A report on the cost of food for each sitting of Parliament, being $700,000, has triggered a particularly sharp debate about the cost and the alleged supply of alcohol. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, confessed that he consumes the food. He said: “I eat the food. What do you suggest? I don’t eat the food? I eat the food…I like eating too. And it’s not like it’s fancy food. It’s not fancy food…” The problem the teetotaler Mr. Jagdeo said, confirming the traditionally austere leadership of the PPP, was the alcohol. “It’s not just the food. It’s the huge amount of alcohol that gets consumed and imbibed in Parliament…fancy, fancy, liquor.” Mr. Jagdeo noted that Opposition members would hardly ever, if at all, utilize alcohol provided by Parliament Office. “They do eat. We eat. I eat the food,” he emphasized, “..but it’s the alcohol part that I have a problem with.” But the politics intruded. Mr. Jagdeo suggested that it was some Government members who excessively imbibed during sittings. After suggesting that the cost of the alcohol might be as much as the cost of food, he recommended that members purchase their own alcohol.
If the Leader of the Opposition was concerned that MPs would be drunk on their feet or otherwise in Parliament, he should not worry. The public, viewing debates, would assume that MPs are drunk anyway – Government Members, with power, and Opposition Members, seeking it.
There appears to be no consensus among parliamentary parties about a date for the first sitting of the National Assembly after the just concluded recess.
There also appears to be some confusion as to the procedure by which the National Assembly is to be convened. It is claimed that the Government has to make a request of the Speaker. The AFC, on the other hand, relies on Standing Order (S.O.) 8(2) which permits the Speaker, if in his opinion the public interest so requires, to convene the National Assembly to a day earlier than that to which it stands adjourned. Under this S.O. the pre-requisite for the Speaker’s intervention is that a date must have already been fixed, which is not the situation. The AFC also relies on the Opposition’s has 51 percent of the seats. The Opposition Leader says that it is out of their hands.
The view of the Opposition that a Member of the National Assembly can be prevented from speaking is nothing but weird. This battle was fought in England hundreds of years ago and was settled in 1689. Guyana must be the first country which inherited the British Parliamentary system in which this issue had to be fought all over again after more than three hundred years.
Despite all of this, the ruling of the Speaker that Minister Clement Rohee is entitled to speak has not found favour with the Opposition. APNU expressed its displeasure but the AFC, quite properly, said that they will accept the Speaker’s ruling. APNU appears to be interested in tabling a motion to challenge the ruling with a view to having it reversed. Whether it will persist with this course in the certainty that the motion will be defeated, having regard to the AFC’s position, is not now clear.