The Government lost a vote in the Senate yesterday.
And for the first time in two decades, the Senate President had to use his casting vote.
Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith voted against the Government, as he was obliged to, after an individual casting of votes led to a tie (The last time a Senate President used his casting vote occurred when Linda Baboolal was Senate President between 1991 and 1995).
During the budget debate, Government had proposed around 6.10 p.m. that yesterday’s Senate sitting be extended to midnight. But Opposition and Independent Senators were not having it.
Leader of Government Business Ganga Singh moved a procedural motion that the House continue to sit until midnight or before.
Senate President Hamel-Smith put the question to the House: “Honourable senators, the question is that this Senate continue to sit until 12 p.m. or before. Those in favour say ‘aye’.”
Government MPs were vociferous in their support.
The nays, coming from the Opposition and Independent senators, were not as loud.
The President, apparently mindful what happened in the last vote on the controversial Municipal Corporations (Proportion Representation) Bill, then asked: “Anyone wants a division (individual count of how each member has voted)?”
There seemed to be no clear call and the President said: “I think the ayes have it.”
Government members laughed as PNM Senator Pennelope Beckles then called for a division. But after the individual polling of senators, the results were 12 for/12 against.
It was the Opposition’s turn to laugh.
The 12 Government senators present comprised the 12 for. The 12 against were the five Opposition senators present (missing was Terrence Deyalsingh) and the seven Independent senators present.
Those Independents were Helen Drayton, Dr Victor Wheeler, Elton Prescott, Dhanayshar Mahabir, David Small, Ian Roach, and Dr Aysha Edwards (temporary senator standing in for Anthony Vieira who is out of the country).
Hamel-Smith announced that the division led to a tie.
“I therefore have the casting vote. The standing orders provide that the House sits until 8 p.m. unless it declares otherwise. So this House would sit until 8 p.m.,” he said.
There was a collective cry of victory from the Opposition, accompanied by sustained desk-thumping, as it became clear that the Senate President had used his casting vote to defeat the Government’s proposal for a midnight sitting.
The Senate took a while to settle down. And Justice Minister Emmanuel George, whose contribution had been interrupted to deal with the issue of an extended sitting, found it difficult to continue above the din.
Hamel-Smith had to appeal to members for silence so that George could continue.
The budget debate would continue in the Senate tomorrow.
In his address at the opening of Parliament, President Anthony Carmona had criticised the lengthy sittings of Parliament, stating that there was no advantage to having sittings in the wee hours of the morning when MPs are exhausted.