Death and Death by Violent Means3120 30 Jul, 2012
Minister in the Ministry of Finance [Bishop Edghill]: On July 18th, when Shemroy Bouyea, Ivan Lewis, Ron Somerset and hundreds of other Lindeners came out for what was supposed to be a peaceful protest, none of us in this House anticipated death or injury. As a matter of fact, the pastors and the churches in Linden, which participated and mobilised their members, made it very clear to the organisers of this activity that they will not be a part of anything that will be violent and can cause mayhem. It was with such an agreement that they participated. The Hon. Member Mr. Morian is a member of such a group of pastors in Linden and he could attest to that. At no time was there any arrangement, agreement or understanding that a bridge would be blocked and that insults would be thrown at persons who did not agree with the cause. At no time was it established that this process or protest would be anything besides letting voices be heard about the proposed electricity tariff increase. It is with that context that when I got the news that there were individuals who lost their lives that I was deeply pained. I take this opportunity to join the voices of His Excellency the President, Members of this Government and Members of the Opposition and the many members of civil societies and the voices of those who are unable to be heard, because, perhaps, the media will not listen to them, to say how deeply pained we are by these circumstances.
The motion before us is one that calls for the condemnation of the killings that took place. I have noticed that we would have gone specifically and put an individual on trial and have already concluded that he is guilty and that he has been in sentenced. I have listened to persons in this House, during this debate, saying things that were told to them by Lindeners and I would say what Lindeners told me. Lindeners told me that they are not assured that gunfire only came from the police.
Lindeners told me that. I dare say, Sir, this came from persons who were part of the protest who mobilised members of their congregations to be part of that protest. They cannot honestly stand and say that gunshot fired only came from the police.
Mr. Jones: Comrade Speaker…
Mr. Speaker: Are you rising on a Point of Order?
Mr. Jones: It is of correction, rather. On Wednesday the 18th of July the police issued an official press release and at no point in time, in that press release, it was stated that the police were fired upon, so the Hon. Member is misleading the House.
Bishop Edghill: Mr. Speaker, at no time at all did I say that anyone fired at the police. I said persons from Linden, who communicated with me on the evening of this dreadful and dark day, cannot be convinced, having been present and seeing what was taking place, that it was only the police who used gunfire. I would like that to be recorded in this National Assembly. I will not back away from what is essentially a view that is held by a number of Lindeners, Sir. We have to be very careful in this House, we have to be very careful in this country, about the way we rush to judgement. While I am aware, Sir, that I have many admirers in this House, I will not be distracted by their words of admiration.
When things go wrong questions must be asked, and certainly the 18th of July is a day when things went wrong. Last week I sat here and I listened to the Hon. Leader of the Opposition when he said, “Linden is listening; the people of Guyana are listening.” I will like to say that is true - the people are listening - but the people are not only listening, Sir, the people are looking, because in this honourable House where the seriousness of a motion that is calling for the condemnation, as it relates to the killings of innocent lives who were in a peaceful protest, where this motion is also calling for a removal of a responsible elected official, in the person of a Minister of Home Affairs, the people are seeing that we have individuals who are genuflecting at the altar of political opportunism. The people who are genuflecting at this alter, Sir, cannot use the pain and grief of sorrowing families and hurting individuals to score cheap political points.
This motion seeks to make conclusions before the facts. I want to know, as a citizen of this country, who fired those fatal shots. I believe that is something we all in this House want to know; we want to know who behaved in a reckless manner. We want to know who behaved in a manner that was not in keeping with what could be described as civil behaviour because here, in Linden, what was organised as a peaceful protest, something went wrong and the question must be asked. Let us find out what went wrong; let us have the Commission of Inquiry; let us have the investigations. It is strange and I cannot help about expressing this opinion in this honourable House that all the individuals who were there, in the age of cell phones, video cameras and where there are members of the media, who pride themselves in bringing to public notice act of in discretions that are being discovered and exposed, that up until this day, Sir, some twelve days after the shooting, not one piece of footage of what happened is being aired on the airwaves that led to the death of those individuals. Something is fishy here, Sir. I would think that the environment needs to be created where all and sundry must be able to come in a safe space and provide the information that is available to them; that this will not be one in a series of events in Guyana where we keep pointing fingers and blaming each other, but we must know conclusively who is responsible. That is why I cannot support the motion as presented by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition and I am asking this honourable House to consider the amendments as put with by the Hon. Prime Minister.
