OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley has reiterated that he had thousands of signatures when he presented a petition to Acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith last month calling on the President to demand a written explanation from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar as to why the controversial Section 34 was prematurely selected to become law.
Rowley was speaking with the media during an impromptu press conference during the lunch break of debate in the Lower House on the national budget 2012/2013 at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, responding to statements by Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal.
Moonilal repeated the statement made by other Government members that while Rowley had claimed to have 25,000 signatures, all he presented to the Acting President was a petition with his own signature.
Rowley countered that his signature was on the letter to the Acting President while the petition signatures, collected over three days, were in a bag on his shoulder.
He said that while it was his intention to leave the bag with the President he was told it was unnecessary and "I took it away because the issue was over with respect to that part".
Rowley said he was "shocked" when Moonilal read and introduced into the debate, contrary to the standing orders of Parliament, a matter in which he raised the conduct of the President, in this case Acting President Hamel-Smith.
"There seems to be developing in this country a state of acceptance that our institutions are not being respected," he commented.
Following Moonilal's contribution, House Speaker Wade Mark, referencing two standing orders, noted that parliamentarians were not to bring the name of the President or his conduct into parliamentary debate.
Rowley said he was "shocked" that the Leader of Government Business (Moonilal) would write to the President, the President would reply and that correspondence between him and the President was being used to bring his (Rowley's) character into question.
"Whether there were 25,000 or 5,000 (signatures) or whatever, I think this is the most disgraceful conduct I have ever seen on the part of a parliamentarian," he said.
Rowley recalled that he had asked the President to trace the pathway of the note that resulted in the "prickly matter" of the Section 34 proclamation, and asked him to work backwards all the way to the person who drafted the Cabinet note.
He noted the Acting President gave him the commitment that he will act and investigate the matter. He reported that the Acting President wrote to him many days ago but he did not bring that letter in the public domain.
"I had that letter, I was troubled by it," Rowley said.
He noted that after Moonilal placed his own letter from the Acting President in the public domain he will now be seeking permission from the Acting President to make public the letter he had received from him.
Rowley said when he first heard comments about the petition from Moonilal he thought it was a "throwaway comment" and he was joking.
"I could not believe that he was serious. He gives no comment of substance on a $58 billion budget but instead takes serious issue about whether or not we took signatures to the President," Rowley added.