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Oil money must fund free education, healthcare; no-confidence passage must require 44 lawmakers – GTUC General Secretary

A section of the workers marching through the streets of Georgetown on May Day.

General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis on Wednesday— May Day 2019—vowed that his labour confederation would resist the scrapping of the 1980 Constitution, but called for it be amended for a no-confidence motion to be passed by at least 44 of the 65 parliamentarians.

Lewis also called for some of the expected oil wealth to be used to fund the 10 administrative regions with main referral hospitals, modern diagnostic and treatment capability facilities, free dialysis services and the provision of free education in keeping with Guyana’s constitution. “A healthy nation is a productive nation. We call for the provision of free education from nursery to university as enshrined in the Constitution and if the government and the Opposition believe in respecting this Constitution, then respect this one,” Lewis told a workers’ day rally at the National Park.

Turning his attention to Minister of Labour, Amna Ally, Lewis said she and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo “are beneficiaries of Burnham free education so why these people can’t get…”

The veteran trade unionist said it was insufficient for a resolution as important as a no-confidence motion to be passed by a slim majority. The Guyana Court of Appeal has invalidated the December 21, 2018 no-confidence motion on the grounds that 34 votes instead of 33 were required for its passage.

“We of the Guyana Trades Union Congress call for immediate amendment to Article 146 (6) of the Guyana Constitution to allow for at least two-thirds or a 66 percent vote of all members of the National Assembly for a no-confidence motion to be passed. This is important to circumvent the risk of one vote in the National Assembly swaying the will of the people,” he said after a march by at least 2,000 workers from Parade Ground, Middle Street, Georgetown to the National Park.

The GTUC boss said his labour organisation wants legislation and guidelines for how government and Parliament would function after a no-confidence motion is passed. The Guyana Court of Appeal said after a no-confidence motion is approved, the President and government would merely act as caretakers while general elections are held within the prescribed 90 days of the motion’s passage.

With the Caribbean Court of Justice, the final appeals court for Guyana’s case, expecting to hear oral arguments this month before delivering what is expected to be a landmark decision, Attorney General Basil Williams, who addressed the rally on behalf of the governing coalition, sounded a note of cautious optimism that government would again win the case at the Trinidad-based regional court. “The horse in front is likely to be the winner,” he said.

Attorney General Basil Williams, President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) Coretta Mc Donald, GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis and Minister of Labour Amna Ally.

The GTUC General Secretary said his segment of Guyana’s labour movement would not support any move to abolish that supreme law that dates back to 1980. “Let me tell you something. All of them, who talk about the 1980 Constitution, let them understand today, I’m sending a message out to them that I’ll crusade up against them that they will not scrap it. That’s the people’s constitution and those who are talking about it, some of them never read it,” Lewis said.

He also recommended that the number of votes required for the passage of certain laws in the National Assembly be changed to allow for greater collaboration between the government and opposition as well electing the regional members of parliament through direct balloting “which would bring about greater representation and accountability to the communities they are elected to serve”.

Critics say the 1980 Constitution was the product of a rigged referendum and reforms later reflected in the 2001 version.

Meanwhile, another veteran trade unionist Norris Witter stopped short of openly endorsing the incumbent David Granger-led coalition administration as general elections are likely to be held before May 1, 2020. In his “few words of caution,” he said “much is at stake” at those polls. “It will decide whether we continue to progress as a nation or whether we go backwards. It will define for us whether we have reached that stage of maturity and responsibility to ensure whatever we do before, during and after those elections do not disturb the stability of this nation. All can be lost. There is a lot of talk about the oil out there and other resources. We stand to lose everything through immature and irresponsible behaviour,” he said.

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has asked government for GYD$3.5 billion to conduct General and Regional Elections by November 2019 after house-to-house registration is completed.