The Opposition United National Congress won’t support the Government’s choice of Bridgid Annisette-George for House Speaker today – and feels strongly enough to reserve the right to go to court on the issue.
The UNC confirmed this via a media statement yesterday.
Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday wrote to incumbent House Speaker Annisette-George to indicate that Opposition Members of Parliament aren’t prepared to support
Government’s nomination of her for the new Parliamentary term.
The appointment of a Speaker is part of today’s Parliament ceremony to launch the new term. That begins at 10.30 am.
Last week, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said Annisette George would be returned as Speaker.
The appointment of a Speaker is done via voting by MPs of the House of Representatives. Since Government has the majority votes – 22 – in the House, the appointment of Annisette-George was a given.
But yesterday, UNC PRO Anita Haynes said the Opposition will nominate someone for Speaker also, although she couldn’t say who it was.
In a subsequent statement, the UNC stated Persad-Bissessar had written Annisette-George pointing out the Opposition’s lack of support for her. In the letter, Persad-Bissessar said during the last Parliamentary term, Annisette-George was not as impartial as a Speaker should be.
Persad-Bissessar noted instances during the last term when she said “the Speaker curtailed Members’ contributions, forced Members to end their contributions prematurely, breached Parliamentary principles, thereby affecting the Opposition’s ability to effectively contribute to debates on legislation.”
Persad-Bissessar said the situation also hindered her operation as Opposition Leader. She noted instances where she was shut down in 2017 during debate on the FATCA bill and in 2016 when she was halted while trying to correct misinformation by the Attorney General.
Her lengthy letter also detailed various other instances, including the eviction of UNC MP Barry Padarath from the chamber and matters concerning MP Roodal Moonilal and others.
Persad-Bissessar said attacks against her also went unaddressed by Annisette-George while Government MPs were allowed to protest and make statements and were not evicted from the chamber.
The letter further detailed 14 motions on critical matters – including on crime, murders, abuse of children, Tobago’s food supply and the COVID-19 virus – raised by UNC MPs last term which were denied by the Speaker on the basis that they had not qualified under certain Standing Orders
Persad-Bissessar warned that if Annisette-George failed to recuse herself in today’s proceedings and/or to step down and/or to withdraw as a nominee for Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Opposition reserves the right to raise her conduct on substantive motions before the House and to debate any continuing impartial actions.
The Opposition is also reserving the right to approach the courts to seek a declaration that the actions on Annisette-George’s part have deprived Opposition MPs of their rights to speak in the Parliament.
Persad-Bissessar said if the Opposition is constrained in going to the courts, it will seek an order to prevent Annisette-George from taking action to violate MPs’ rights and that of their constituents. She said she trusted Annisette-George will act in T&T’s interests.
On previous issues, however, the courts have sent Parliamentary issues back to the Parliament to handle its own matters.
Efforts to contact, Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, who is expected to be Government’s Lower House Leader, for comment were unsuccessful yesterday as she did not answer calls to her cellphone.