Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill1600 07 Feb, 2013
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, I am saddened to have to speak at this time. But after so many years, from 2001 to now, I must be saddened to hear the Hon. Member Gail Teixeira saying in this Hon. House that we do not need the four Bills that are in the Select Committee. I want it to be emphasised that the Chief Whip for the Government is saying, in spite of the fact that the Bills are in Select Committee that we do not need those four Bills that are in the Select Committee. We are going to hold that up until the work of the Committee is concluded, but I am the eternal optimist and when this process…
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, I am not aware that Members on the floor have a habit of referring to people who have heckled. But in addition to that, the Hon. Member has misconstrued and misrepresented me. I said that the four Bills were not necessary for the holding of Local Government Elections. That is the truth and I abide by that.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, I do not know what the Point of Order is. The Hon. Member Mdm. Teixeira has confirmed what I said. The Hon. Member is saying that against the backdrop that her Government agreed with the Opposition, signed, that there would be no Local Government Elections unless the local government reforms were passed and in place. That is the Government’s position. So is the Hon. Member telling us that the PPP/C Government is no longer honouring the undertaking they have given years ago? We will make a note of that, but as I said, I am an eternal optimist.
In 2001, those constitutional provisions in Chapter 7 of our Constitution, the fleshing out of those provisions provided for the empowering of the Guyanese people in the communities in which they live giving them greater autonomy, establishing a local government commission to regulate local democratic organs and fiscal transfers being determined by objective criteria, not just giving $3 million across the board to 65 NDCs irrespective of size, population and resources.
President Bharrat Jagdeo, as he then was, and the late Opposition Leader, Former President Hoyte, signed a task force into being. The work of that Task Force was to be completed within 12 months. I want to make a point. I was appointed as a member of that Task Force in addition to other members. The co-chair was the Minister at the time, Mr. Collymore. On that task force the now Minister, the Hon. Member Mr. Ganga Persaud was around, he used to bring me drinks, he used to bring me cake at the time he was round. He was supplying us with drinks and cake at the time. He listened so that he would have learnt when he listened to our deliberations during that period. What happened? Eight years later the Government arbitrarily disbanded the Task Force. Without the signing off of the agreement, the President removed the Bills from the Task Force into Parliament. But what I want to emphasise is that of those eight years, four years were boycotted by the Government; four years they boycotted the Task Force on some specious and outrageous grounds. What was clear during those periods was that the Government was totally uninterested in having local government reform in this country. They are quite content to have the Hon. Minister Ganga Persaud running around the country imposing IMCs. Let me say this: I was in the very first meeting of the select committee when we proposed to alter the composition of the Local Government Commission from six to seven and we were speaking about the seventh member being a nominee of trade unions inside the local government system. The Hon. Member Ganga Persaud said he thinks the member should come from the local democratic organs. Our member said no, Hon. Minister that cannot work because there are no democratic organs in Guyana because you have been imposing IMCs. The Minister did not speak for the rest of the meeting. What we are saying to you is that they have come kicking and screaming throughout the eight years. That is the first thing - with kicking and screaming they had to be brought along. Then they unilaterally took the Bills to the National Assembly. And they took them to the National Assembly in breach of what we had agreed in the joint Task Force and in breach of the undertaking to give to the real “A-B-C” countries which they signed on to. We could show the signed document where they agreed to take all the Bills to Parliament which they did not do. They passed the Local Authorities Election Bill. The question arises now why did they not use their majority to pass the other four Bills. It was a simple answer. The late President Mr. Hoyte used to love to say, “Tom drunk but Tom ent stupid.” If they were to pass those Bills they would have been implementing local government reform, but they had no guarantee they would be in control of the Government. What happened at the last elections justified their fears. So they do not want it in no way or form, whether they have the majority or not, they are scared bad of local government reform because they do not want people to be independent and autonomous and to make decisions for themselves in the communities in which they live. They do not want that.
The Hon. Member Dr. Ramayya also enlightened me that they were afraid of losing miserably at such elections. I am saying that in spite of all this, I still am an optimist.
