In the National Assembly last week, an Opposition PPP MP, Alister Charlie, criticized the use by the Government of green and yellow as the colours to paint various public objects, such as car tyres around plants and trees. The criticism was that these were the colours of APNU and AFC and their use reflects the reintroduction of the doctrine of paramountcy of the 1970s whereby the ruling Party held dominance over the state. The Opposition expressed fears that soon, just as the PNC flag was flown at the Court of Appeal, the colours of APNU and AFC, green and yellow, would be used to paint public buildings.
The Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland, would have none of it. He ruled that green and yellow are the colours of the national flag, the Golden Arrowhead, and cannot therefore be the object of ‘lampooning’ in the House. ‘Lampooning’ appears to have been used in a broad sense, meaning “criticizing” or “objecting to.” Decisions of the Speaker are final. There is no appeal. But because there was no detailed rationale by the Speaker for his decision, we are left to wonder whether his ruling means that no criticism can ever be made of the use of the colours green and yellow at all in the House, or whether criticism of the use of the colours would only be disallowed if it relates to the Government use of them to paint public objects. The Speaker’s decision was vigorously criticized by the Opposition.
My understanding of the Speaker’s decision, by his use of the word ‘lampooning,’ without more, is that a wide interpretation is justified. There was no limitation on his decision. The ruling means that there must be no ‘lampooning’ of the colours in the House for any reason. For example, the Prime Minister, a Christian anti-communist, who served for 50 years in a Hindu, communist party, architect of our current Constitution and an initiating voice for the two-term presidential limit, now acknowledging its potential dangers of corruption in the second term, can rise in the House and declare “Mr. Speaker, I move that the canons guarding the northern entrance of the Parliament Buildings be painted in two colours of the flag, green and yellow.” Alister Charlie MP would not be permitted to say, “I object.” The motion would pass with speaker after speaker supporting it and without a single dissenting opinion being permitted.
Under the Standing Orders, criticisms can be made of various officials such as the President, Judges, members of Parliament and other public officials but only if a motion is tabled for the purpose. The particular Standing Order does not refer to the flag or its colours as permissible subjects for a motion. It is therefore not known, by virtue of the Speaker’s ruling, whether a motion on the issue can be allowed.
Apart from the absence of specific authority in a Standing Order, a member may object to the motion on the ground that the colours are being utilized by the Mayor, who has a partiality for green, and not by the Government. In other words, it is not ‘government business.’ The Speaker would then be forced to reject the motion, as he did with the Opposition’s motion on the rice industry, on the alternative ground that the use of the colours is not ‘government business’ and that, therefore, the motion does not qualify for debate.
This is a serious matter for the opposition and they should not allow themselves to be deterred by the Speaker’s ruling from mounting a public campaign on the issue. It could, on the one hand, rip apart the solidity of their support and, on the other hand, unduly lengthen the life of the Government.
Several months ago I wrote about the appearance of the Guyana Consul General, Brentnoll Evans, at a rally in Brooklyn, USA, to support the victory of the Government at the elections. All of Mr. Evans’s visible garments, including his hat, shoes, socks, tie and handkerchief, were in the colours of green and yellow. The colours of his garments that were not visible were not known but have been eagerly speculated about having regard to his vociferous advocacy of the APNU/AFC coalition from May 12, 2015. Of the many diplomats who were political appointees, Mr. Evans is the lone (but one) survivor, until now.
Political longevity can be another outcome. There is Hamilton Green, a now venerated political icon, who wears only green clothes, writes with green ink and drives green coloured vehicles. It is rumoured that he skirts around concrete and bitumen surfaces and walks only on green grass wherever possible. Hammie’s lifetime popularizing the colour green has paid dividends. Starting out as a boy politician in the notorious, convulsive, 1960s, from which he gained an enduring reputation, he rose to become Prime Minister. Kicked out of the PNC by Desmond Hoyte, Hammie rode the colour green in his party, “A Good and Green Guyana,” to become Mayor in 1994. So effective has been his exploitation of the colour green that Hammie is still the Mayor today. All of this evidence shows that the PPP is quite in order to view the use of green and yellow as an insidious and sinister portent.