Government and opposition members of the Committee of Supply of the National Assembly clashed on Tuesday as several opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) demanded that Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, reveal the names of the current Regional Executive Officers (REOs) of the Ten (10) Administrative Regions.
The opposition Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) believes that government is actively replacing REOs they perceive to be supportive of the PPPC with persons loyal to the new government.
This belief is fueled by recent decisions made by the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) + Alliance for Change (AFC) coalition government, including appointing persons who appeared on the coalition’s Regional list during the 2015 Election as REOs.
This suspicion was sparked after several occurrences, including the appointment of Rafel Downes and Carl Parker to the position of REO of Regions Eight (8) and Nine (9) respectively. Both men appeared as Candidates on the coalition’s Regional list during the 2015 Election.
Additionally, in June, the former REO of Region Nine (9), Claire Singh, was sent on annual leave by the new administration. Assistant REO Karl Singh and Deputy REO Mohammed Arjoon were also sent on leave.
Justifying the decision, Bulkan had said that Singh was placed on the Region Nine (9) Council under the PPPC government and that she had not been “professional” in the execution of her duties. It was at this point that he confirmed that Carl Parker would serve as Acting REO until a substantive office holder is appointed.
When approached by reporters during one of the recesses, Bulkan said “I don’t know what the big issue is about naming the REOs. My reluctance was not to name the REOs but I did not have the information as to the date of the beginning of their contracts.”
Regarding the appointments of Parker and Downes, Bulkan said “…Mr. Parker, many years ago was a local government officer who served particularly in Region number 9 with distinction and regrettably he was hounded out of office when…the former administration came to office in 1992.” He said that Parker “was a professional operating in the regional democratic structure and he was made a victim because of perceived political loyalties.”
“He is reverting to a substantive position that he held two decades ago,” said Bulkan.
Of Downes, the minister argued that “Mr. Downes was never active politically, he was probably caught up in the sweep and his name was used on the list but an investigation as to his track record will find that MR Downes has never been actively politically.”
Asked if it is likely that the two appointments may be rescinded in light of the concerns raised by the opposition party, Bulkan said “That has not been contemplated at this time.”
He also shared that the contract of REO of Region was not extended when it expired about two months ago, and that a substantive holder of this position will be appointed before September.
“That is not appropriate Mr. Speaker,” said Opposition Whip, Gail Teixeira of Bulkan’s response, while opposition MP and former Local Government Minister, Ganga Persaud, suggested that Bulkan “is ashamed to disclose them.”
It was PPPC MP, Juan Edghill who initially called on Bulkan to disclose the names of the REO’s who currently hold contract with government.
Bulkan, however, committed to providing the information to the House in writing at a subsequent time. The minister’s promise did not find favour with the opposition MPs and for about ten minutes several of them demanded that the names be revealed.
As opposition MPs kept up their offensive against Bulkan’s decision to provide the names later, Speaker of the National Assembly, Barton Scotland, stepped in and attempted to move the MPs past this matter, considering that only a limited time is allotted for each agency.
Teixeira, however, “respectfully” challenged the Speaker on this decision, arguing that it is important that the names be provided to the House. “…I do not want to disobey you…why can’t they say the name here in this house who are the REO’s.”
Former Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General (AG), Anil Nandlall, also refused to accept Bulkan’s promise without a fight, even in the face of an insistence of the Speaker that the Committee move forward to consider other aspects of the ministry’s allocation.
“No, Sir, I need to tell somebody that now,” remarked Nandlall. He later took to his Facebook page where he posted “Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, just told the Committee of Supply of the National Assembly that he doesn’t know the names of the Regional Executive Officers of the 10 regions of Guyana and is asking until Friday to provide that information…”
Amidst the barrage of criticism from the opposition party, Minister of Governance, still hoarse from the deliberations which started on Monday and went into Tuesday morning, declared that “no minister should be bullied into answering a question,” to which Edghill countered “what yuh have to hide?”
Edghill also called on Bulkan to state why the ministry invited applications for REOs in July when the contracts of the current office holders do not expire until January of 2016. Bulkan said that the ministry undertook the exercise to build a database of suitably qualified persons so that the process of filling the offices next January is done efficiently.