Thursday, May 29, 2008

Parliament and Media Workshop opens amidst controversy

Parliament and Media Workshop opens amidst controversy
By George Baird
Guyana Chronicle, Thursday 29 May 2008

THE Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) sponsored ‘Guyana Workshop on Parliament and the Media’ opened amidst controversy yesterday, with Government and Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) trading barbs.

Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Hari (Ralph) Ramkarran made welcoming remarks but, no sooner had he concluded that Alliance For Change (AFC) Co-Leader, Mr. Raphael Trotman raised current controversial issues.

Trotman spoke about the alleged challenge to the Executive by the Judiciary, the process of State assets disposal and the House being a “rubber stamp” for Government actions.

He plugged for the Freedom of Information Bill, which he proposed, to be passed into law, offering it as a solution to revealing secrets in Government dealings and advocated that all MPs be presented free laptop computers.

Trotman said the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had not given its support nor said it is against the measure but thanked the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) for its endorsement.

PPP/C MP, Ms. Gail Teixeira, who chaired the opening session, noted that the matters mentioned by Trotman would certainly be debated later and Prime Minister Samuel Hinds refused to be drawn into the fray.

Mr. Hinds, in a conciliatory tone, confined his presentation to bidding the participants from overseas a warm welcome and expressing the hope that the four-day programme would result in all those involved learning more about the workings of the local Legislature.

Guyanese-born Baroness Valerie Amos, from the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament, agreed that Ministers should be held accountable to Parliament and spoke of her own experience while holding a portfolio in the British Government.

She said she definitely expected to be questioned about or criticised over administrative initiatives but said Guyana had gone much further than Britain, by broadcasting what happens in its Parliament, while the constituents in the UK were not as interested in the parliamentary business.

Under the chairmanship of PPP/C MP, Mr. Albert Atkinson, the forum heard different opinions on how the Guyana Parliament functions.

Ramkarran said he did not want to contribute to the debate on whether or not the House was a rubber stamp but contended that it was functioning much better under the implemented system through which sectoral committees have rotating chairpersons from Government and Opposition and 50 per cent of the Bills tables are referred for consultation.

Minister within the Ministry of Education, Dr. Desrey Fox, concurred that the procedure afforded the Opposition more say but PNCR Chairman Murray maintained that it did not devolve any power.

Other PNCR MP, Mr. Basil Williams, agreed with Murray that the situation has improved but said, because membership of the committees is based on the representation of the parties in the House, unless there is consensus, the Government majority prevails.

After Ms. Sasha Mohammed of Trinidad and Tobago TV6 had outlined how the media in the twin-island republic treats with its legislators and exposes wrongdoings, Murray rejoined to state that the local media targets certain personalities for denigration.

Another PPP/C MP, Mr. Neil Kumar, was among others who added to the morning discussion.

Earlier, Mr. Shem Baldeosingh, the Trinidadian Assistant Director of the CPA, gave a background to how the workshop was arranged and shared recommendations made to the secretariat for similar exercises to enhance democracy.

The workshop, at Grand Coastal Inn, Le Ressouvenir, East Coast Demerara, continues through Saturday, with participants also from Bermuda.

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