured, however, that we will not be deterred in our efforts to have the issue of death squads and Minister Gajraj's (alleged) involvement being discussed in the National Assembly."

Corbin said Ramkarran's reference to Standing Order No. 35 only re-emphasised that the motion was a substantive motion. Also, he said the condemnation of an MP is not a trivial matter and it was considered necessary to provide lengthy detail to justify the resolve clauses of the motion.

Nonetheless, before signalling his intention to re-submit an amended motion, he asked that he be given copies of the rulings as well as the rulings of Narain, which were cited.

"I am pleased that Mr Narain's rulings have now become useful precedents, particularly since most of his rulings while he served as Speaker were challenged and criticised by the PPP, then in opposition, as being inept and dictatorial".

Also, highlighting the issue of inadequate time that was cited in both of the Speaker's rulings on the motion, Corbin pointed out that it illustrated his party's own repeated concerns about the inadequate time to study large documents.

He cited the fact that at midnight on Wednesday, a large envelope from Parliament Office was delivered to the PNCR containing a number of documents, including an order that was 223 pages long.

"If time is short for you to study a four-page motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition, it is amazing that Members of Parliament can be expected to study these documents in a day for approval in the National Assembly," he explained to Ramkarran. He also suggested that the issue be reviewed by the Parliamentary Management Committee, which Ramkarran chairs.