Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday questioned the motive behind the Prime Minister’s recommendation that the pension bills go to a Senate Select Committee, even before the debate had begun in the Senate.
Rowley, who noted the Government had voted in the House of Representatives to approve the bills, was commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement that Government would not approve the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill and the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) Bill, but would instead recommend they go to a Senate Committee.
“Doesn’t the Government have a team of 15 senators? If it is that the Government is open to suggestions in the Senate, then that is a statement that should have more properly come from the leader of the Government in the Senate (Ganga Singh). But the Prime Minister always tries to score points. That is why she has issued that statement,” Rowley said.
Noting the Prime Minister was part of the Government’s team in the House which voted for the measure, Rowley said: “Everybody is playing games. The matter is before the Senate for debate...Any amendments or suggestions come from senators... and if Government is saying it is prepared to listen and make amendments as per the Senate, that is the procedure. So what is that (the Prime Minister’s) statement about?”
Asked what is the People’s National Movement (PNM)’s position on the Prime Minister’s recommendation, Rowley said: “The matter is before the Senate and our members will act appropriately in the Senate in the context of what we said in the Lower House (House of Representatives).”
Rowley said the PNM also had recommendations on what should happen to the bills, which the party’s senators would put to the Senate.
Asked whether the Prime Minister had consulted him before making the announcement, he said: “No, ma’am. This is a Government bill and the Prime Minister does not consult me on Government bills.”
“The Prime Minister brought a bill to the House. It was supported. It went to the Senate. There is some issue arising out of it in the Senate. Even before the debate has begun in the Senate, she is trying to claim a position. What happens if no amendments or recommendations come from the Senate? Suppose the Senate sees no need for a committee and wants to make amendments right there on the floor, as normally happens?” he asked.
Rowley also said he did not know why the Prime Minister felt the need to say it is “rare” the Government and Opposition agree on a measure, as they had with the two pension bills. He said he could give a full list of things on which the Opposition supported the Government in the past. “Is the Prime Minister trying to hide behind the Opposition? Is she saying that if we had not voted in favour of these bills, the bills would have fallen?” he asked.
He mentioned that in the past one had the scenario of the Opposition (United National Congress) voting against recommendations of the Salaries Review Commission for enhanced remuneration in order to score political points. “This is not the case with this Opposition. We chose to stand up and take responsibility for putting in place a pension plan for parliamentarians and judges,” he said, adding that when the Opposition feels a matter is deserving of merit, it gives its support.
Asked whether the PM had consulted him before making the announcement on the pension bills, Rowley said: “No, ma’am. This is a Government bill and the Prime Minister does not consult me on Government bills.”