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Granger denies PPPC’s accusations of violating parliamentary democracy

FLASH BACK: President David Granger addressing Parliament earlier this year.

President David Granger has defended government’s decision to ram several Bills through the National Assembly in one sitting on Thursday, in the wake of concerns by the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC).

“That’s not railroading. We are anxious to fulfill our mandate and our responsibility and, as you know there has been a lapse in calling of Parliament for all sorts of official reasons, and we are trying to complete as much as possible before year-end so, in fact, it’s a commitment to democracy, not the opposite,” he told Demerara Waves Online News Tuesday night, December 15, 2015.

The three bills are the Municipal and District Councils and Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill No. 14 of 2015, the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill No. 15 of 2015 and the Anti-Terrorism and Terrorist Related Activities Bill No.16 of 2015.

Asked whether the PPPC parliamentarians should not have been given more time to read the Bills, he said “we have a heavy agenda. We are going to be meeting again this year before the end of the year.”

He said the parliamentary agenda would be very busy in the coming weeks including the tabling of the 2016 Budget in the National Assembly  next month. “We have a heavy agenda so we don’t want to delay any longer,” he added.

The PPP Tuesday expressed grave concerns about receiving copies of Bills Tuesday afternoon, December 15, 2015 that would Thursday afternoon, December 17, 2015 be taken through all three stages- tabling, debate and passage. “This is a flagrant violation of parliamentary democracy which is premised on, this the highest law making body, being able to scrutinise and examine legislation as well as to provide ample time for the public to know what business is before the National Assembly and to be able to be informed and to exercise the freedom to express their views on these matters before the House,” said the PPPC in a statement.

According to the opposition party, it did not see the bills on the website of the Official Gazette or the Parliament’s website although they were dated as being  gazette on December 9 and 10, 2015. A hard copy of the Official Gazette is usually on sale at the Office of the President.

The PPPC also voiced disapproval with  Bill No. 14 with regards to Local Government Elections (LGE), saying that smaller political parties are being virtually weeded out of contesting elections because the Bill, when passed, increases the number of signatures required to support a political party list under Proportional Representation. These amendments essentially make it extremely onerous or may even deny smaller parties from participating in the LGE.  These amendments are undemocratic and must be opposed by all,” said the PPP.

In relation to amendments  to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT),  the PPP said the Bill No. 15 has also not been made public and therefore has not been given adequate time for scrutiny by Members of Parliament or the public and civil society. The Opposotiom party  questioned why the rush on this new AMLCFT (Amendment) Bill when the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs has denied that Guyana is not compliant with FATF and why there is not he same urgency to set up the AMLCFT Authority and the FIU as provided for in the government’s AMLCFT Amendment Act 2015.

Describing the 98-page Anti-Terrorism and Terrorist Related Activities Bill No.16 of 2015 as a brand new draft law, the PPP called for it to be taken to a bipartisan committee.  “Due to the nature of the bill, developments in other countries on terrorism and concerns with human rights here in Guyana, this Bill should be properly and publicly scrutinised in a Parliamentary Special Select Committee.”

“This move by the government to deny scrutiny and to rush through these bills further exposes the new administration for its undemocratic actions. Their actions fly in the face of positions taken by the APNU/PNCR/PNCRIG and AFC in previous parliaments,” added the PPP.

The PPPC recalled that the Final Report of the Special Select Committee on the Needs Assessment of the Guyana National Assembly, April 10th, 2006 which was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly specifically amended the Standing Orders “to prevent Ministers moving that bills be considered “forthwith” and “not allow bills to be taken through all their stages in one day” unless in a case of an emergency (Appendix pg2).These particular amendments had been championed by former Opposition MP Sheila Holder.

The PPP said that Report includes recommendations that (i) bills must be circulated in advance and made accessible and available to the public ( websites, post offices etc.,) and (ii) “all major and /or complex bills would be sent to a special select committee”. In fact even prior to this report the Parliamentary Management Committee had agreed that all “major and ‘or complex bills would be sent to a special select committee”.

The PPPC said its parliamentarians were calling on the Commonwealth Secretariat, the European Union, the United Nations and in particular the United Nations Development Programme, the Inter-Parliamentary Union,  Organisation of American States, Caribbean Community, World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to “note this new assault on parliamentary democracy by the APNU AFC Coalition Government and to take a stand in support of parliamentary democracy in the 11th Parliament.”

“We also call on civil society and progressive and democratic Guyanese to express their opposition to the consistent erosion and abandonment of parliamentary democracy by the APNUAFC Coalition Government,” said the opposition party.