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Speaker rules against PM’s ‘crooks’ comment

Published: 
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George

House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George yesterday stood down Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissesar’s request to have Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley sent to Parliament’s Privileges Committee for recent statements he made.

Persad-Bissessar last month made the request concerning Rowley’s statements while being interviewed at a public event. She said his statements brought MPs and Parliament staff into disrepute.

Persad-Bissessar had accused Prime Minister Keith Rowley of breaching parliamentary privilege, during the non-ceremonial opening of the new parliamentary session on September 29.

She based her accusations on statements Rowley made to reporters at a health fair at the Diego Martin Boys RC School on September 16.

According to Persad-Bissessar, Rowley told reporters, “If there is wrongdoing, identify the wrongdoing and hold people accountable. I don’t know that we should be overdoing it and I am not afraid of identifying the people I associate with because I do not knowingly associate with crooks except in Parliament.”

She described Rowley’s comments as “intentional, reckless and contemptuous,” and claimed Rowley implied that the Speaker, the Parliament’s staff and MPs, “were not persons who law-abiding citizens should associate with.”

But the Speaker, noting expert views, said, “While some may find the statement objectionable, it’s insufficient to meet the threshold required to find a prima facie case of a breach of privilege.”

“The statement made is too remote to attribute a reflection on the Members, Presiding Officers or staff of the Parliament. It’s vague, and lacks the specificity required to qualify as a reflection on a Member or on the House.”

“Upon analysis, the statement doesn’t go beyond the realm of political comment, and is too wide to be interpreted by a reasonable person to have brought the Parliament into disrepute.”

“I find it inconsistent with the dignity of the House to take any serious notice or action in the case of every offensive statement which may technically constitute a reflection on the House. I myself have heard comments made by many other Members in the public domain which, if held to a strict interpretation of privilege, could well fall into the category of a reflection.”