Restriction on the Right to Assembly3347 09 Aug, 2012
Mr. Felix: I rise to support this motion standing in the name of my colleague, the Hon. Member Desmond Trotman. This motion, which we are debating, this morning, seeks two results. One is the removal of the barriers erected around the Public Buildings on the occasion that there is a sitting of this noble House and the second is to broadcast the proceedings of the National Assembly, to the public, when it is in session. I support my colleague to achieve both results. The people of Guyana have always enjoyed freedom to assemble outside the Public Buildings. I have personally, as a young man, experienced this freedom - right outside there. Many of us in this building, right now, in this precinct of the National Assembly and not far away from here, in my time as a policeman, protested. In some cases, I can recall, even assaulted senior police officers and had to be arrested. They did not see a crime then, they did not see a need to maintain barriers permanently around Public Buildings, but they are seeing it now.
I have listened to the Attorney General and I would like to put the existence of the barriers in context of article 147(1) subsection 4(a), that is reasonably required in the interest of defence to public safety and public order. In 2004, it became expedient for the police to protect this Parliament Office, the people’s representatives and the staff working in Parliament Office against attack by bandits who were doing anything, anytime, anyplace – shooting, killing and maiming people. It was essential then to consider the protection of the Parliament Office. What also reinforced this position was that in Trinidad and Tobago there were instances of forceful intrusion into Parliament as well as in Fiji in May 2000. In that context the barriers were established outside for the protection of the Parliament Office.
Using section 27of the Police Act, Chapter 16: 01, those barriers were erected by the police and can be taken down by them if they want to do so tomorrow. Of course, things are different now. If the Commissioner wants, no Minister can tell him to do so. When I was the Commissioner I put them up and no Minister could have told me to put them up or not to put them up, or to take them down. That is the Commissioner’s right to erect road barriers and if he can erect road barriers he can take them down. It is as simple as that. I did not ask my Minister to protect the Parliament of Guyana; I told my Minister I was protecting the Parliament of Guyana. The question now is if that the will of the authorities to remove the barriers. The barriers serve no purpose now. The armed criminals, who were around, have all gone.
Our position is that the erection of barriers to secure the Parliament Office needs to be driven by intelligence. Obviously, if there is a situation developing to threaten the Parliament Office I can assure the Members that the security forces ought to develop the intelligence and by working with the Speaker and the Clerk of the National Assembly the positions can be reinforced. I agree with the previous Speaker. Whatever happens around the Parliament Office has to be the result of a breakdown of intelligence. These things are not hidden. I know that persons know what to do now in relation to the security of the Parliament Office. Possibly, they might not be free to do so because of certain unnecessary fetters which exist around them.
This Parliament Office does not only need protection on the outside; that is irrelevant now. The protection it needs is to prevent Members of the public from sneaking into Parliament Office with harmful instruments or firearms which can be of danger to parliamentarians and the staff or even to other members of the public. That is what is needed to be protected. We do not need barricades when nothing is happening. Right now the barricades are so irrelevant that the policemen get tired just standing outside there doing nothing other than holding barriers. In a police force that is short staffed, I think the policemen should be better employed. They should not be standing at empty barriers. The barrier at the time of the initial set up was done at a sacrifice to the public in order to achieve the necessary protection. A traffic flow had to be diverted to different streets. It takes, sometimes, five minutes from one block in Water Street to come through Hadfield Street. That is an unnecessary inconvenience at this time. Nothing is there to justify that diversion. All there is now are barriers, separation and inconvenience to the public. Better than that needs to be done at this time.
There is, what I heard, my friend on the other side, who is not here now, was talking about – yes Mr., Nadir is here - Guy Fawkes. There are a few parliaments in this world which separate the people from the operation of the Parliament of Guyana. All the time, in the consideration of establishing the barricades, there was a necessary consideration, a balance, being set, between security and the need to allow freedom of citizens to the Parliament of Guyana. The authorities now must move to right this situation.
There is another aspect which is our freedom to take the National Assembly’s work to the public. When we speak of broadcast, we are not necessarily speaking of speaker boxes outside. We also refer to television broadcast, as is done on National Communications Network (NCN), but the operations of NCN is partisan. If I leave here now and I go home and turn on the television, I will see a Minister of Government. I will not see Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo. I would not hear Ms. Volda Lawrence. I most likely would see Ms. Gail Teixeira or the Hon. Minister of Finance. NCN is funded by taxpayers moneys and all of the parliamentarians need to have access to the NCN. [Ms. Kissoon: It is equal access.] It is equal access, as the Hon. Member said. It is not for some people to enjoy NCN and others to be denied. That is what has led to the Hon. Member placing in his motion the need to take the Parliament of Guyana to the people. We have restricted their movement in front of the Public Buildings which is an unnecessary fetter, because the parliamentarians need to hear and listen to the voices of the people out there because we are supposed to be serving their interest. We are supposed to be making their lives better and we cannot do so in isolation, we have to do so having listened to them, and this aspect has been removed from Guyana’s politics. Apparently, there is a need now to talk down to people and not to listen to them - we say and they do. That is why so many things seems to be going wrong and we are only having protest upon protest because listening has been removed from our politics.
Article 147 of our Constitution has served us and continues to serve us. I am saying again that section 27 of the Police Act needs to be exercised. The powers given to the Commissioner ought to be exercised rightfully and in the interest of building this democracy, which we talk about so much, by allowing the freedom of the people. Recognising fully that in every right there goes a corresponding responsibility. We accept all of that. What we, as the Opposition, do not accept, at this point and time, is the public being separated from this Parliament of Guyana and that is what we want restored.
I support the Hon. Member in this motion, in its entirety. It is my wish that we would move to approve this motion so as to restore the rights of the people to move freely during our sittings in the National Assembly, in front – it is not at the court and in front of St. Stanislaus College - of here. Being a politician does not need timorous men. We need men of substance who can stand up to the crowd, who can communicate with the crowd and enter the Parliament Office and leave it.
With these few words, I recommend this motion to the Parliament of Guyana. Thank you. [Applause]
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