APNU+AFC moves to court to block suspension of 8 parliamentarians
By Rehanna Ramsay
Kaieteur News – Mere hours before the planned tabling of a Motion in the National Assembly for the suspension of eight Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), a court case was filed in an attempt to prevent the move.
Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton is flanked by party members after filing the court action on Wednesday
This was announced at a press conference held by Leader of the A Partnership for National Unity +Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Opposition, Aubrey Norton on Wednesday.
According to the document which was seen by this newspaper, the High Court has also been asked to issue an order to all the eight opposition parliamentarians to perform their duties as Members of the National Assembly until they have been afforded the right to be heard
The parliamentarians want the High Court to block the Speaker and the Clerk of the National Assembly from permitting, causing or allowing any consideration of the Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee of Privileges.
The lawsuit was filed jointly before today’s sitting of the National Assembly at which the Report could be brought up for discussion and decision.
The Opposition MPs say they were not given a right to a hearing by the bipartisan Privileges Committee which has since recommended that they be suspended.
The report of the committee shows that they were invited to show cause why they should not be punished but the MPs denied having committed any of the acts that they have been accused of. They instead asked for details of the offences. The Committee relied on live video recordings and testimonies by the media and staff of the Parliamentary Office.
The incident occurred on December 29 in an effort to block the debate and passage of the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) legislation.
Based on the report of the Privileges Committee, MPs Annette Ferguson, Maureen A. Philadelphia and Vinceroy Jordan would be suspended for six consecutive sittings for committing serious violations which were severe and egregious by unauthorisedly removing the Parliamentary Mace from its rightful position in a disorderly fashion, causing damage to the Mace, injuring and assaulting a staff of the Parliament Office, while attempting to remove the Mace from the Chamber.
Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, it was revealed, would be suspended for six consecutive sittings for unauthorisedly entering the communication control room of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre and destroying several pieces of audio-visual equipment, being public property.
The report recommended further that Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones, Sherod Duncan, Natasha Singh-Lewis and Ganesh Mahipaul would be suspended from four consecutive sittings for conducting themselves in a gross disorderly, disrespectful manner, and repeatedly ignoring the authority of the Assembly and that of the Speaker, and thereby committing contempt and breaches of privileges.
However during the press briefing on Wednesday Norton accused the government for attempting to sanction the opposition MPs while at the same time violating the laws of Guyana.
Leader of Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan said that in his view the opposition MPs are justified in their actions.
He noted that “When Bishop Juan Edghill’s trial was being conducted on the Committee of Privileges when he was an opposition member, a certain ‘precedence’ was set at the behest of the opposition members at that time.”
According to Ramjattan, “they [the PPP/C while in opposition] demanded that Edghill must be given the right to counsel namely the lawyers, Anil Nandall and Priya Manickand.”
Additionally, he said “they had asked about the particular of the charge against the Bishop which the committee had to produce to make their case against the then opposition MP.”
Ramjattan explained that the APNU+AFC Government were literally forced to create precedence for them.
“…And that is why we are very pained at the fact that when it now comes to apply to the eight parliamentarians up for suspension, none of this precedence was applied. It is discriminatory for the law to be applied the way it is,” he said.
Meanwhile, opposition MP and Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde also called out the Government for callously and wantonly ignoring the precedence set.
He stated that “The court action will centre on the illegalities that would have been committed by the Committee of Privileges which will deal with the fact that there has been a consistent failure from the time these proceedings would have been filed…by the speaker and the government members of that committee to allow the eight MPs of an opportunity to be heard.”