Calling: the Clerk of the House of Representatives!
Amid moves by Fixin T&T to get the Integrity Commission and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to examine several Opposition MPs' hiring of relatives at constituency offices, Opposition MP Suruj Rambachan yesterday called on the Clerk of the House to clarify Parliament's guidelines on the hiring issue.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and UNC MPs, MPs Barry Padarath, Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Rushton Paray indicated over the weekend, relatives are working, and had worked at their constituency offices.
Fixin T&T yesterday said it will be asking the IC and DPP today to investigate if they breached Integrity in Public Life law by this.
PNM minister Marlene McDonald was dismissed by the Prime Minister last week after a third set of allegations against her surfaced, this one involving alleged breach of Parliament rules concerning alleged hiring of her common-law spouse and his brother at her Port-of-Spain constituency office during 2010-2015.
Persad- Bissessar last Saturday at a UNC Congress reportedly said two relatives had been employed at her constituency office for several years and after this term's new guidelines, was seeking advice from the Parliament on the situation.
Padarath said he terminated the constituency office employment of a relative in February after receiving the Parliament's constituency manual for the 2015-2020 term then. This outlaws hiring of various types of relatives.
Padarath made it clear yesterday, it wasn't an "immediate" relative (as incorrectly reported yesterday) who had worked in his constituency office. He said he contacted the Parliament and is repaying salaries paid to the person.
Tewarie, replying to query if he has a relative working at his constituency office, had said, "No, but I did."
Paray said he'd informed the Parliament, when he became MP and found a distant relative (daughter of his grandfather's second wife) employed from the tenure of previous MP Winston Peters. He said he was told by Parliament that due to the distance of the relationship, it was alright. The person is a part-time employee .
Fixin T&T, however, claimed the UNC MPs breached the Integrity in Public Life Act as it relates to, among others, Sections 24 (2), and 29 (1). (c bx)
The organisation said it was "troubled and utterly confused" by Persad-Bissessar's response. "Surely the Opposition Leader understands the definition of the word 'relative'. As a learned senior counsel, she must fully appreciate that ignorance of the law/rules isn't a defence."
"Her as well as MP Padarath's suggestion that the monies paid to said relatives can simply be repaid, is insulting..... "
Fixin T&T was supported by the ILP–which said Persad-Bissessar and Padarath's explanations were "weak" and demanded they resign–and the ruling PNM which repeated PNM chairman Franklin Khan's call for Persad-Bissessar to resign.However, Rambachan, calling on the Clerk of the House to shed light on the matter, said facts on the hiring issue are being distorted.
Noting the difference between guidelines for the past 2010-2015 Parliamentary term and the current 2015-2020 term, he said, "The question arises–who changed the guidelines. Were the guidelines formally communicated to MPs or was the manual simply distributed to Parliamentarians without specific communications on the changes. "
"Was this the responsibility of the Clerk of the House? Were these guidelines supposed to be agreed upon by the House Committee? Were these guidelines changed by the Clerk of the House or the new Speaker, or were they changed by the Clerk of the House without reference either to the former or new Speaker in the interregnum between the time the tenth Parliament was prorogued and the Eleventh Parliament began? "
He added, "What powers does the Clerk of the House have with respect to the regulation of Constituency Offices and should the Clerk's powers not be circumscribed by what the House Committee and/or the Parliament agree upon."
"I wish to call upon the Clerk of the House to provide clarity to the issue by responding as early as practicable to the advice sought by (Persad-Bissessar) and to publish the names of all persons employed at Constituency Offices since the inception of such offices.
"I also call on her to clarify who changed the guidelines from family to relatives and to state the rationale for this change, to state unequivocally whether persons employed prior to the change in the 2015 guidelines are to be dismissed."
Rambachan said the employees referred to in Persad-Bissessar's case have been employed for 20 years and 14 years.
"Have these employees been unfairly prejudiced in their right to continuous employment by an arbitrary change in the guidelines after continuous employment up to 20 years and 14 years."