What transpired in Linden is essentially about leadership and while there might be those who do not want to hear about it, Sir, I will not be silent, because my responsibility is to do what I am doing here, and that is to speak the truth. It is about leadership. Local leaders in Linden, who had a feeling and a view that there issue of the electricity tariff must be addressed, the voices must be heard, in what is allowed in any democracy, mobilised their people to make their views. I cannot stand in this honourable House tonight and say that the people who started this are in charge of what is taking place right now. Somewhere along the line new leaders took over the issue. I spoke to people in Linden when the protest stopped on the bridge and it was never a part of the game plan for anybody to take over the bridge as discussed with the stakeholders in the planning meetings. When the people stopped on the bridge it meant that somewhere along the line the local leaders had handed over leadership to a new kind of leaders. I have noticed quite recently that a former Leader of the Opposition has warned about wild men.
The Commission of Inquiry would tell us between the starting point and why we never got to the place where the rally should have been held, where the speakers were supposed to deliver their speeches so that representation of the people’s views, concerning Linden and how the Government should have address this matter, could have been heard. The Commission of Inquiry will bring that out.
What is needed here is strong and decisive leadership, not leadership that is playing to the gallery. What is required here is sensible leadership. A number of the stakeholders, who agreed and participated in the mobilisation of the planned five-day activities, abandoned that process by one o’clock that day. They had left the bridge and gone to their homes. They had publicly said to the other leaders that they want nothing to do with that; that was never a part of the game plan, because certain people inserted themselves and leadership was no longer at the level of the community. It was taken over, and that is a fact that cannot be disputed. We can make fancy speeches, but the reality is that is what transpired.
We need visionary leaders in this country. People who know exactly what they want and will not be manipulated would not be cajoled into going into directions that are not in keeping with their conscience and upholding their integrity. I heard the Hon. Member Ms. Annette Ferguson in her presentation, just now, quoting from scripture, and it would seem that in this House only some people are allowed to do that, but I am allowed too, Sir. I would like to say when the “blind leads the blind they both fall into the ditch” and what we saw on the 18th of July was blind men leading blind people to their death and injury and hurt, because there were local leaders, like Ms. Vanessa Kissoon, the Hon. Member, who mobilised her people to deal with the electricity, but then there were leaders who inserted themselves, who did not have a vision for the people of Linden; leaders who have a vision of their own political agenda; leaders who had their axe to grind and the people of Linden were made sacrificial lambs of which we condemn in this House tonight. It must never happen again in Guyana, we need strong, decisive sensible and visionary leadership, and this issue is about leadership.
If in this honourable House, Members of this House could vilify… [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, it is becoming impossible for this debate to carry on like this. I could just rise and we come back on Thursday and see what happens, but I am not prepared for us to spend the rest of the evening like this. I cannot hear anything. We are just pretending to be having a debate like this. It is either we allow the Minister to finish, so that we can go on to the nine other speakers and get through sometime tonight or we continue like this up to about another five minutes and I will rise.
Bishop Edghill: I am not surprised that in this honourable House, where we are supposed to treat each other with respect and uphold high ethical standards, that we will vilify each other based upon religion and use religious bigoted remarks against each other. I think it is something that must be condemned. If it is happening in this House, Sir, could you imagine what happens in the yard? Some of the same people, who behave like that in this honourable House, stand here and say we have peaceful protest when we are vilifying, using some of the vile language to describe human beings.
The role of leaders in civil society, the role of religious leaders, is here under review, because while we are asking sanction against the Hon. Minister of Home Affairs, it would appear that we would only like to examine the role of political leaders and policymakers in this fiasco, but it would seem that we do not want to examine role of religious leaders and civil leaders who created an environment that took place on the 18th of July. Leadership is under question here and the Commission of Inquiry must include that.
Religious leaders and civil leaders cannot be agitators, cannot be exploiters of people’s pain. We are men and women of conscience and we ought to be symbols of truth. I have read in today’s Kaieteur News, page 2, “Churches show support for Linden protest”. In this newspaper there is an article that states that there is a thirteen-point plan that has been submitted to the President from the church leaders. We have checked with His Excellency, his office, his advisers and his support staff and no such document is available to us. [Mrs. Backer: So they are lying to you.] Maybe, it is Kaieteur News then because I am reading from it.
