Amid opposition disruption, defiant House Speaker proceeds with debate on ‘oil money’ legislation; Bill passed after Finance Minister’s presentation

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 December 2021, 20:31 by Denis Chabrol

Under the constant din of whistling and chanting oppo0sition parliamentarians directly in front of his face, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh piloted debate on the Natural Resource Fund Bill.

Dr Singh was flanked by government ministers at the lectern while the opposition lawmakers remain a mere few inches from his face chanting “No thiefing bill will pass,” “No thiefing bill will pass”.

After the Finance Minister completed his presentation, Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Gail Teixeira put the Bill to the vote and the House Speaker put all 47 clauses and two schedules to the vote. As the vote was taken, there were opposition shouts of ‘shame’, ‘shame’, ‘shame’.

Prime Minister Mark Phillips, a former military Chief was also among the government lawmakers who ring-fenced the Finance Minister as the pandemonium continued.

Dr Singh accused the opposition of engaging in “unprecedented thuggish behaviour”.  A number of the lawmakers milled around the Chamber of the National Assembly which is temporarily located at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Liliendaal.

The People’s National Congress Reform-led APNU+AFC as well as five civil society organisations are demanding that the new Bill be opened up to public participation on the amendments. They are objecting to the reduction of an oversight committee from 22 to nine and the inclusion of a Board to manage the Natural Resources Fund. That Board would be appointed by the President.

Also facing strong objection is the formula being used to draw down oil revenues for deposit into the Consolidated Fund.

The government has sought to assure that the new Natural Resource Fund Bill was aimed at removing ministerial control and placing them in the hands of a Board. Government has also said that the Public Accountability and Oversight Committee was merely “passive”.

The government has said that now there would be clear and predictable rules for withdrawing from the fund and would be subjected to oversight by the parliamentary budget debate, the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee.

Apart from the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce which had hours earlier on Wednesday called for the process to be reopened to wide public consultation, the Private Sector Commission and the Guyana Oil and Gas Energy Chamber welcomed the Natural Resource Fund Bill.