THE year 2011 was a very significant one for the legislature, as it saw the constitutional end of the life of the Ninth Parliament on September 22.
Following the work of the Eighth Parliament, the Ninth session demonstrated the political will of the Administration to implement and enhance its inclusive model.
The achievements made during this Parliament aided in the development of Guyana’s parliamentary democracy and inclusive governance model, which has, thus far, been given its rightful place.
During the year, the duly elected members of the PPP/C Administration demonstrated their commitment towards the advancement of Guyana and its citizens by ensuring that the legal framework of governance remained relevant or was amended, where necessary, to suit the demands of a rapidly developing country.
Speaking during the closing of the Ninth Parliament, parliamentarian and Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira said its sittings, “entrenched scrutiny over the government and strengthened the mechanism for accountability and transparency, as well as enhanced the mechanisms for parliamentary party dialogue in the interest of the nation.”
Approximately 140 Bills were enacted, covering the financial, judicial, security, social and productive sectors. Important landmark Bills, such as the Broadcasting and Access to Information Bill, which has been on the political agenda for some time now, were sent to a Special Select Committee to be reviewed.
Over 358 questions were asked by the opposition and all were answered, making it a 100 percent performance in comparison to other parliaments. Additionally, over 170 resolutions, including 31 Opposition motions (of which 10 were amended and accepted by the National Assembly) were addressed.
Seventeen Bills were also submitted to Parliamentary Special Select Committees and several other committees which looked at non-statute issues such as HIV/AIDS and political party campaign financing.
Improving National Financial Framework
In 2011, the financial sector’s legislative agenda focused fundamentally on the promotion of greater transparency, accountability and good governance, in its bid to ensure that the State’s resources were expended to fully benefit Guyanese.
The year began with the passage of the country’s largest national budget, worth $161.4B, that focused primarily on financial, social and infrastructural development.
It was the highest ever in Guyana’s history and catered for bringing the administration’s vision closer to reality. It is based on sustainable use of the country’s land, natural resources, building closer ties with its neighbours, affordable and clean energy, a well-educated work force equipped, and the availability and productive use of cutting edge technology, and according to Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, it is about ‘Investing in the transformation to tomorrow’s Guyana, today’.
Significant sums were budgeted for all of the sectors as government consolidated its transformation trajectory to improve the lives of its people.
Among some of the most important allocations were $10.1B for roads and bridges; $24.3B for education; $14 B for health; $15.9B for security; $2.4B for the justice sector; $3B for sea defence; $6.6 for D&I and $5.1B for housing and water.
A motion on campaign financing for political parties moved by the Alliance For Change party was adopted after it was sent to a special select committee to examine all the different models that exist with regards to this matter.
Agriculture Sector regulation
During the year, government continued its efforts at creating the necessary interventions to ensure that the agriculture sector was well positioned to advance along its development trajectory. This was complemented by comprehensive pieces of legislation.
The Animal Health Bill 2011 seeks to control the movement of animals into and within Guyana, and to prevent the introduction and spread of animal diseases within Guyana and from other countries.
The Seeds Bill, on the other hand, seeks to regulate the production, sale, import, export and quality of certain seeds for sowing, and to provide for certification of seeds and related matters.
Meanwhile, the Plant Protection Bill is an Act to regulate the importation and exportation of plants, planting materials and objects derived from them, so as to protect them from the introduction of exotic pests and diseases to Guyana and to control and eradicate diseases and pests within the country.
The Protected Areas legislation, which was also passed, provide for the conservation of Guyana’s natural heritage and natural capital; the creation, management, and financing of a national system of protected areas; maintenance of ecosystem services of national and global importance, including climate regulation; establishment of a Protected Areas Commission and a protected areas trust fund; fulfillment of Guyana’s international environmental responsibilities; public participation in protected areas and conservation.
It complements the goals outlined in the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) and has three major components, these are the establishment of the Protected Areas Commission, creation of National Protected Areas System, and the establishment of a Protected Areas Trust Fund.
Recognising that too often the assurance of quality and safety of products is absent as producers seek to maximise profits and minimise cost, while consumers seek lower prices, government passed the Consumer Protection Bill, which received overwhelming support from the Opposition.
This legislation provides for the promotion and protection of the interests of consumers in relation to the supply of goods and services, and renames the Competition Commission as the Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission, which will administer the Competition and Fair Trading Act 2006, as well as the
Consumer Affairs Act.
As producers compete in the market, consumers are the ones who are often caught in the middle, even though the economic benefits of consumer legislation stem from ensuring adequate information is available to consumers and suppliers.
This Act ensures that suppliers provide sufficient information to consumers to inform their decision on whether or not to buy a product or service based on the price, quality, and functionality of the product, and contractual rights and obligations of the supplier and the consumer.
Protecting human rights
Government has moved to yet another dimension with regard to child protection in Guyana, with the passage of the comprehensive Custody, Contact, Guardianship, and Maintenance Act of 2009, which received unanimous support from all members of the House.
It states that the court, when making any decision with respect to custody, contact, guardianship and maintenance in relation to a child, must have regard for the best interest of the child.
Provisions are also made for swift and expeditious actions to be taken so as to remove from the child, as much as possible, any trauma that may result from court-related procedures.
The Fifth Periodic Report of the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Social Services was adopted by the National Assembly. This committee addressed concerns, particularly as it relates to old age pension and public assistance.
The Adoption of Children Act of 2009 was amended to allow for adoption agencies to regulate their procedures in accordance with prescribed regulations, as opposed to rules made by the Rules Making committee, and vested responsibility in this regard to the Child Care and Protection Agency, instead of the Adoption Board.
Streamlining telecoms Sector
In an effort to create a regime with the rules and procedures by which persons participate in an open, competitive and decent broadcasting sector, with steadily higher standards that would contribute towards the aspiration of Guyana’s motto of becoming one people out of many, government passed the much-talked about Broadcasting Bill.
This piece of legislation is designed to avoid deadlock indecision and unending contention in the setting up of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) and its administration in the various provisions of this Act.
Meanwhile, the Telecommunications Bill, which provides for an open, liberalized and competitive telecommunications sector, that will be attractive to new market entrants and investors, while preserving the activities of the current sector participants was sent to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee.
This was followed by an amendment to the Public Utilities Commission Act to complement the Telecommunications legislation. This too, was also sent to a select committee.
Under this amended legislation, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will continue to function as the economic regulator of the telecommunications sector, with responsibility for ensuring a competitive environment, seamless interconnection, access between and among telecommunications networks, and price regulation, only where required to protect consumers and competition.
On the other hand, the much touted Access to Information Bill was passed. It sets out a practical regime of right to information for persons to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the government and public authorities, and for the appointment of the Commissioner of Information.
Government’s aim of reforming and modernising the sector has recently seen large investments, such as the installation of fibre optic cables from Georgetown to Lethem, for bringing bandwidth from Brazil for E-Government purposes. This project will also bring connectivity to residents from Moleson Creek, Region 6, to Anna Regina, Region 2, and expanding to the more remote areas.
This year, the wanton loss of lives on the roadways was a major concern for the Administration; this led to the passage of an amendment to the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act to empower the Police Commissioner, with the approval of the minister, to appoint persons as traffic wardens.
It also provides for a fine of $30,000 and imprisonment of a period of six months for persons who, in any way, obstruct a traffic warden from executing his duties.
The Guyana Energy Agency Act was amended to correct loopholes in the law,which were being exploited, as more and more fuel is being smuggled into the country.
It provides for the insertion of a new section that makes the possession and sale of illegal petroleum or petroleum products an offence that carries a penalty of $3M and three years imprisonment.