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House Speaker blanks De Lima's request for reply on Warner's 'destabilisation' meeting statement

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

House Speaker Wade Mark has refused attorney-at-law Vernon De Lima's request for a right of reply to statements made about him by Minister of National Security Jack Warner.

Yesterday De Lima told the Sunday Express he was very surprised at the Speaker's decision.

"As a matter of fact I am astounded at it."

Warner had said in the House of Representatives on March 8 that De Lima was present at a meeting in St Joseph at which some 15 people were conspiring to destabilise the country.

Warner had stated this as justification for the Defence (Amendment) bill which proposed to give soldiers police powers. 

De Lima categorically denied that he ever attended such a meeting or knew any of the other people named by Warner as being in attendance.

Warner named George Bell and former Defence Force soldier Bryan Barrington (known as Soldier Barry) as participants.

Consequent upon De Lima's public denial, Congress of the People (COP) leader Prakash Ramadhar called on Warner to publicly apologise to De Lima.

Warner refused, saying that he had nothing to apologise for.

De Lima then wrote to Mark indicating that Warner's allegations were untrue and asked to have his (De Lima's) response read into the records of Hansard.

"I have never had any discussions with any person or persons whomsoever with a view to destabilising our country or subverting the lawful Government...I have never attended any such meetings...nor do I know or have ever even met any person or persons by the names George Bell, Soldier Barry or Barry Barrington," De Lima stated in the letter to Mark.

Responding through the Clerk of the House Jacqui Sampson-Meiguel, Mark replied to De Lima.

"In your letter you requested the opportunity to have placed on the parliamentary record a response to statements made by a Member during debate in the House of Representatives.

I am directed by the Speaker of the House to inform you that your request to have a response placed on the parliamentary record has not received his approval," Sampson-Meiguel stated.

The Speaker's letter of response was dated the same date as De Lima's letter of request—March 13.

De Lima said he felt the Speaker in not providing him with an explanation for his decision, treated him with "contempt and disdain".

However, De Lima opined that he did not expect the issue to go this far (of him having to seek a right of reply in the Parliament) since he had thought Warner would have had the decency to apologise  for "sullying and scandalising" his name and the names of other people.

Noting that Warner was the National Security Minister, De Lima said he was not taking this thing (Warner's allegations) lightly.

"Good God! I worked so hard to help the People's Partnership move the PNM (from office). To put these kinds of people (like Warner) in there. No man! No."

"I have helped the People's Partnership. I have never been discourteous to the Prime Minister or anyone in (Government). And he could treat me in that way? Far less for how he would treat other people."

De Lima concluded by recalling the Latin expression "Hodie mihi, cras tibi (Today for me, tomorrow for you)."

Mark has in the past allowed two people the right to reply to adverse statements made about them.

They were Brigadier Peter Joseph (to statements made about him by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan) and Maha Sabha General Secretary Sat Maharaj (in relation to statements made by PNM MP Patricia McIntosh about events at the Tunapuna Hindu School).

Mark has turned down requests from Reshmi Ramnarine to respond to statements made by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and Noel Garcia to respond to statements made by Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal.

In both those instances, Mark did not gave an explanation for refusing the requests, the Sunday Express was informed.

Sources said the parliamentary rule is simply that the Speaker determines whether a person can be given a right to respond to adverse statements and that the Speaker must be satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for allowing this to be done.

However, the source noted that in the case of Joseph and Maharaj there was lengthy discussion on the issues relating to them.

All the people named by Warner as participating in a meeting at which he alleged "destablisation" plans were discussed have issued denials.

De Lima and Barrington said they were not present at any such meeting.

And both denied knowing each other.

And Bell, at whose home in Maracas, St Joseph the meeting was held, said he does not know De Lima or Barrington, that neither of them was at the meeting and that the meeting consisted of citizens discussing the state of the country with a view to coming up with solutions.

Warner, for his part, stated last week: "If there are two Vernon De Limas who are attorneys-at-law, then I made a mistake with the person, then I would surely apologise. But I am not aware that there are two Vernon De Limas who are attorneys-at-law...Let's say I erred with De Lima, I also called Soldier Barry. Did I err with him (too)?"

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