Clint Chan Tack
THE PNM soundly rejected Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s claims that the 2022 budget debate in the House of Representatives ended within two days because of an alleged mutiny where some of its MPs refused to speak in support of Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert presented the budget in the House on October 4. The debate began with Persad-Bissessar’s response on October 8. The debate ended on Saturday around 6 pm, when no UNC MP rose to speak after PNM D’Abadie/ O’Meara MP Lisa Morris-Julian ended her contribution.
When there was no response from the Opposition MPs in the chamber to queries from Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis and Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde about any of their MPs speaking, Imbert concluded the debate. He said the UNC collapsed because they could not respond to any of the measures in the budget. Only 11 UNC MPs spoke in the debate between October 8 and 9.
Persad-Bissessar, who was not in the chamber before or after the debate ended, issued a statement around 10.55 pm to claim she had information that “some Government MPs refused an instruction to defend the Attorney General in their budget speeches.” She claimed the PNM had collapsed and the UNC had MPs such as Dr Roodal Moonilal ready to speak in the debate. Persad-Bissessar accused the Prime Minister of cowardice for not being present for the debate.
Video footage from the Parliament Channel showed St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen, the last UNC MP to speak in the debate, talking to Moonilal before Imbert spoke. Moonilal then asked Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George to refer Al-Rawi to the House’s Privileges Committee for claims he made against Persad-Bissessar in his contribution. Imbert then ended the debate.
Dr Rowley, who like Persad-Bissessar was not in the chamber before the end of the debate, dismissed her claims of an alleged instruction to Government MPs to defend Al-Rawi, being the reason why the debate ended when it did.”They were always more interested in Faris than the contents of the budget. They abandoned the budget for a motion of privilege against the Attorney General.” Rowley said, “Having focussed only on insults, personal attacks and damp squibs for ‘bussing mark’ they ran out of anything to add so they kept their seats. The debate was over.”
Imbert, who was in the chamber, supported the view that the debate ended because the UNC collapsed. In a tweet, he said, “The Presiding Officer called on the Opposition five times to speak but they refused so I ended the debate.” Energy Minister Stuart Young in a Facebook post, said, ‘The UNC will never tire of dishonesty and trying to rewrite the facts to suit their false narratives.” Young, who was in the chamber, said UNC MPs Moonilal, Saddam Hosein, Rudranath Indarsingh and David Lee (who were also in the chamber) “all refused to join the debate.
In a statement, Robinson-Regis confirmed that despite repeated attempts by Forde and herself, none of the four UNC MPs who were in the chamber “sought to add anything further (to the debate after Morris-Julian’s contribution ended). Describing the 19 UNC MPs as “embarrassments to the Westminster system” , Robinson-Regis said, “This Opposition has developed a penchant for not taking their role seriously.”
The UNC, she continued, “consistently demonstrate a total lack of preparation and understanding of their responsibility to the nation.” Robinson-Regis added that Persad-Bissessar was absent from Parliament as usual. She said the UNC’s “failure to engage in debates is a clear indicator that they blatantly disregard and flout their duty to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.”