A “flagrant breach” of the House standing orders that gave Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley an additional hour of speaking time yesterday was also “the last straw” for the Opposition.
Just as the Prime Minister began his second hour on the Tobago self-governance Bill, Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar cried foul and led her team out of the sitting.
The group did not go quietly but disrupted the proceedings and forced Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde to his feet, directing the Opposition to just leave quietly.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen such a blatant abuse of the practice and procedure of the House of Representatives,” Persad-Bissessar told the media just outside the Red House yesterday.
She stood on the pavement with her MP’s behind her.
During the debate, Rowley finished his first hour of speaking time and his time was extended for a second hour, which Persad-Bissessar said was against the Standing Orders.
Persad-Bissessar said that on Monday there was a motion to waive the Standing Orders with respect to speaking times. She said the Leader of Government Business, MP for Arouca Camille Robinson-Regis moved the motion that the speaking time be amended to two hours for the first speaker, two hours for the rebuttal and thereafter a speaker from each side would be given 90 minutes while the third round speakers would be granted 60 minutes and everyone else would speak for 20 minutes.
“The imperative words and most important are ‘with no extensions’,” she said yesterday.
“So the ground rules were set yesterday which I still think were in breach of standing orders but they have the majority,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar said that “the last straw came today”.
“When the Prime Minister, who seems mortally afraid of speaking and allowing a member of the Opposition to speak after him, he usurped the role of the mover of the motion,” she said.
Robinson-Regis as the mover of the motion was expected to close off the debate.
“He usurped that role, using a standing order which says that if a motion is critical of the government any minister can close the debate, but this motion was definitely not critical of the Government, it was in support of the Government policy position with respect to the JSC (Joint Select Committee) report.
She said that when the UNC sought clarification on the PM’s protracted speaking time, they were told that Robinson-Regis had given up her hour to the PM.
“But you can’t do that. That is also a flagrant breach of the standing orders,” Persad-Bissessar said.
Persad-Bissessar said the extended speaking time was a clear breach of the PNM’s own motion and allowed the PM to speak for two hours.
“At that point, the Opposition took the view that this was in contempt of parliament and this was a flagrant breach of the practice and procedures of the parliament where the PM is using the majority of his government to bully the Opposition.”
She said it was similar to the bullying tactics the Government was using on the people of Tobago “by trying to enforce what they think is good for Tobago, rather than listening to the people of Tobago”.
Persad-Bissessar said that the UNC would not be there when the vote is taken but based on her reading of the Bill, she believed that it is not in the best interest of the people of Tobago.