Some recent Newspaper reports on the Opposition’s walkout of the House of Representatives last Friday 23rd June 2017 warrant responses in order to correct some inaccuracies and to present the facts.
The Sunday Express’ editorial of June 25, in particular, suggested that the Opposition, instead of debating the issues surrounding the critical national floods, walked out of the Parliament Chamber. This is factually incorrect. The Express stated that the Opposition left the Parliament while a debate on the subject was taking place. However, the Hansard recording as well as the audiovisual will show that only after the debate on the matter was completed did the Opposition leave the Parliamentary chamber.
The facts are that under Standing Order 17, I filed a motion on “the failure of the government to provide adequate resources and relief in a timely, effective and efficient manner to alleviate the hardship, suffering, anguish and distress of the population in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Bret” as a definite matter of urgent public importance. Notably, the Government had not brought the flooding issue to the country’s elected representatives despite the widespread national disaster.
The relevant Standing Orders provide that such a debate shall commence at 6 p.m. and last for one hour till 7 p.m. I led off the debate, with a 20-minute submission as permitted by the Standing Order, and reported on the destruction of homes, livestock and farm lands, and dislocation of families, and noted the poor and slow responses of the Government.
The Government’s main response came from the Honourable Minister of Works, who, in an address of about 10 minutes criticized the Opposition and claimed the Government had responded to the flood in an effective and timely manner. Following that, several speakers made five-minute presentations, as permitted under the Standing Order.
During his brief contribution in the time remaining for debate on this motion, the Honourable Member of Parliament for Princes Town was accused by the Honourable Leader of Government Business of being a “racist” which was clearly heard on the audio of the Parliament channel. That comment was endorsed by the Honourable Prime Minister.
The Opposition called on the Speaker of the House for a ruling with respect to the said statements. Instead, the Speaker proceeded to suspend the sitting of the House for 10 minutes, following which, upon her return to the Chamber, the Speaker resumed debate on the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill. The Opposition again sought to have a ruling made. Once more, no ruling was given despite several protestations. At that point, my colleagues and I took a decision to demit the House for the day as we felt that such a matter warranted a ruling.
I wish to reiterate that the Opposition did not walk out of a debate on the floods. In fact, it was the Opposition which caused a debate to take place. The Opposition also fully participated in the debate in the time allotted for same and, highlighted the extensive damage and lethargic Government response. The Government’s reply was the typical fare of blame-casting, stonewalling and irrelevancies.
Further, I also wish to state that, even with the walkout, the Opposition did not abandon the people’s business. The Government continued debate on the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, on which a total of six Opposition Members of Parliament had contributed over the two days in which the same was debated. It is to be noted also that all six Opposition Senators had spoken during the debate on this Bill in the Upper House.
In that context, the Opposition regrets the factual inaccuracies of the respective newspaper articles, especially since the newspapers were fully represented in the House during Friday’s sitting and, at a Press Conference I hosted the next day on that and other subjects
I hope this provides clarity on the matter and that the necessary corrections will be made.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP