United National Congress (UNC) Members of Parliament made the coward’s choice of absenting themselves from the Parliament Chamber rather than casting their vote against the Bail (Amendment) (No 2) bill.
This was the position of Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday.
But Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal countered it was the Government who “retreated” after it recognised the Bail bill would not get the requisite number of votes.
The bill required a three-fifths special majority or 26 votes.
The Government had initially announced it intended to take it through all the stages.
But the Attorney General indicated this plan was frustrated “when the UNC ran away from the Parliament and refused to support the (no-bail) law” on Wednesday.
“There weren’t enough members in the House to pass the bill,” he said yesterday. “There was nobody opposite me. There was one point in time when (Pointe-a-Pierre MP) David Lee alone was sitting on the (Opposition) bench.”
The Attorney General had commented on the Opposition’s absence during his wrap-up.
“There are only three members of the UNC bench present in this debate. Not a single member occupying the benches opposite us is present, other than Pointe-a-Pierre, Caroni East and Oropouche West. That’s it!
“We wanted to pass this bill tonight, but there has been a sabotage by the Opposition. You see, we are required to have three-fifths of the votes of this Parliament...and when we look to the constitutionality of the bill and are trying to pass the law tonight, we are in difficulty.
“Even though they are paid to be in the Parliament, they are absent and that is nothing but a crying shame,” he said to deskthumping.
Asked yesterday whether Government was prepared to compromise on the bill, the Attorney General said: “The UNC is effectively saying that they would not support the bill at all. It is a complete rejection because what they are asking for (which are the two and three-strike rules) is already existing law.”
This Bail No 2 bill is proposing to deny bail to anyone, including first offenders, found in possession of sophisticated and illegal automatic firearms.
Jail ain’t make to ripe fig ► sub-head ◄
Told that Moonilal had said Government clearly did not consider the passage of this bill to be urgent since it adjourned to December 6, the Attorney General said, “Let me put this in context. The only way we have gotten (special majority) bills passed so far is when the public sentiment has risen up against the UNC, just as happened with FATCA, Global Forum, Anti-Gang, Income Tax, Bail No 1.
“It is clear that the UNC needs to be exposed to the public before they would support critically needed special legislation.”
Noting the Opposition when in Government had passed more draconian and restrictive laws which ousted the jurisdiction of the court completely, the Attorney General accused the UNC of hypocrisy.
He quoted then-justice minister Prakash Ramadhar, during the debate in December 2010 on a Bail Amendment bill brought by the UNC government, as saying there was “no divine right to bail in this country”.
The AG said in this same debate, Suruj Rambachan said one could not be sympathetic to criminals. But Al-Rawi said it was during the same debate that former attorney general Anand Ramlogan made the most famous statement, “Jail ain’t make to ripe fig”.
Said Al Rawi, “How far they have come? Now, every single one of them under the most absent Opposition Leader” is opposing a measure, and one which “preserves the integrity of the judiciary”.
Moonilal: Government retreated ► sub-head ◄
Moonilal, for his part, denied the Attorney General’s assertion that the Opposition was a no-show, saying it was the Government which didn’t have its full complement in the Chamber.
“There were seven Opposition members present and the Government needed three Opposition votes to pass the bill,” he said.
He said MPs Tim Gopeesingh, Christine Newallo-Hosein, Suruj Rambachan, David Lee, Rodney Charles, himself and “one other MP” were present.
Moonilal said he believed Government adjourned because it now has to consider an amendment to the bill because the Opposition is not prepared to support it in its present form.
He said the Opposition was of the view that people should only be denied bail if they have a pending charge or conviction, and not a first-time offence.
“They (the Government) took a policy U-turn to say that persons who have no charge or no conviction should be denied bail, and we are saying to go back to the original policy,” he said. “I think they are considering our suggestion and that is one of the reasons, I suspect, is why they ‘bailed’ out.
“I think it was sensible to adjourn and to go back to make amendments before coming back to the table,” Moonilal said.
He stressed the Government had a duty to bring its full complement when it is coming for votes on special majority legislation.
“You can’t come with your bus half-full and expect that the other people’s bus will help you,” he said.
He also said since the matter has been put off, for almost two weeks or so, it cannot be that the Government was “so eager” to pass that bill.