$18.2M upgrade to Arthur Chung Centre in light of infamous Mace grab

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
The Arthur Chung Conference Centre [Photo taken from Facebook Page of Sase Gunraj]

In December 2021, proceedings in the Arthur Chung Conference Center (ACCC) descended into chaos when Opposition Members of Parliament grabbed the Speaker’s Mace, resulting in its damage. In light of this incident, a sum of $18.2 million has been set aside in Budget 2023 to make upgrades to the facility – which is now accommodating the sittings of the National Assembly.

During Tuesday’s day two of examination of the budget estimates, Tourism, Industry and Commerce Minister Oneidge Walrond was asked about upgrades to the ACCC. Walrond explained that the $18.2 million for upgrades is necessary because of the infamous ‘Mace grab’ of 2021.

“In the context of the recent assault on the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Mr. Chairman, certainly the video camera footage…more security cameras to be installed, flag poles, more computers, receivers, refrigerators, leaf blower, transmitter, tracking cameras, dining tables and a vacuum pump,” Walrond explained.

Back in December 2021, a number of Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) grabbed the Mace, and struggled with the Speaker and Parliament staff for possession of the Mace. This occurred as they tried to disrupt the sitting of the National Assembly on December 29, 2021 during their protest against readings of the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Bill.

While they were able to remove the Mace, a replica Mace was brought out and used to ensure the passage of the bill. MPs also made their way into the audio and video control rooms of Parliament and in the process destroyed equipment.Following investigations, the Parliamentary Committee of Privileges delivered its report, recommending the suspension of the MPs involved for violating Standing Orders and established customs and practices regarding acceptable behaviour of Parliamentarians.

The Committee of Privileges was tasked with considering a Privilege Motion which stated that the Opposition Members, in attempting to prevent the second and third readings of the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Bill, had conducted themselves in a gross, disorderly, contumacious, and disrespectful manner, and had repeatedly ignored the authority of the National Assembly and that of the Speaker, thereby committing contempt and breaches of privileges.

In the wake of this, Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones, Ganesh Mahipaul, Sherod Duncan, Natasha Singh-Lewis, Annette Ferguson, Vinceroy Jordan, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley and Maureen Philadelphia were, in July of last year, officially suspended without pay for breaching the National Assembly’s Standing Orders by participating in the infamous grabbing of the Speaker’s Mace — the most significant symbol in the National Assembly. They have since resumed their seats in the National Assembly.

Two weeks ago, the court ruled against their application to overturn their suspensions. Justice Damone Younge, in her ruling, sided with the respondents’ arguments that the internal affairs and procedures of the National Assembly, including the discipline of its members, are not justiciable by any court. She therefore held that the High Court had no jurisdiction to hear the MPs’ case.

Citing a plethora of cases from the Commonwealth, the High Court Judge said that when it comes to the internal operations of the National Assembly, that body is vested with exclusive control over the management of its proceedings, subject only to the Constitution.

According to her, the powers exercisable under the Standing Orders of the National Assembly are not subject to the provisions of the Constitution, having to do with the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of an individual.

Further, Justice Younge added that the Constitution does not make provisions for the fundamental rights provisions to be applicable to proceedings in the National Assembly. She said she is also inclined to the view that the MPs, having taken an oath of office, are bound by, and subject to, the rules governing the operation of the National Assembly, made pursuant to Article 165 (1) of the Constitution and in its Standing Orders, including those relating to the discipline of its members