‘I needed someone active’ – Norton suggests Figueira lapsed as Shadow Minister
Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton on Thursday defended his recent reshuffle of the opposition’s shadow cabinet, particularly the appointment of Nima Flue Bess to the portfolio of Culture youth and Sport, previously held by Opposition Member of Parliament and Executive Member of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNC/R), Jermaine Figueira.
He said because the ministry needs an activist and someone who is active, Flue Bess, who is a Physical Education (PE) teacher, was selected as Figueira’s replacement and not because the senior MP shook President Dr Irfaan Ali’s hand at a time when Norton himself had refused to do so.
“I needed an active oriented person and Nima Flue Bess shows she is active.
“It should be noted that she is qualified in sport, she is involved in sport at school and has the contacts that will allow her to be effective as the Shadow Minister for Culture, Youth and Sport,” the Opposition Leader said at his weekly press briefing on Thursday.
He said Figueira continues to serve as the regional Member of Parliament for Region 10 and will continue in his chairmanship of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
And though he lost the Culture, Youth and Sport portfolio, Norton said Figueira can still speak on these issues in the National Assembly although his speaking time has been reduced from 35 minutes to 15 minutes.
Norton suggested that Figueira lapsed in his capacity as a shadow minister.
“In fact, one man told me this morning that it was only when he read the article that he knew Figueira was shadow for culture, youth and sport,” Norton told the press conference.
The Opposition Leader said immediately after he took up the post in April 2022 and after the 2023 budget, he told MPs that there will be portfolio change.
“This talk about not engaging MPs is not true,” he contended.
The other changes include: the reassignment of Geeta Chandan- Edmond from the portfolio of Home Affairs to Governance. Home Affairs will now be shadowed by Khemraj Ramjattan who previously led on Agriculture and served as Public Security Minister in the last government.
Vinceroy Jordon, who had no portfolio, was brought up to head Agriculture while Correta McDonald will hold the responsibility for Education. McDonald sits at the helm of the Guyana Teachers Union.
Her previous portfolio of Labour will go to Denish Jaipaul who previously led on Social Services and Natasha Singh Lewis who previously held the portfolio for Education will take up Social Services.
David Patterson, who previously served as Infrastructure Minister, was removed from the Oil and Gas portfolio and reassigned to Public Works.
And so, Norton insisted that the changes were on merit and not for any other reason.
“There was never a hand-shaking policy. At the time when I didn’t shake the President’s hand, I never instructed or say to any Member of Parliament they should not shake the President’s hand.
“The reshuffling is to ensure MPs are more effective and efficient…and provides an opportunity for regional MPs to do more work in their regions.
In a telephone interview with the News Room on Wednesday, Figueira said he would respect Norton’s decision although in an earlier letter he pleaded with the Central Executive Committee of the PNC/R to reverse the decision.
Politicians from both sides have said Norton’s decision is over his personal gripe with Figueira’s comradery with members of the incumbent PPP/C.
And in the letter to the CEC, Figueira himself questioned this.
“I question if this decision/action of me being penalized/ victimized is a result of my forthright attitude to speak my truth and being a free thinker and not a conformist, or was it because I disagreed with the Leader and not the Party’s position of not shaking the President’s hand policy in this modern era of political and diplomatic engagements. I shook the man’s hand that was extended towards me. I did it because it’s the sensible and courteous thing to do,” Figueira’s letter read.
Figueira used the letter to defend his work as an MP and the work he has done, sometimes in cooperation with the government to bring social relief to the people of Linden and Region 10.
“Has this party been able to find funding to provide for any consistent social or political programs? Which other MP has been able to consistently find funding for a sustained and consistent program? Which other MP or political arm of APNU has been able to bring the level of social or political relief to their constituents as I have? Who are the opposition MPs with greatest visibility and traction in the country?” he quizzed.