The debate between Government and Opposition on the Prime Minister's recent addresses to the nation may become a Parliament matter.
This, following the Opposition's reinforced push on Thursday for answers on the addresses and Government's position that it has "nothing to hide."
After Opposition Leader Kamla Persad- Bissessar's continued concerns about Prime Minister Keith Rowley's addresses recently, Communication Minister Stuart Young said there are regulations (Standing Orders) in Parliament if the Opposition wanted to debate and answers on the matter. He was speaking at the post- Cabinet media briefing.
Earlier, Persad-Bissessar called on Rowley to account to T&T "on the true state of the economy, and not hide behind flashy, expensive television productions." She accused Rowley of engaging in a "self-indulgent show on prime time on two nights, which was a campaign speech disguised as an address to the nation." She said he failed to account for what was done despite spending $160 bn.
"Rowley’s lecture was a feeble attempt to launch the PNM’s re-election campaign. It's clear he intends to continue his custom of speaking to and representing only PNM faithful, with the farcical 'Conversations with the Prime Minister' (last night). The Prime Minister told citizens to 'Mind Your Business', but he was elected to serve the people, and he must do so in the Parliament. Is Dr Rowley afraid to report to Parliament? Let's debate his 'address to the nation' in Parliament. I've filed in Parliament notice of a motion to debate the details of his address. The ball's in your court, Prime Minister."
However, Young said when the PNM wanted a debate with Persad- Bissessar when she was prime minister in 2015, "she backed out....so if she's serious about the debate now, her handlers can put it in writing. I don't think the Prime Minister will have a problem if there's a properly structured debate, but I don't think she's serious, he said.
He said the Opposition was trying to change the narrative of the facts in Rowley's addresses, "I'm not hearing any Opposition response on the facts, let them come to Parliament and raise the questions, we have nothing to hide."
Young said the level of interest in the addresses was surprising and interesting. He said the PM used a slightly different, fresh approach since it was decided to move away from standing at a podium and speaking, to a more interactive method with slides. "It's been quite effective," he said.
Young maintained the presentations were addresses to the nation and one television station had incorrectly stated it was a paid political announcement.
He said the event was filmed at NAPA and while there was "always some cost associated with filming" he didn't have the cost at hand. He said media concessionaires' licences included an obligation to provide free air time for Government and that was used. He said all TV stations agreed to carry it at the time requested.
On whether this was an unfair campaigning advantage over the Opposition, he asked if any time the PM addressed the nation, it would be viewed as campaigning because 2019 is an election year. "It's just a different style," he said.
Young also defended Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses' attendance at the inauguration of Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro. On other states' criticism of Venezuela, he said T&T was a sovereign nation and had always said the Venezuelan government was recognised and T&T as a neighbour was ready to help.
On US views, he said the US understands T&T is the closest country to Venezuela, conversations have been held, and what happens there directly affects T&T. He said T&T is "very careful" and the country has commercial arrangements with both the US and Venezuela.
On Caricom's criticism of the recent Venezuelan/Guyana maritime border dispute, Young said it wasn't for T&T to side with anyone since this country has a non-interference policy.
"We won't be judge and jury for any disputes between our neighbours," he said.
Works Minister: Hoping for good sense from Curepe landowners
Works Minister Rohan Sinanan is hoping good sense will prevail with four Curepe landowners before the Marshals of the High Court enforces warrants for compulsory acquisition of their properties which are needed for the Curepe Interchange.
He added that a ruptured water main which affected the home of one landowner was not caused by pile-driving for the Interchange. Sinanan said the ruptured main occurred on a WASA valve which had been leaking and WASA received help from Interchange contractors to repair it.
He reiterated that the Ministry on Wednesday signed some of the warrants for possession of some of the properties needed for the project, but this didn't stop the negotiations from continuing. He said of the five properties critically needed for the Interchange, one owner had accepted Government's 80 per cent offer while the negotiations continue with that person.
"But some residents and commentators are saying Government's forcing people to accept the Government's value - that's not true. Most occupiers would understand that accepting the 80 per cent offer wouldn't prejudice their right to negotiations. "
"There are only four more landowners (at issue). There was a meeting on Wednesday and I'm hoping for a favourable response. I hope good sense will prevail before the Marshal enforces the warrants so we can have vacant possession instead."
He said he also hoped the contractors won't charge for downtime on the project. Sinanan said the Ministry is doing a report for Cabinet on land acquisition issues where the rest of the Point Fortin Highway project is concerned.