Last Updated on Wednesday, 3 March 2021, 23:41 by Denis Chabrol
Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon was Wednesday night tight-lipped about details concerning claims by opposition coalition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change’s (APNU+AFC) parliamentarian, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley that Public Affairs Minister Kwame Mc Coy struck her on her head with a cell phone.
The only specific details about the alleged incident came in a statement from the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) whose former Chairman was Ms. Sarabo-Halley. “WPA understands that Ms. Sarabo was in conversation with Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield when McCoy thrusted his phone in her face. After she protested, he proceeded to hit her in the face. After speaking with Ms. Sarabo and other onlookers, WPA is satisfied that she did not provoke the encounter—it was initiated and escalated by McCoy,” the WPA said.
Mr. Mc Coy has denied assaulting Ms. Sarabo-Halley.
Mr. Harmon declined to say who witnessed the alleged assault and if the witnesses included government parliamentarians or officials of the Parliament Office. “I don’t have to tell you who are these witnesses. They are witnesses who the police took statements from,” he said. “These are people who actually saw what happened. It doesn’t matter where they are from,” he added. He also declined to divulge details of a medical report that Ms. Sarabo-Halley has obtained from a doctor showing that she was injured.
When the media insisted on details, the Communications Director of the Opposition Leader’s Office, Imran Khan cautioned reporters against casting aspersions and turning the press conference into an investigation as that is the role of the police. “What I find very concerning is the fact that we seem to want to execute an investigation before we do any reportage on an issue. The facts are before you. A Member of Parliament has made an allegation that she was assaulted by another Member of Parliament. One does not need any further facts to report that in the newspaper,” he said.
The Opposition Leader rejected suggestions in some quarters that the APNU+AFC trumped up the allegation against the government minister ahead of International Women’s Day which would be observed on March 8. “I think it’s stretching the imagination to actually believe that were that to be a strategy on our part to have one of our female MPs to make an allegation like that as part of some strategy,” he said.
Pressed for questions on those areas, Mr. Harmon stopped short of accusing the media of seeking to trivialise violence against a female parliamentarian.
The APNU+AFC plans to await the outcome of the police investigations and declined to say whether the coalition would continue to participate in consideration of the estimates of expenditure in the 2021 National Budget or if the police investigation does not find Mr. Mc Coy culpable.
Already, the WPA, which is a former APNU member, has called for Mr. Mc Coy to be suspended from the National Assembly.
Mr. Harmon stressed that an apology would not be a “suitable remedy”, but he declined to immediately say what his coalition would consider acceptable. adding that would be made known on Thursday.
A view of video surveillance recordings did not show Ms. Sarabo-Halley being assaulted reportedly in the vicinity of the elevator just outside the dome of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown, where sittings of the National Assembly are being held.
Fellow opposition parliamentarian, Amanza Walton-Desir recalled seeing Ms. Sarabo-Halley shortly after the alleged incident. “I can say that I witnessed a very shaken and distraught individual,” said Ms. Walton-Desir, an Attorney-at-Law by profession.
The WPA condemned the “cowardly act” by a male Parliamentarian and said it should not tolerated in Guyana especially by someone entrusted with power. “The Opposition members should not sit in the Assembly with this person,” the WPA added.
McCoy’s action cannot be divorced from the quality of governance the country has witnessed since the PPP came to power. We are of the firm view that the thuggish form of governance displayed by the PPP has set the stage for this kind of behavior from the member,”the WPA added.