Female Coalition Members of Parliament (MPs) say that they feel unsafe in the National Assembly following an alleged assault on their colleague, MP Tabitha Sarabo-Halley yesterday, by Minister within in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Public Affairs, Kwame McCoy.
It is that feeling of being unsafe that prompted their Chief Whip, Christopher Jones to request the House Speaker, Manzoor Nadir, to remove McCoy from today’s session of the consideration of the estimates of Budget 2021’s revenue and expenditure.
That request was denied by the Speaker, who noted that a “proper” motion needed to be tabled for the removal of an MP from the House. Coalition MPs then stood up and began banging their desks in protest. Failing to take their seats, the Speaker subsequently suspended at least five members from today’s proceedings. Shortly after, Coalition MPs departed the dome at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC).
Female Coalition MPs, Amanza Walton-Desir, Natasha Singh-Lewis, and Catherine Hughes subsequently held a press conference, where they expressed dismay at the Speaker, McCoy, and the government for what they described as “normalizing” violence against women.
Walton-Desir said that she does not ‘buy’ the statement made by the Speaker that a motion is needed to oust an MP, especially when he suspended herself and four other colleagues shortly thereafter. She accused the Speaker of not “protecting and standing up” for women when fear was evident.
She added that even if an investigation was ongoing, nothing stopped the Speaker from requesting that McCoy excuse himself from the dome. “The insult to injury,” she said, came when the Speaker sought to conduct business “like if nothing had happened the day before”. She concluded that the Speaker’s refusal to remove McCoy was an example of his “appeasing his political masters” – the government.
Walton-Desir said that it is a “sad day” for women in Guyana and an even sadder day for parliamentary democracy. This matter, she said, will be raised with local and international agencies.
MP Natasha Singh-Lewis said that the Speaker not paying heed to the call to remove McCoy was tantamount to the “muzzling” women. She said that McCoy has a history of violence and the Speaker chose to give prominence to a “known criminal” in the National Assembly over women.
Asked why the avenue of tabling a motion was not taken, the women said that such an alternative is time-consuming and would have resulted in McCoy remaining in the House until that motion is activated. Walton-Desir told the media that the speaker has the power to require any member of the National Assembly to demit the House, and he should have exercised that right to ensure their safety.
McCoy has since denied hitting Sarabo-Halley, and the Guyana Police Force has launched an investigation into the matter.