Let us talk about this. The Government has been in power at all material times from 1994 to now. Every year they make the annual pilgrimage to a seeming “Mecca”, seeking to postpone elections over and over again. Whom do they blame? They have the power, they have the majority, but they never implemented the reforms. Now true to form in Robb Street where the Bolshevik exists… On 19th December, the last day of Parliament for the year 2012, we elected a chairman of the Select Committee for Local Government. As happens in the Congress where Mr. Lumumba comes from in America they return to their homes for the yuletide season. It is no different here when the Parliament breaks, that was the last working day. Lo and behold, after Mr. Ganga Persaud lost the vote for the chairmanship, Mr. Ganga Persaud writes in the newspapers that we have the Bills stalled; and he is writing this on Boxing Day, when we are celebrating. People have gone overseas, people have gone back to their villages, to celebrate the yuletide season. The Hon. Member Mr. Persaud is writing in the newspapers that local government reform is being stalled because the Bills have been stalled in the Select Committee when there was no meeting after that meeting in which he lost the chairmanship. We had agreed that we would reassembly in the New Year. Without the Committee getting on foot the Hon. Minister was accusing it of being stalled by the newly elected chairman. He did not explain to readers that the chairman was elected at the last day of Parliament. What disturbs me is what does this indicate? Does this indicate bona fides on the part of the PPP/C in dealing with the work of the select committee? My learned friend at the back of me is saying mala fides. I do not want to go deeply into that realm, but I am an eternal optimist.
We had another meeting, the very first meeting in the select committee. I asked whether we could have the media in place. I said I would like to have the media in place. Lo and behold, the Hon. Minister strenuously argued against that saying, ”we do not want the media in here because you cannot have the media in here” and a whole long drawn out… ”the Committee rules says you cannot have the media” and all of that. And that is not written in stone because we voted to have the media in there; that vote could be taken. I am just showing you the Government is happy to have the business of this Committee dealt with in the public and open. They do not want the media but that got me worried. Why would anybody not want our media to be present during our deliberations? It just did not make sense; it is the people’s business.
I then proposed that we meet twice a week. I do not know if the Hon. Member Bibi Shadick would want to respond to that now in the same manner in which she responded in the committee. These are the Members who are saying the Bills are stalled and we invited them to sit twice a week and they robustly refused to have twice weekly meetings. I am worried and I am saddened about the people’s business...
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, on a Point of Order. I am a Member of that Committee, the Committee has met three times and this issue as being portrayed by the Member is totally inaccurate. The Minutes and Verbatim Records will show that.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, is that a Point of Order?
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, the Point of Order I am raising is that the Member is inaccurately portraying the workings of the Committee.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members the Standing Orders permit a Point of Order on a Point of Clarification; Order No. 38 permits it. The Clerk is about to bring something to my attention; one second please.
The Clerk is bringing to my attention that Standing Order No. 95(9) states, “meetings of a committee shall be held in private”.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker does the Clerk state that it could be suspended by a vote of the committee?
Could the Clerk confirm that the rule could be suspended by a vote of the committee?
Mr. Speaker: We will have to take that, to use an American term, on advisement, and so some research. It may require the House doing something to suspend the Standing Orders and not the Committee. However, I tend to agree with you that the Committee or the majority of a committee should, but we will take advice on it and report.
Mr. B. Williams: I am guided by you.
Ms. Shadick: Mr. Speaker, may I rise on a Point of Order? Sir, my name was called by Mr. Basil Williams accusing me…
Mr. Speaker: Ms. Shadick, one second. Hon. Member the Standing Orders also permit that if a member feels he or she has been aggrieved in a debate he or she can, and I will allow you as I have done for others, at the end of Mr. William’s presentation. I will like to hear Mr. Williams uninterrupted so I will allow you at the end of this to make a…
Ms. Shadick: When he is finished… for him to continue to say the things he has been saying?
Mr. Speaker: When he is finished.
Ms. Shadick; The whole effect will be lost.
Mr. Speaker: You could make notes. I would like him to be as unimpeded as possible. You will have the right to respond.
Mr. B. Williams: Thank you Mr. Speaker. As I was saying all this talk between December and January about the business of the Select Committee being stalled even though from 1994 it was with the Government, I just could not understand. So what puzzled me even further was when I was saying let us meet every Wednesday, let us get on with it, Hon. Member Teixeira and Hon. Member Shadick, said, no, not Wednesday. These are the Hon. Members who were saying they want to get on with the work.