Listening to this debate I think there is consensus in the House in the midst of all that is happening. I will like to highlight where I find there is consensus. There is consensus in this National Assembly that the killings of the 18th of July must be rejected. It must not be excused in any form or fashion. It must not be and it must be rejected. We all agree on that. I think there is consensus in the House, that those who are culpable, and this must be determined by due process, must be held accountable for their actions. I will believe that in any civilised society “due process” is an important ingredient of a progressive democracy. We must give people a chance to be heard.
I offer to this House, my considered opinion that the motion, as presented by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition, is premature. If the Hon. Minister is responsible, let that finding be made through a process that is fair and, as I understand it, all of the parties have agreed with the President’s position of having a Commission of Inquiry. I was extremely surprised having learnt of that agreement and consensus that we are now having this motion before the House.
The question could be asked: What do we do now? July 18th, dozens of persons were injured, who ought not to have been injured; three persons died; valuable properties were lost to arsonist, businesses were destroyed; individuals passing through or attempting to pass through the town of Linden were traumatised, in some instances robbed, and in some instances exploited by actually having to pay toll. All were undesirable events that took place. What do we do now? We have choices to make. Certainly, merely, putting the plaster on the sore by using a majority vote to move a motion of no confidence against the Minister of Home Affairs does not essentially solve the problem. We have to make a choice between political posturing and patriotic action. The men and women, who sit in this august House, Sir, would be judged by what we do now. Our children and our children’s children will look at us and have different things to say depending on how we act in this time, because somehow the truth will be known.
We could continue to blame and criticise or we could be mature and provide leadership, because the reason why the President could not have proceeded on Saturday was because the people lack leadership. They are now in the streets as sheep without shepherds. We could continue to blame and criticise or we can provide mature leadership. We could be caught up with personality and seek to vilify and ostracise or we could address the issue that is at hand, because Mr. Sharma, the Regional Chairman, a local leader, and the other local leaders are still concerned about one thing - electricity tariff. We can keep adding, but the issue that brought the people out in the streets was electricity and that still needs to be addressed. We could act in haste; we could play to the gallery; we could steal the headlines by playing up to the media or we could act in a sober reflective manner that will cause us to be remembered as people who made decisions in an objective manner.
It would appear to me that if there is an emotional response to what could be considered a grave human right violation, it will be insufficient. It might cause people to view us, maybe, as champions of their causes for the moment, but any person who understands leadership, it requires that one just does not follow the crowd, it has to be able to point people into a direction of safety and progress and future. I am calling upon the honourable men and women of this House, not just merely to act with an emotional response. We have expectations out there to be satisfied so we have to do certain things, but that we act in a very deliberative manner, sober, reflect on all of the issues and we do what is right.
The Hon. Attorney General, in the very opening night of this debate, already articulated as it relates to the constitutionality - or I should say the unconstitutionality - of the motion as presented, as to how a Minister can be removed from Government. He has already ably articulated that this is just another attempt to create an image and an impression. What is going to happen at the end of the vote? We tell the people that we have voted for the removal of the Minister, but the issue still needs to be addressed. As a country, we still have to heal; we still have to go forward; we still have to work together, and the issues of the people of Linden still have to be addressed.
While calls are being made for persons on the coastland to show solidarity with the people in Linden, let the people of Georgetown come out and protest, let the people here come out and lend support… [Ms. Wade: Do you have a problem with that?] I do not have a problem with that, but let me tell you what I have a problem with. While we are calling for solidarity, what happens to the people of Regions 7, 8, 9 and 10? Are they not human beings as well who have rights to receive goods and services, and food supplies, and medical supplies and to be able to come to the coast to transact their businesses? They have rights too and I would think…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, your time is up.
Prime Minister and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs [Mr. Hinds]: I move that the Hon. Member be given another ten minutes to conclude his presentation.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bishop Edghill: We need to analyse this situation and I look forward, Sir, in the midst of all of the feelings that are here, that we are hearing in the exchange, when all of us as Members of this House will uphold our oath and we will act without ill will or malice as we consider this matter, I cannot support the motion as put and I ask that the amendments offered by the Hon. Prime Minister be considered or the mover of the motion probably withdraw the motion as well, that we will be able to find a mechanism that we all can agree on without making judgement prematurely and let us work to ensure that the Commission of Inquiry is put in place and those who should be held accountable are found through a process that is fair and the necessary actions to be taken.
I thank you very much Sir. [Applause]
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