… Constitutional right to Freedom of Expression being trampled upon- Teixeira
Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Barton Scotland, at the 95th sitting of the National Assembly on Monday reprimanded opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Harry Gill for what he termed improper conduct, following a letter by Gill that was published in sections of the media calling for the Speaker to “remain politically impartial at all times.”
Gill in his letter, among other things, posited that “someone has to have the credibility and courage to remind the Hon. Dr. Barton Scotland that he owes his loyalty to the dignity of Parliament, and that his role as Speaker of the National Assembly must remain politically impartial at all times. At the very minimum, he is expected to be fair in his rulings.”
In grounding his arguments in facts, the Opposition MP listed several occasions in Parliament where he said that the Opposition Parliamentarians were muzzled, while Ministers on the Governing side were allowed to speak.
In on the examples, Gill outlined that “on Monday, 25 June 2018, before the commencement of the Local Authorities Amendment Bill debate, the former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, produced certified copies of court documents to show that this matter relating to tied NDCs was sub judice and should not be proceeded with. He invited the Speaker to look at the court documents but he refused to do so. Instead, unbothered by the advice of perhaps the best legal brain in the entire Caribbean, the Speaker of the National Assembly calmly over-ruled Nandlall’s objection and proceeded with the debate.”
However, he contrasted this with the June 2016 Debate on the PPP/C’s Motion calling for the government to stop the Georgetown Parking Meter project. Gill highlighted that this motion “was stopped as Attorney General Basil Williams advised the Speaker that this matter was then before the courts. Interestingly, this Motion remains asterisked on the Order Paper since then, meaning it is not up for debate.”
At the end of his critical letter, the Opposition MP posited that it was not his intention to “bring the Speaker or the National Assembly in disrepute. It is merely my hope that the dignity of the House prevails.”
However, during Monday’s sitting the Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business in the House, Moses Nagamootoo whilst remarking on the incident moved a motion requiring the matter be referred to the Committee of Privileges for the appropriate actions to be taken.
The motion was passed, with Dr Scotland asserting that “Gill will answer to the Committee of Privileges for his conduct in this matter.”
According to the Speaker “If the Honourable Member Mr. Gill was dissatisfied with the rulings or decisions of the Speaker, he could have taken a course of action provided in the Standing Orders to which all members in this House have submitted themselves when they became members of this House. He has proceeded, instead, on a course of action which is totally impermissible under the Standing Orders. His conduct is an affront to the office of Speaker, the person of the Speaker and to the dignity of this House,” Scotland said.
However, Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira asserted that criticisms that occurred outside of the Chambers cannot be questioned, as if it were it would trample upon the enshrined constitutional right of the a person to freedom of expression.
“Mr. Speaker, under the Constitution of Guyana Article 146, the freedom of expression contains outside of this House. No one has showed any disrespect to you, Sir, in the House. We have a right to speak outside of this House so you want to take all of us to Privilege,” she queried?
Teixeira, who was not given permission to speak, was told by Dr Scotland that her remarks will be expunged from the records.
“Those remarks were made without the permission of the Speaker and a member must at least obtain the authority of the Speaker if she is going to address the House. That rule has not change and will not change,” the Speaker said.
The Opposition’s call for the Speaker to be more partial did not start with Gill, as on many occasions prior the Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo and other member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) made similar pronouncements to that of Gill outside of Parliament. Moreover, none of them were reprimanded.
In fact, in asserting that the Speaker needs to be more partial in his dispensation, Jagdeo in 2017 had said that the Speaker was bias for blocking the Economic Services Committee of Parliament from conducting public forums to reach those involved in the sugar industry.
Among other things, Jagdeo posited that “I would urge the Speaker to be much more consistent in his rulings. How can you explain that just weeks ago, another committee, the Natural Resources Committee, visited several entities and places in Guyana. They went to Isseneru, Guyana Gold Fields, a number of places in the interior… and the Speaker did not prevent that from taking place. And when the Economic Services Committee, in this instance, wanted to visit the sugar estates and talk to people about the impact of the Government’s decision on the closure of these estates, the Speaker doesn’t allow it?”