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Opposition votes down hydro-power bill

Leaders from the three parties huddle and try for a compromise during an extended break.

The parliamentary opposition Thursday night voted against a government bill and motion viewed as critical to the administration’s flagship Amaila Hydropower Project, with the finance minister later dubbing it an “act of sabotage.”

The APNU and AFC did not speak on the Hydro-Electric Power (Amendment) Bill and a motion seeking to raise the government guarantee of loans from GUY$1B to GUY$150B in a tit for tat move after the government refused to proceed with four local government bills the opposition wanted dealt with first.

The votes against the bill and motion came despite some two hours of meetings to iron out the differences between the sides and exhortations from the government benches.

“I am not a man who is accustomed to begging, I am prepared Mr. Speaker, here tonight to beg the members on the other side of this House to make a clear, dispassionate assessment of what they need to do in the national interest,” Public Works Minister Robeson Benn said during his contribution.

At a news conference following the sitting Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh said the opposition had perpetrated a “grave travesty” against Guyanese.

“One cannot with a straight face look the people of Guyana in their eyes and say that one is a responsible political leader but yet sabotage a beneficial national development project in the manner the opposition did tonight; by casting their vote in the manner they did an act of sabotage was committed by the opposition against the Amaila Falls Project.”

When asked about the government’s next move to salvage the more than US$800M project Prime Minister Samuel Hinds requested time for them to consider their options.

However, Governance Advisor Gail Teixeira told Demerara Waves Online News after the briefing that whilst the practice was that rejected bills were not returned in the same parliament it was not impossible to do so.

She noted that former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran had set the local precedent when there was contention on an issue with the Ethnic Relations Commission in 2007.

Standing Order 69 states, “Once the second reading of any Bill has been agreed to or negatived, no question shall be proposed during the same Session for the second reading of any other Bill containing substantially the same provision.”

However, Standing Order 112 states that “any one or more” of the Orders may be suspended on a motion from a Member.

“It is not impossible but it’s highly improbable. Procedurally there’s an opening, a very tiny opening, but it does require the opposition to change their view,” Teixeira said.

Dr. Singh had said that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) – one of the financiers – had indicated that passage of the legislation was necessary for it to sign off on the project and the time to do so was now to meet the timelines.

“Its non-passage does two things; firstly it inflicts injury to that timeline meaning that even if we were to come back for reconsideration in some point in time the timeline is now compromised and the outer date is now placed in jeopardy,” the minister said.

Failure to achieve financial closure in the given time, he added, could lead to renegotiation of the Engineering, Procurement and Construction agreement.

“You could be looking at a project that is considerably more expensive and that changes all of the dynamics of the project including the ultimate cost of electricity to the final consumer,” Singh said.

He reiterated that the rejection also sent an adverse signal to the investors that the parliament was not united on the project.

“You’re asking international partners to support a project the Parliament of Guyana controlled by the APNU and the AFC is not prepared to say it supports,” Dr. Singh said.

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds said the opposition had been seeking a guarantee on presidential assent to two of the four local government bills with which the government was unhappy.

“We did do the horse trading, we worked on our side and we reached the agreement which for quite some time had me feeling that we would rally through this but subsequently their position changed.”

According to Hinds, the opposition parties subsequently indicated that they would only vote in favour of the amendment to the hydro-electric bill but the government maintained that both the bill and motion had to be passed for the Amaila Project.

The House was adjourned until next Thursday but not without more contention. Teixeira had indicated during the sitting that government was prepared to meet the following day to consider the local government bills but Hinds on moving the adjournment suggested next Thursday.

An APNU motion to have the sitting on Friday as initially suggested was defeated after the AFC abstained on the vote.

Prior to the vote House Speaker Raphael Trotman announced that it cost the taxpayers $1.5M to host each sitting and that he would hate to hold one just for three minutes because the government was unwilling to proceed with the bills.