At the very last meeting when we had a redefinition of the “A-B-C” countries, I hurried up the stairs of this August building to come to chair the Select Committee meeting and ahead of me laboring up was the re-definer of the “A-B-C”. I said to him, “my brother what is the matter with you?” He said he was very tired; he was just doing house to house in Linden. Well, I did not believe that because I did not know which area he could go house to house in Linden. I was concerned about my brother so I slowed my pace to walk with him just in case. We went into the meeting and – I do not think it has anything to do with the staff, it must be the Devil’s print - we had Minutes to deal with that we did not recognise. We do not know if with all the select committees working at the same time if the Minutes were confused. Anyway we tried with it, but then the Hon. Member Teixeira said after an hour that these Minutes are so bad we should send back everything and let them bring it back.
I had asked for verbatim notes because the Government side had agreed to a certain clause. There were three parts to the clause and they agreed with us to the first two and the last clause had to deal with the seventh member and we said we would park that and come back to it. Lo and behold when the Government side returned to this meeting, they had suddenly said the entire clause was up for discussion and they never agreed with anything and that caused me even greater worry. So I was saying to myself, “is this another typical PPP negotiating ploy, again?” They agreed at one meeting and then the next meeting they came back and denied they ever agreed. So I asked for the verbatim notes and you must not fear that there was a little tape in this pocket, just in case you wanted to come with different notes, but I know you all good.
Mr. Speaker, the next you know, a proposal was made that since the notes were in disarray and we needed to get proper notes so we could move on that we should adjourned the meeting there and then. When the proposal was made to adjourn the meeting...
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members at this rate we are going to have to send for the verbatim – the transcript – of these meetings and we will go through them piece by piece. However, Hon. Members we are debating the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill tonight.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, this is very important because you would have been bombarded by statements from the Hon. Member, Mr. Ganga Persaud, who does not want the media inside the meeting because the media would be able to put the light to what he is saying in the newspapers to the reporters.
Mr. G. Persaud: Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: I recognise Mr. G. Persaud, Minister of Local Government.
Mr. G. Persaud: Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Member continues to make this statement and the records will prove that what he is saying is not factual. The question was raised with regards to the media being present; the staff of the Parliament clearly stated the meeting was not one that allowed the media. [Interruption]
Mr. B. Williams: I thought this was a Point of Order.
Mr. Speaker: But Mr. Williams...very well Minister... [Interruption] Hon. Members, if in fact it was raised at a meeting and the Clerk of the Committee informed the Membership that the press could not be invited; then it could not be correct to keep laying the blame on any Member or the Minister, when in fact, the Clerk pointed this out as per the Standing Orders.
Mr. G. Persaud: Mr. Speaker that can be confirmed by the Minutes.
Mr. Speaker: If that is, in fact, what happened, Mr. Williams... [Interruption]
Mr. G. Persaud: The Hon. Member needs to stop doing this.
Mr. B. Williams: I am reiterating that it is a matter of fact that Mr. Ganga Persaud said that he does not want the media in there because the rule does not provide for it. So what am I saying, I am not lying. He said that. However, I know that you can vote to suspend that clause. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Well the Clerk advises me that a Committee on its own, based on these Standing Orders, cannot suspend that clause.
Mr. B. Williams: Sir, but you said that you would take advice, I am waiting on you.
Mr. Speaker: I take advice from the Clerk. Very well.
Mr. B. Williams: As I am saying, I am doing this now at the outset of the work of the Committee because I hope that after tonight, Members of the Committee, on both sides, will resolve to do the business for the Guyanese people. That is why I came to do this.
Why I am saying it is important to have the media inside the Committee meetings is because no sooner than the meeting is finished, press conferences all called, given ball by ball blow, according to the speakers, about what transpired in the meeting. Therefore, we are saying, we will have to fast track the rules to deal with suspending the Standing orders to bring the media in to be part and privy to our meetings.
However, lo and behold, articles in the newspapers, the Hon. Member, Mr. Ganga Persaud was at some press conference; the Hon. Member Neendkumar talking about Argentina, Brazil and Chile. It is a problem of density.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, what should be a matter pertaining to the holding or not holding of the Local Government Election is fast descending. We are descending into a place that we do not want to go.
Mr. B. Williams: I am coming off of that. Do you know why this is important?
Mr. Speaker: No, I am hearing Mr. Neendkumar’s comments about giving back “thieving money” and all of that.
Mr. B. Williams: Well that is Mr. Neendkumar.
Mr. Speaker: The point I am making is... [Interruption] On both sides, during this debate, comments that are unparliamentarily and unnecessary have been made on both sides. All I am saying is we are descending to a place that we do not want to go. That is what I am saying.
