Uncertainty looms over Budget debate
THE debate on the 2014 Budget continues today, but a measure of uncertainty looms over the progress of the National Assembly’s proceedings, given the controversial actions of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Members of Parliament (MPs) last Friday, and whether they will allow Education Minister Priya Manickchand to address the House.
The Opposition provoked chaos in the National Assembly when its MPs defied the ruling of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, to allow Manickchand to speak – effectively reneging on their agreement that saw no problems with the minister making her presentation.
Last Tuesday a ‘heckle’ by the Education Minister drew a protest and she was barred by the Speaker from speaking during the ongoing debates. However, on Wednesday following an agreement brokered by the Speaker with the Government and the Opposition, Manickchand repeated agreed words in the House, which were accepted by the Opposition as a prerequisite to their non-protest of her being able to contribute to the 2014 Budget debates. On the following day the Opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Jaipaul Sharma resigned from his post in the House, stating that his resignation was prompted by Manickchand’s comment and the fact the he considered himself “incompetent” as an aggressive debator.
The Justice for All Party, which Sharma represents, has reportedly since pulled out of the APNU coalition and Sharma was replaced in the National Assembly by former People’s National Congress (PNC) MP, Earnest Elliot.
On Friday night when the Education Minister rose to deliver her address on the 2014 Estimates, which allocates $32.3B – the lion’s share – to the education sector, APNU MPs protested with loud rapping on their desks, chanting “Apologise to Sharma”.
Several calls by the Speaker for order were ignored and the Opposition’s protest grew louder, forcing Trotman to rule that the sitting be suspended. During the suspension MPs on either side of the aisle were loud in registering their respective viewpoints.
On the resumption of the sitting, the Speaker acknowledged that the protest was as much against him and his ruling, as it was against Manickchand, but stressed that according to last Wednesday’s agreement the issue was dealt with.
He acknowledged Manickchand and asked her to proceed with her presentation.
However, the position of the APNU MPs remained unchanged. With every attempt by the Education Minister to make her speech, the Opposition’s pounding and chanting grew louder. Each time Manickchand halted her presentation, the Government MPs stood up in protest, which was the case three times within a few minutes.
A warning, from the Speaker that the sitting would have to be adjourned went unheeded and Trotman ordered that the Budget 2014 debate be adjourned for continuation today.
In addition to Manickchand, APNU’s MP James Bond and Government MP Manzoor Nadir were slated to speak last Friday, but didn’t have the opportunity in the ensuing chaos.