Telecommunications bill passed

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The Telecommunications (amendment) Bill 15/2016 after being considered clause by clause, was passed without amendments, after it was read a second time today in the National Assembly.

This came after a major vote against the Bill being sent to a special select committee for continued debate.

Vice President and Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge said that the Amendment is comprehensive and it constrains the power of the minister.

Greenidge outlined that in Clause 7 which speaks to the role of the ministers, the amendment tabled by his administration, directs the Minister to terminate appointments only after seeking advice of the Board.

“Under functions of the Minister set out in Clause 19, subject to the provision of the Act, the  Minister was empowered to do a host of things such as determine which network must be operated and so forth, however, now the current legislation says the minister shall- after seeking written advice and recommendation of the agencies and the commission, develop telecommunication and sector -related policies at the bilateral and national levels consistent with the purpose of the Act and communicate such policies to the public and agencies…this is an internationally sound practice,” Minister Greenidge asserted.

He added that where any determination or decision on a matter is taken, the Minister is required to seek advice, and if such decision or determination differs from such advice, the Minister is directed to indicate and provide the reason for the variation. “If in the end after advice he chooses not to, he has to justify, this is the best practice known internationally.”

The purpose of the Telecommunication Bill was set out in the administration’s policy paper to effectively bring to an end a monopoly enjoyed by one agent in the telecommunication sector. This position taken by the administration confirms to their regional commitment as established in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which speaks specifically to establishing an enabling environment to promote competition and fair trade.

“This legislation will allow other companies to ensure the local market offer a variety of services and benefits…including more mobile rates, land lines and a host of other internet – related services…,” Minister Greenidge said.

Hon. Catherine Hughes - Min. of Public Telecommunications
Hon. Catherine Hughes – Min. of Public Telecommunications

Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes, ending the debate on the Amended Bill said that on several occasions, due to the quality of submissions made by the opposition benches, she was convinced that some members either did not read the Bill or must have looked at another Bill.

Responding to assertions made by Opposition MP Irfaan Ali, Minister Hughes pointed out that the important word in Clause 3, section 19.1 is shall, “Which means expected to do, required and absolute, therefore I remind members on the other side when the legislation says minister shall after…and further after receiving written analysis advice and recommendation and in section 4 as encouraged before where determination direction, decision on matter …the minister shall so indicate and provide reason thereof… Therefore the minister cannot act on his own,” Minister Hughes explained.

She added that it was the government to which he belonged, that had allowed the Bill to sit for years, thereby allowing technology to change rapidly whilst Guyana continued to lag behind.

Addressing the issue of private sector involvement, Minister Hughes reminded the House that it was former President Bharrat Jagdeo who closed down all the cable systems in 2010 and the cable system in Linden. Further, he later reopened the opportunity to licences to allow new persons including a family member of an opposition MP who is a dominant partner in the sector.

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