...PNM stayed silent, says Senate President
Ria Taitt Political Editor
The Opposition People National Movement (PNM) appears to have botched the vote on the controversial Municipal Corporations Amendment Bill division by remaining silent and by failing to call for a division (for an individual tallying of the votes of all senators).
According to Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith and Government members, the Opposition did not register any dissent when the vote on the measure was recorded. However, PNM Senators Terrence Deyalsingh, Fitzgerald Hinds and Faris Al-Rawi are challenging the view that their apparent silence during the vote can be interpreted as support.
The controversial bill which introduces proportional representation into local government, was passed in the Senate after 3 a.m. yesterday.
Hamel-Smith said he heard no dissenting voices when he had put the bill to the Senate, asking, “All those in favour?”
“I was very surprised,” Hamel-Smith said. Hamel-Smith said he heard “absolutely no nays whatsoever” when he , “Those against?” The Hansard records Hamel-Smith as stating: “I think the ayes have it,” before announcing the bill was approved.
The assent of the President (Anthony Carmona) is now required for the bill to become law.
The PNM’s lack of any dissent or objection when this vote was taken in the Senate contrasts with the party’s negative vote in the House of Representatives on the same measure.
Yesterday Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said there was a “monumental shift” in the PNM’s position in the Senate. He noted that all the PNM Senators stated during the debate that they supported proportional representation in principle. He called on the PNM to state whether they would support a bill to introduce proportional representation “in full for the general election”. He said it would be illogical to support something in principle but deny it life.
“I am elated that the bill was passed without any dissenting voice. And I compliment the Opposition and Independent bench for supporting this historic and revolutionary measure that will widen and deepen the concept of participatory democracy by giving each vote additional meaning and significance. It means that votes cast for the losing party will now have some say and some sway, whereas hitherto they were virtually excluded from the political process and left to languish in the political wilderness.”
Agriculture Minister Devant Maharaj said he left the Senate feeling the PNM was persuaded by the Government’s arguments in the Senate. “I expect that they would be vocal when they oppose a measure,” he said, noting that the PNM did not even call for a division—the taking of individual votes.
However, Al-Rawi said five PNM senators clearly criticised the bill, saying they were not supporting it.
Al-Rawi said the PNM decided not to participate in the committee stage of the bill. Al-Rawi stressed, however, that he (Al-Rawi) had stated “no” when the Senate President put the bill to a vote. He said he also heard his colleague, Pennelope Beckles-Robinson, and “a couple of Independent senators as well” register a dissenting vote.
Al-Rawi said he then rose and asked for a division but the President denied his request.
Al-Rawi said Independent Senator Elton Prescott also indicated he wanted a division, but the President again indicated the Senate had passed that item.
Hamel-Smith’s recollection of events was different.
The Senate President said he heard some “mumbling about a division”, just before the adjournment. But, Hamel-Smith said the only person who raised it was Prescott.
And, he noted, Prescott merely asked whether there would be a division, to which he (Hamel-Smith) indicated that he had already put the question (of the Municipal Corporation Bill) before the House, and that no one had called for a division then.
Hamel-Smith said since most of the Opposition senators as well as the Independent senators “with the exception of the new Independent senators” were experienced, he expected that they knew there was no “automatic” division when a bill is voted upon. A division only takes place if someone calls for it, he said.
Division or not, it was clear, though, that the Government yesterday had the support of the majority of members of the Senate and therefore the requisite numbers to pass the measure.
The Government had the votes of its 15 senators. Out of the nine Independent senators, only one—Ian Roach—specifically indicated he would not vote for the measure.
Roach, who is confined to a wheelchair, found it difficult to remain for the over-15-hour-long sitting. He left the Parliament around 10 p.m.