In what appears to be a serious dig at the People's National Movement (PNM) leadership, former prime minister Patrick Manning yesterday said he would never have voted for the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill, which contained the controversial Section 34.
He would have gone against the party whip on the issue of Section 34 had he been in the Parliament when the vote was taken, he said. "My position would have been completely different from the rest of the Parliament, including my own party colleagues. They said, 'Yes.' I would have said, 'No,'" Manning stated.
The San Fernando East MP issued a release yesterday in which he absolved himself of any responsibility for the Section 34 debacle. "I wish to remind the nation that though I was present in the Parliament on November 28, 2011, when the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 was debated and passed, the records will show that I was not present when the vote was taken. I was also not present for the vote when the amended bill came from the Senate on December 9, 2011."
"I totally reject Section 34, which would have paved the way for corrupt persons to escape the law. I would never had agreed to Schedule 6 omitting corruption offences," he said.
In the face of the PNM's call for a number of Government ministers to resign for their responsibility in the affair, Manning stated: "I observe the unfolding drama of Section 34 and pray to God that our nation be spared the consequences of an enormous and tragic failure on the part of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago."
An examination of the Hansard of November 18 and December 9 shows Manning did not contribute to the debate on the bill and was absent during the vote on both occasions.
On December 9, he contributed to the debate in the House on the substantive matter before it, which was the Electronic Monitoring Bill, which was also piloted by former justice minister Herbert Volney.
Not too long after Manning finished speaking (following a short contribution from Roodal Moonilal to the Electronic Monitoring Bill), the House voted on the Senate amendments to the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) bill, but Manning was not there at that time.
The party's position on legislation is generally hammered out during its caucus meetings. And the Keith Rowley-led Opposition took a position in caucus (which was not attended by Manning) to support the Administration of Justice bill. Therefore all PNM MPs present in the Parliament voted in favour of the bill in the House, in the Senate and then (when the Senate amendments were made) in the House again, along with the Government and Independent Senators.
Manning is recuperating from a stroke which he suffered back in February. He has not been to Parliament since and has approved leave until October.
The PNM led a march last week Tuesday on the premise that it was Executive action, not Parliament's action, which created the fiasco. But Manning's intervention is refocusing the issue on the Parliament and on the PNM's handling of the matter.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Opposition Leader Rowley stated: "I have no comment to make on anything Mr Manning has to say. As leader of the PNM, I have explained the Opposition's involvement and performance on the issue, with respect to the caveats that we sought and assurances we obtained from the Government before he gave our support, and the time frame within which the act was supposed to come into force which would have obviated any development of the kind that we are addressing now with respect to the Piarco enquiry."