In an unprecedented development, Chief Whip Ganga Singh is calling on the Government to agree on a waiver of the House of Representatives standing orders in Parliament today to allow Opposition MPs to contribute to the debate on the controversial Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which requires the Opposition support to be approved.
The legislation was drafted on an Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) between the US and related to the sharing of tax information with respect to US citizens and/or US companies doing business in this country.
The legislation must be approved and implemented by February next year. If the measure is not implemented T&T could blacklisted and suffer adverse consequences. The US authorities have already granted two extensions to the T&T Government for implementation of the measure.
When the debate was adjourned on Friday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert had already began his wind-up of the debate.
He is expected to conclude it this afternoon. On Friday, no Opposition MP was in the Parliament to contribute to the debate as they walked out of the House in support of their leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who was asked to leave the chamber by Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George.
The former prime minister was attempting to speak while the Speaker was on her legs and that is not allowed in the Parliament.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Singh said prior to the legislation being brought back to Parliament the Government had agreed to an Opposition request for a Joint Select Committee to look at the legislation.
Singh said he was the only Opposition MP to speak in the debate so far (in this session). In the previous session last September, Persad-Bissessar spoke.
Singh said yesterday: "We would like to see the debate completed and (allowing us to speak) can be done by a waiver of the standing orders and the more than 20 amendments proposed be taken subsequently to effect passage of the legislation."
Singh said : "By agreement you can, in fact, allow for that. You can waive the standing orders and allow for a debate to take place."
He said that can be done "with a view to giving the Opposition MPs the opportunity to have their say." Singh insisted that was what he wanted to see happen in Parliament today.
Asked if the Opposition was likely to lend its support to the legislation even if there was no waiver of the standing orders, Singh said he felt "it is necessary for us. We recognise the national importance of this piece of legislation but having regard to the manner in which the Government approached it, reneging on their promise for a JSC, they now need to consider the views of the Opposition in order to solicit he Opposition vote in this matter."
He insisted that waiving of the standing orders would be in the national interest. Asked to respond to claims from the Government that no amendments were submitted by the Opposition, Singh quickly responded by saying it was because the proposed JSC would have been the proper forum for the amendments.
He said the Government "cannot play smart by a half if you renege on the Joint Select Committee."
Singh said if there will be no JSC , then the amendments have to be taken on the floor of the Parliament. He said as of yesterday it did not seem like the Government was "prepared to complete the debate by themselves and they cannot take the vote by themselves and have the legislation passed because it requires a constitutional majority."