PNCR-1G MPs sworn in, fire-up debate on President's speech
- Corbin returned as Opposition Leader
Kaieteur News
November 1, 2006

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All 22 members of the main opposition party, the People's National Congress Reform-One Guyana (PNCR-1G) attended the second sitting of the Ninth Parliament yesterday, and participated in the debate on a Motion to accept the President's speech delivered at the ceremonial opening of the Parliament on September 28.

Three members of the PNCR-1G briefly attended the opening of that sitting, stating that the party would participate in the National Assembly under protest because of what it perceived to be breaches to the constitution relating to the convening of Parliament.

The debate on the President's speech lasted into the night and is set to continue at the next sitting slated for Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the PNCR-1G members, former Home Affairs Minister Gail Teixeira, along with Parliamentary Secretaries Steve Ninvalle and Pauline Sukhai, were sworn-in as Members of Parliament.

Party Leader Robert Corbin was returned unopposed as Leader of the Opposition after PNCR-1G front-bencher and newcomer to the National Assembly, Anthony Vieira declined his nomination by Alliance For Change (AFC) member, Khemraj Ramjattan.

People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament, Clement Rohee, who led off the debate that centered on the President's speech made at the opening of Parliament, stated that the President has outlined a comprehensive work plan for the administration which should be supported by all in the House.

He highlighted aspects of the President's speech which dealt with crime, noting that the strengthening of security and public safety have been placed high on the agenda because the government recognises the cost effects of crime.

Rohee said that a number of factors, including persistent poverty, deportees, unemployment and illegal drugs, have helped to fuel the crime situation in Guyana.

He posited that in any country, social and economic issues are the main driving forces behind crime, and alluded to the fact that an already large portion of Guyana's Gross Domestic Product (GDP)- 7.7 per cent - is used to fight crime.

He noted that in 2005, the government spent $5 billion on fighting crime and urged members of the National Assembly to work towards lowering that figure.

Opposition Leader Robert Corbin who led off the debate from the opposition benches noted that the President in his address pointed out that he sees the role of the opposition scrutiny of government as integral to the promotion of a vibrant democracy.

He noted that this will have to stand the test of time.

“The willingness of the present administration to accept constructive criticisms will be placed on immediate test,” Corbin noted.

Corbin further pointed to the President's speech where he alluded to the respect of law and rights of people.

The Opposition Leader stressed that if this were true then the administration would move swiftly to address a number of outstanding constitutional matters, including state radio monopoly, the Freedom of Information Act, appointments to the Integrity Commission, the appointment of a Chancellor of the Judiciary and the payment of the lotto funds into the Consolidated Fund.

Corbin stated that he is led to support the plans outlined by the President in his speech, noting that marginalization -real or perceived - is an issue the government must address either by shared governance, or by inclusivity.

He stated that while he has taken the President's word, he, like many other Guyanese, will judge the administration based upon what it has accomplished.

Corbin noted that from past experiences the administration has not stuck to its promises, especially those made to the social sector.

He said that in June 2005 President Jagdeo promised potable water to the people of West Bank Demerara. More than a year later this is still to be realized, he said, and pointed to the protests that were mounted two days ago in the same communities over the absence of potable water.

He spoke about the stated comments about the rule of law and expressed the desire to see whether this would apply to the case of treason accused Mark Benschop.

PPP/C General Secretary, Donald Ramotar told the National Assembly that the President's acknowledgement of the need to build a strong democracy has been entrenched in the party's plan for several years.

He added that the President's promise of a democratic society is a continuation of what was started since the party assumed power in 1992.

He noted that the party has an open policy that targets all Guyanese and this was evident by the votes it received at the August 28 polls, where the party made in-roads into several non-traditional areas.

PNCR-1G Member of Parliament Deborah Backer said that the government has not been honouring its word in relation to security, since a number of recommendations, including those made by the Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC) in 2004 have not been honoured.

She argued that the five-year National Drug Strategy Master Plan seems to have entered a “comatose” state.

She added that the much talked about police reform is coming long after “hundreds of murders and more than a thousand traumatised victims”.

“Guyanese want to see changes and they want to see it now,” Backer stated. According to Backer, the PNCR-1G is willing to play its part.

AFC Member of Parliament, Raphael Trotman called the speech a “tissue of promises” and stated that he will not put much hope in the promises based on past experiences.

“The AFC cannot approve the speech because we intend to wait until the (promises contained in it) are put to the test.”