Hours after the budget debate collapsed, politicians from both sides of the political divide continued to blame each other while the citizenry used social media to voice concerns about a lack of accountability.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar accused Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley of “hiding from Parliament” saying he chose not to contribute to the Budget debate.
“It is evident that this dictator cannot defend his punishing property tax, his fuel liberalisation plans, and other punitive measures which his government is seeking to implement in this 2022 budget,” Persad-Bissessar charged.
She contended that even PNM ministers seemed confused about the collapse of the Budget debate noting that apart from the Prime Minister, several key ministers including Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat, Works Minister Rohan Sinanan, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales and Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis failed to contribute.
“At around 5.45 pm (on Saturday), just after MP Roodal Moonilal moved a motion for breach of Parliamentary privilege against AG Faris Al-Rawi, the Government failed to put forward any speaker to continue the debate. This in spite of the Opposition Chief Whip, MP David Lee offering them the option of adjourning to Monday seeing that Government MPs were totally unprepared,” Persad-Bissessar said.
But Robinson-Regis in a statement said the Opposition chose not to respond when it was their turn to speak.
“Clearly the Leader of the Opposition, who is rarely in the Parliament, does not know that the Standing Orders permit all Ministers, including the Prime Minister, a right to speak in both Houses. Consequently, it is the Opposition who clearly, having nothing to say, chose to give up their right to speak,” Robinson-Regis said.
She added, “In the normal ebb and flow of the debate it was the Opposition’s turn to speak.”
She said when the Opposition refused to speak, the Finance Minister ended the debate with aplomb.
Energy Minister Stuart Young also charged that the Opposition had painted a false narrative.
“The dishonesty of the UNC Opposition will never cease to amaze.
“After Minister Lisa Morris Julien made a sterling and strong contribution in the Budget debate, the Deputy Speaker called on the Opposition to contribute and they refused. There were four UNC members in the Chamber who had not yet contributed to the debate: MPs Lee, Hosein, Indarsingh and Moonilal and all refused to join the debate. Accordingly, the Minister of Finance wound up the debate,” Young said.
But Opposition Chief Whip David Lee in a press conference on Sunday said the Government was in control of Parliament and chose to shut down the debate so they would not have to account to the country.
Asked why the Opposition had not used the time after Julien’s contribution to voice concerns about aspects of the Budget, Lee said, “We understand the game they were playing. MP Julien spoke but we felt she said nothing of substance, so I would not have wasted one of our heavy hitters to respond to Julien.
“Our members were waiting to respond to key ministers and we were not going to allow the Government to run out the Opposition speakers where we would not have been able to respond to key Ministers,” he said.
He questioned why Minister Imbert did not allow his colleagues, including the Prime Minister, the opportunity to speak
AG Faris Al-Rawi also condemned the Opposition. He said Persad-Bissessar was not present for the entire sitting.
“Further, young members such as Anita Haynes were seen leaving the Parliament with all bags in tow early in the sitting,” Al-Rawi said.
Meanwhile, Oropouche MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said the Opposition has written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives seeking leave to move a motion of Privileges against Al-Rawi.
“In an attempt to deflect from the many damaging allegations against his conduct while in office, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi made misleading and false statements during his Budget presentation.”