EIGHT A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Members of Parliament (MPs) will have to face the Committee of Privileges for their unruly conduct during the December 29, 2021 sitting of the National Assembly.
Opposition Chief Whip, Christopher Jones, and other Opposition MPs, namely Sherod Duncan, Natasha Singh-Lewis, Annette Ferguson, Vinceroy Jordan, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, Ganesh Mahipaul and Maureen Philadelphia were referred to the Privileges Committee following the passage of a motion on the matter tabled by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, in the National Assembly on Monday.
On December 29, in a bid to defend the landmark Natural Resources Fund (NRF) Bill, which has since been passed and assented to by President Dr Irfaan Ali, Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh, was interrupted by what was referred to as the unparliamentary actions of members of the Opposition.
The second reading of the bill was objected to by Jones, who asked that the bill be sent to a Special Select Committee. But Speaker of the House, Manzoor Nadir, then responded to say that he prefers listening to the arguments on both sides, before determining whether or not the bill should be sent to a select committee.
Minister Singh then took to the podium, but his presentation was interrupted by members of the APNU+AFC Opposition, who kept banging on their desks and chanting demeaning words about the bill.
The uproar continued for several minutes, even as Minister Singh pressed ahead with his presentation.
The protest from the Opposition grew, as the Opposition MPs, armed with placards, converged at the centre floor of the dome of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, where the National Assembly is being held.
Ferguson went a step further to steal the Speaker’s Mace; she was immediately joined by some of her other colleagues. This unprecedented act was foiled by a young clerk of the House, who managed to secure the instrument, to which he held on tightly as he laid on the floor of the conference centre.
A video posted on social media shows one of the Opposition parliamentarians verbally abusing the young man, using racial slurs.
Further, MP Sarabo-Halley also attempted to interrupt the operations of the House by purportedly infiltrating the Parliament’s control room and tampering with equipment which controls audio and video.
Rising on Monday to table her motion and condemn the acts of the Opposition MPs, Minister Teixeira told the House: “Evidence is recorded and cannot be erased or forgotten. Of special note, the space between the Government and the Opposition side is considered the safe space and any entrance without permission is interpreted as an act of aggression and a threat to safety of the Members of Parliament.”
She went on to say: “This we saw through the Opposition members unmasked… these events which transpired in the House: the damage to the Mace, the deliberate damage to the equipment at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre’s control and communications room, the assault on a staff, repeated disregard for the Speaker and the authority of the Assembly, require stern measures.”
The motion tabled by Minister Teixeira outlines the specific actions of each Opposition parliamentarian and recommends that the matter be treated with the highest level of seriousness and with alacrity.
She reminded the House that the Speaker, by virtue of Standing Order 37, 1-10, holds the authority to “deal with” disorderly members of the National Assembly.
Considering the magnitude of the issue, Minister Teixeira called on the Committee of Privileges to address the matter within one month.