Even as the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) Thursday expressed disgust at the refusal by House Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland to summon a sitting of the National Assembly to debate the increased salaries to ministers and parliamentarians, PPPC Executive Member Gail Teixeira denied that Parliament had been prorogued to avoid debate on a no-confidence motion and remain in power.
“No, we did not, no we did not,” she said only after she was pressured repeatedly to say whether the then PPPC-led administration had used the Constitutional provision to prorogue Parliament to its advantage to stay in power by avoiding a debate on the no-confidence motion.
Quizzed on why the then government did not allow the debate, she said “you can analyse that. It’s up to you.” “I have nothing more to say about prorogation. I am dealing with today the Speaker refusing a request for a sitting anytime in the month of November to discuss a matter of public interest,” she said.
Refusing to draw a comparison between Barton declining to call a sitting of the House and the then PPPC-led administration’s refusal to allow debate on a no-confidence motion that would have seen the government fall and elections having to be held within 90 days, Teixeira said “This is about a motion to debate while a parliament is sitting…to discuss an issue to do with an order of giving ministers salary increases .There is no comparison.”
She declined to say whether the no-confidence motion or the issue of salary increases was important. She sought refuge in the legality and constitutionality of the President to suspend (prorogue the Parliament) on November 10, 2014.
When it became apparent that all efforts had failed to break the political deadlock, Ramotar dissolved Parliament on February 28, 2015 and made way for general elections in May, 2015. The PPPC was defeated.
The Opposition Chief Whip contended that the Guyanese public was most interested in the decision by government to hike the salaries of ministers, constitutional office holders and parliamentarians. “The public out there is extraordinarily concerned and upset about the salary increases,” she said.
Teixeira charged that any attempt to compare the failure to summon a sitting of the House with the suspension of the Parliament was a posture by the Alliance For Change which is one of the partners in the governing coalition. “The two issues are not the same. This is an AFC line. It is a red herring, an absolute red herring. They talk about red herrings, I’ll tell them about red herrings,” she said.
The Guyana government has explained that sittings of the National Assembly could not be held because government ministers would be overseas on official business. But Teixeira said it was the responsibility of the government to ensure that its 33 members are all present. “If the government cannot get 32 people or 33 people in the House, then really what they are saying to us, well Parliament will meet whenever the 33 bodies are in place and that should worry all Guyanese and not just me and not just the PPPC,” she said. The coalition administration barely has a one-seat majority in the 65-seat House.
With the House Speaker telling the PPPC that it had no authority or right to request a Special Sitting, that opposition party said such a “deliberate postponement” amounted to “killing the motion” on the increased salaries for ministers. “This is deliberate conscious planned orchestrated engineered you pick the adjective, to ensure the opposition in this parliament is muzzled” said Teixeira.
She suggested that the David Granger-led administration appeared to be running away from a debate in and she challenged government parliamentarians to seek to justify the increased salaries. “This present government cannot be righteous on this issue even when they have 33 people there because their arguments thus far in the press which you have covered are talking utter rubbish about their rationale for the increase; let them come into the House and say exactly those same things,” she said.
Reasons given so far for the increased salaries include the need to bring ministers’ salaries to the same level as those earned by judges, ensure there is no loss of income by professionals and businesspersons who have now become ministers, discourage temptations to engage in corrupt practices and seek to ensure there is a high quality of service.