While admitting to the court that he along with his fellow Members of Parliament, defied Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir’s order to allow for a second reading of the Natural Resource Fund Bill by staging what is considered a protest in the house, Opposition Chief Whip, Christopher Jones maintained that the main reason behind their conduct was to ensure that Article 13 of the constitution was being upheld.
Jones made these revelations while being cross-examined by Attorney General, Anil Nandlall on Wednesday at the High Court. He agreed that the National Assembly is governed by standing orders and that the speaker has responsibility of maintaining order in the house.
He also concurred that Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir rejected his application during the December 2021 debate to have the Natural Resource Fund Bill be sent to a Special Select Committee for further review and that he subsequently ruled that the bill be read for the second time by Senior Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh.
Jones recollected that in spite of the speaker’s order, Oppositions members of parliament remained out of their seats and began to chant, among other things in an attempt to disrupt the reading of the bill. However, he argued that members of parliament from the Government side were also standing.
The reason behind the opposition’s posture at the time the bill was being presented on December 29,2021 was they were convinced that Article 13 of the constitution was being disregarded.
The Chief Whip agreed with the Attorney General’s argument that members of the opposition did not secure permission from the Speaker before descending into the Rotunda of the National Assembly while they continued chanting and blowing whistles.
Jones admitted that some members from the opposition grabbed the mace, and that it broke but he was unable to confirm same during the commotion that unfolded. He said he learned that the mace was damaged from the Speaker during a press conference he held the following day.
In 2021, the APNU+AFC had strongly opposed an amendment by the Government of the Natural Resource Fund Bill citing that more consultations were needed. They were pushing for the bill to be sent to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee for further examination but those on the Government’s side maintained that, that was not necessary.
During the final leg of the debate on the bill on December 29, 2021, a commotion erupted in the National Assembly which resulted in Shadow Minister of Housing, Annette Ferguson aided by other members from the opposition grabbing the mace, a significant symbol for the passage of bills.
Jones and trade unionist, Norris Witter have referenced Article 13 in their case against the passage of the Natural Resource Fund.
Article 13 reads: “The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State,…”