Mr. B. Williams: I agree with you.
Mr. Speaker: The faster we can get through this debate, conclude it and make a decision on this Bill, the better for us.
Mr. B. Williams: So let me conclude. It means therefore, that if the rule says the business must be private, it follows that really cannot run outside of the Committee and purport to disclose what is supposed to be the business of the Committee. Then when you do it, at least do it accurately. Why would you try to undermine the Committee? It was about the second meeting the Committee had and you can hear the comments in here; that we are holding up the work of the Select Committee, when there were only about two meetings. The PPP had the custody of Local Government Reform for about fifteen years.
I am disturbed at the maturity or lack of that is being displayed in this manner. It tells me that ab initio, there is no good faith in proceeding with the work of the people in that Committee. We are going to hold you to account, we are going to insist that the rules are suspended to bring in the media. [Mr. G. Persaud: The camera is that side.] No I am looking at you, I see the camera off your forehead, and it is a good mirror.
I am saying that we have to get a democratic process and we do not want when we do our work in the Committee, the work is then paraded in a manner that is not constant with what took place in the Committee and this is my last work on this matter. I expect that the Members on both sides will do their duty to the people of Guyana.
It is clear, no matter if the statute is silent on it, the justice of the Common Law will imply. You cannot go and just collect elected Members and deposit them outside to pasture without giving them a hearing. We are told that they have had enquires. Who appoints the Commissioners for these enquires? Is it that the Minister, Ganga Persaud, appoints his junior Minister as the Commissioner? Then they tell us that reports have been rendered pursuant to the work of the Committee, but where are these reports. We have instructions that in a lot of these reports, the people disagree with the IMC and yet IMCs are imposed.
We are saying that the law would require for the reports from these enquires, not to be kept in the bosom of the Minister and his junior Minister, but they must be available to the public. These are public matters. In fact, we are going to amend the law, it should be published in the NDC in a prominent place; published at the NDC’s office, published at school buildings within the IMC, this is democracy, Mr. Speaker. As my Hon. Friend said, “You cannot come like Nicodemus in the night and then tell people you are no longer a member of this Committee.”
And what is worse, some reasonable sense of justice ought to dictate that in recomposing the Committee, some recourse should be had to consulting with the people, who in the first instance had won seats on those Councils and try to ask them to supply representatives and consult with them. Nothing like that is done. When they tried that in Kwakwani, the people of Kwakwani roundly rejected them. It is only because I have been busy really and I know that we have to have elections shortly I do not worry with you all and these jokey IMCs you are forming. But those are things we can take to the court and question, by Prerogative Writ. You cannot say that you are imposing an IMC and you did not publish a report to the people. It must be a precondition, before you impose any Committee that you publish the report of the enquiry to the people within the NDC or within the Municipalities. So I do not know what you all think you are doing, but it is only because I know that elections will be held shortly, otherwise IMCs would go to the rack.
Then you go to Plaisance, you are testing, but that is a fig leave, ask the Hon. Bishop about a fig leave of your imagination.
The IMC at Linden really should be the model. Yes because that was a proper consultative process. The people of the town of Linden/Mackenzie were able to go and testify. They were going to testify in all of that and then the report was published. The Committee was recomposed, after consultation with the People’s National Congress, who had one majority in that...
Mr. Speaker: One second Mr. Williams. It is going on 7.10 p.m.; we should have taken the suspension at 7 p.m. Members, should we suspend now, or should we go to completion of this Bill?
Mr. B. Williams: I will finish just now; I will not be much longer.
Mr. Speaker: I see.
Mr. B. Williams: That would be the model; what happened in Linden because the Minister was consulted, he worked along with the Leader of the Opposition and they determined the composition of the Committee. There was no outcry. Was there any outcry? There was no outcry and that should be a model, if you wish to go that way Hon. Member.
When all of us talk and we even put it in our manifestos in the last elections, about holding Local Government Elections, we in the APNU were not playing lip service to that. We are resolved about that and I want to bring you along Hon. Members on the other side. I am an eternal optimist. I want bring you along and let us get the people, empower them in their communities in which they live so that they can make decisions for themselves in their communities and do not have to wait on Central Government to interfere in it. That is what we want to do.
Mr. Speaker, having at the end of the day outlined what are the important considerations, it is only on this basis that we know our resolve, that elections must be held for Local Government this year, that we would agree to this temporary postponement that this Bill essays. On that note I rest my case. [Applause]
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