Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner and the People’s National Movement MPs found common ground in expressing their anger and outrage against Government’s action in the House of Representatives, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, yesterday.
Government members appeared embarrassed as a visibly upset and “agitated” Warner registered the same complaint as the PNM—that it (Govt) has sprung at the last moment “like a thief in the night” an Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Report making changes to several local government boundaries.
Even more pointed, was the fact that while the 265-page report was delivered to PNM members on Thursday night, Warner only received the document “five minutes” before he rose to speak on the Report. Warner charged Government with deliberate bad-mind.
Significantly the EBC Report had been submitted since July 3, 2011 to then Local Government Minister Chandresh Sharma. But it was only coming for parliamentary scrutiny and approval, yesterday, some two years and two months after its delivery to Sharma.
“If ever a Member of Parliament was angry, I am,” Warner said. “I want to publicly apologise to this nation for having worked critically to foist this Government on this country. Mr Speaker I have just gotten this (EBC report) and this is deliberate!” Warner thundered. Among the changes recommended in the EBC report, are adjustments in the boundaries of six of the eight electoral districts which comprise the Chaguanas Borough Corporation.There were changes to other electoral districts and the addition of two new electoral areas.
MPs however had been under the impression that the only measure which was going to be discussed yesterday was the Municipal Corporation Bill (which seeks to introduce a measure of proportional representation). And Opposition members—both majority (PNM) and minority (ILP) protested loudly when Leader of Government Business Roodal Moonilal called for the temporary suspension of the debate on the Municipal Corporation Bill to accommodate discussion on the EBC Order. Moonilal’s statement that he had “consulted” Opposition Chief Whip Marlene McDonald did nothing to reduce Opposition discontent.
Moonilal explained that there were “imperatives” driving debate of the measure—the Order had to be passed by yesterday in order for the boundaries changes to take effect. Rowley, speaking to reporters afterward, dismissed Moonilal’s statement about consultation, stating that Government had the majority and therefore the assertion that there was consultation was a moot point on this particular issue
Warner, Herbert Volney and PNM MPs voted against the EBC Order. But Government with its majority still won in the vote which was 22 for—13 against.
Colm Imbert, Diego Martin North East MP, said Government MPs, like Winston Dookeran, were spouting “hollow platitudes” about participatory democracy, while condoning Government delivery of a report for new electoral boundaries for local government corporations to Opposition MPs on the day before the debate and in some instances “one hour before”. “I have not received mine yet,” Warner chimed in. And the debate is taking place on the last day by law for the matter to be enacted, while the Local Government minister had the report over two years ago.
“That is contempt for the Parliament, contempt for the population. It makes a mockery of everything the Member for Tunapuna spoke about...fundamental change. This Government is a disgrace!” Imbert declared.
Imbert said although the Opposition now comprised two parties, the Government was saying that there should only be one opposition speaker on the matter. “That is why you didn’t give the Member for Chaguanas West a copy?” he said.
Further more, Imbert said the Local Government Minister Suruj Rambachan provided no rationale for Parliament approving the recommendations. The Government stance was “take that!”. “We must say ‘yes’ like sheep,” Imbert said. “After the Government Minister sat on the report for two years and now drop it on the eve of an election?,” he said.
While Imbert was speaking, Warner announced that he just got his copy of the report.
Speaking immediately after Imbert, Warner said : “If ever a man is glad that he is on this side, looking down on that side now, I am! “I could not believe my former colleagues, men who I ate with, drank with, supped with, would have done that to me...to Chaguanas West, the constituency I represent,” he said.
He noted that he was in the process of rising to speak on the Municipal Corporation bill (which seeks to introduce Proportional Representation) when Moonilal rose to ask for an adjournment to discuss this (EBC report), which he had received minutes ago. “If this is not an abomination, Madame Deputy Speaker, tell me what is,” Warner thundered.
“This kind of arrogance has to stop. And to talk about participatory democracy, it is nothing but a farce!” Warner asserted. He said Chaguanas was the area with the highest population shift.
Warner said after fighting the most brutal by-election against the entire Government, its boards, its corporations, its 27 lawyers in dark suits, the cabal, the Government new expected him to read the voluminous report in five minutes. “This is the respect they have for me as Chaguanas MP. They fail to understand that what is happening in Chaguanas is spreading through this country like a wild fire.”. He said 33 persons were screened by the ILP for the Chaguanas Borough Corporation, 57 persons by his party for Tunapuna/Piarco regional corporation, 39 persons for the Sangre Grande Corporation and the ILP was currently screening for the Diego Martin Regional Corporation.
To Dookeran’s charge that the Opposition was reducing the debate on proportional representation to “arithmetic” and not seeing that it was about “people’s power” and inclusion, Warner, who said he used to look up to Dookeran, asked: “What is election about? Not numbers? I get 12, 642 votes Khadija get 5,800. Isn’t that numbers?” he asked, as PNM MPs cracked up with laughter and deskthumped, while an exuberant Volney looked on.
“This (EBC local government report) was lying for two years with a Minister (Sharma) who has been changed three times in three years based on his competence,” Warner satirised.
Turning directly to Rambachan, Warner said his grandmother always told him that who didn’t hear, would feel.
After Warner was finished his short contribution, Moonilal said he (Moonilal) wanted to know whether Opposition MPs received an e-mail on Thursday afternoon indicating that the EBC report was on the Parliament website. This caused an uproar. “Wasting time!’ Imbert rebuffed. “Listen, I am not saying what happened today was right,” Moonilal countered. He reiterated that all members had access to an electronic copy of the report on Thursday. But Rowley responded: “I don’t know what is the basis of the question or what answer he requires. But I have none to give him”.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was not present in the House during this period.
(See Page 9).