Parliament approves new holidays By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
April 30, 2004

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THE report of the parliamentary Special Select Committee on the Review of Public Holidays was approved by the National Assembly yesterday, accepting its recommendations that Guyana’s Independence Day May 26, and May 5, the date of the arrival of the first batch of indentured labourers, be declared public holidays.

The approval came in the absence of the main Opposition People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) which continued its boycott of the National Assembly, but the smaller Opposition parties, the Working People’s Alliance/Guyana Action Party (WPA/GAP) and the Rise Organise and Rebuild (ROAR) were present and supported the motion proposing that the recommendations of the Special Select Committee be accepted.

Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ronald Gajraj in introducing the motion requesting the National Assembly to approve the Report of the Special Select Committee observed that Guyana’s Independence Day was commemorated annually from 1966 when Guyana achieved independence, until 1969, and on the attainment of republican status in 1970, May 26 was removed from the calendar of holidays.

He further observed that in 1996, on the occasion of the 30th Independence Anniversary the minister charged with the responsibility for public holidays declared May 26 as a public holiday and has continued to do so up to the present time.

Gajraj asserted that independence was not given “on a platter” but had to be struggled for and therefore must be given appropriate recognition.

He added that Guyana was the only country in the Caribbean where Independence Day was not declared a national holiday.

However, the PNC/R in a statement to the media said it “disassociates itself with the report that has been submitted to the Parliament. If the government wishes to make May 5th a national holiday, they can do so immediately as such power is already vested in the Minister of Home Affairs.”

The PNC/R said it does not “take issue with the creation of a public holiday in the recognition of the Indo-Guyanese contribution to Guyana.”

It said it did not participate in the work of the Special Select Committee because of the government’s insistence that Gajraj remain on the committee.

The party has been calling for the removal of Gajraj from office because of alleged links to a so called extra-judicial `Death Squad’.

Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Mr. Clement Rohee while being supportive of the report, asked why the reason for dropping May 26 as a holiday was not stated.

As regards May 5, Gajraj argued that the history of this country cannot be erased and that the arrival of indentured labourers is integrally linked to Guyana’s history.

People must feel that their contributions are recognised if they are to be motivated to increase production and productivity, he contended, adding that undoubtedly the arrival of Indians had significantly changed the landscape of this country.

Leader of ROAR, Mr. Ravi Dev unequivocally supporting the report, said at this juncture in Guyana’s history when the state is under attack, it is essential to build a nation which would lead to a stable state and the observance of May 5 can be an instrument in helping to build a nation.

He also pointed out that Trinidad and Tobago which has a similar history and ethnic composition to that of Guyana has long ago declared May 5 as a national holiday.

Mrs. Sheila Holder of WPA/GAP was also supportive of the report, arguing that making people feel good about their contributions can translate to the benefit of society.

However, she noted that most of the contributions during the consultations on the review of public holidays came from Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica), and urged that in future a process which would more accurately reflect the views of society be adopted.

She was supported in this by Minister of Culture, Youths and Sports, Ms. Gail Teixeira.

The report also recommended that consideration be given for September 10 to be declared a holiday for Amerindians and October 12 be declared African Holocaust Day.

The National Assembly also yesterday passed two bills - Pensions (President) Bill which seeks to index the pension of Presidents-past and present and ceremonial or executive and their spouses and dependents to the salary of the incumbent, and the Income Tax Audit Bill which would provide for the waiving of income tax on the salaries of the President, Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice.

Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Mr. Manzoor Nadir in presenting the Pensions (President) Bill said the legislation is an indication of the care the government attaches to those who have served the country at the highest level.

The new legislation will now see past Presidents receiving a pension which is equivalent to seven/eighths of their last salary.

Mr. Bernard Do Santos of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) in supporting the Income Tax Audit Bill, said the judiciary is the “bulwark of democracy” and the offices of the Chancellor and Chief Justice are the “guardians of the purity of the Constitution.”

He reflected that during the pre-1992 period the judiciary was starved of resources but with the “dawn of a new era” that situation is changing, and the bill is a further recognition that this government regards the rule of law as of fundamental importance.