President’s speech greeted with Opposition protest in the National Assembly

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By Ramona Luthi

Opposition Members of Parliament on Thursday afternoon refused to listen to the address made by President David Granger in the House following the recommencement of Parliament after a three months recess.

During Granger’s speech about “the common good,” “patrimony,” “the economic sector,” “governance sector,” “social sector” and the “legislative agenda” for 2018, People’s Progressive Party members staged an in-house protest, holding up placards while heckling the Administration throughout the hour and half long address.

Bearing signs which read “Uncontrollable crime,” “Blackouts murderous,” “Freedom of press under threat,” among others, the Opposition Parliamentarians chanted “no more rigging” and “jobs for youths!”

President David Granger during his speech in Parliament

At times, their chants completely drowned out Granger’s voice even as he spoke into a microphone to amplify the sound.

Seemingly unruffled by the commotion in the National Assembly, Granger said that “Parliament’s deliberations and decisions should be aimed at exercising sovereignty for the common good.”

He noted that since being in power, the coalition Administration “has been engaged in various, vigorous diplomatic initiatives,” while noting that “the Nation’s economy has been prudently managed over the past 30 months.”

Granger said that this has allowed for moderate economic growth of 3.1 per cent in 2015 and 3.3 per cent in 2016, despite the unfavourable external environment, with Gold being the main contributor to this growth.

He further noted that Government has since adopted measures to improve the standard of living for workers, while placing the spotlight on the increase of public servants’ minimum wage to $60,000.

“We reduced the income-tax rate and increased the income tax threshold by a minimum of 20 per cent – measures which boosted our working people’s disposable income,” he added.

With regards to the Governance sector, Granger said that his Administration has “been most diligent in fortifying the rule of law,” and “has strengthened the country’s legal administrative system.”

Opposition Parliamentarians bearing placards protesting, among other things, the President’s unilateral appoint of a GECOM Chairman from outside of the lists of 18 persons provided by the Opposition Leader

The President, in his address, asserted that he is committed to working with the Guyana Teachers’ Union to solve problems and to improve the conditions in the public education system under which students have to attend school and teachers study, work and live.

As he closed on the Government’s Legislative Agenda, Granger said that the focus will be placed mainly, but not exclusively, on six principal areas, which includes “finalizing Bills which have already been introduced into the National Assembly, strengthening anti-corruption legislation, modernizing and updating existing legislation to align it with international best practices, improving justice administration, improving the regulatory framework of our economic sectors, and enhancing the institutional framework of the mining, telecommunications and business sectors.”

He further lamented on the Administration’s intention to work towards enhancing the business environment.

Staying away was not adequate

Meanwhile, after the Head of State concluded his speech, the 71st Sitting of the National Assembly was abruptly adjourned until November 17, 2017.

Speaking to media operatives after the session, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo posited that the President’s speech was anticipated and unoriginal, while noting that the major issues were left unaddressed.

“We expected another good life speech, opening up the interior, that the Forestry Commission job is to monitor the forest… He has not dealt with any of the major issues that are affecting Guyanese. The crime and how we will tackle the increase in crime, how he will tackle the losses of jobs in our economy, how he will tackle investments.

“In fact, he said we are attracting more investments now when the reality is very different and so he wants to open up the interior again. He even talks about projects that were started under the PPP” said Jagdeo.“Then we got a lecture about the rule of law and good governance, when, effectively, what he has been doing is undermining the rule of law by acting unconstitutionally.”

Commenting on why the Opposition members opted to stage an in-house protest and not a “walk out” as was their way of showing non-support of Government initiatives, Jagdeo asserted that “staying away was not adequate.”

Opposition Leader, Jagdeo interacting with protesters who demonstrated outside of Parliament against the President’s decision to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chair

“We had walked out in the past, not listened to the President, when there were other breaches of the Constitution… We stayed away from the Parliament, but this breach was so egregious that just staying away was not adequate. We had to be there actively protesting their breach of the Constitution [unilateral appointment of the new GECOM Chairman] and the rule of law and therefore that’s why we took this action to highlight not only to Guyana but the international community, how seriously we in the country view this matter,” he said.

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