Bacchanal is in the making over the appointment of Bridgid Annisette-George as House Speaker.
On the eve of the new parliamentary session which begins today, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has written a 13-page letter to Annisette-George objecting to her re-appointment as House Speaker.
In the letter, Persad-Bissessar accused Annisette-George of contributing to the “virtual doomsday” Trinidad and Tobago is facing with the deadly Covid-19 pandemic and requested that Annisette-George not accept the appointment and if she does not the Opposition will raise their concerns in the Parliament and may also approach the courts.
“You as Speaker contributed to this virtual doomsday when you knew that on the 31st January, 2020 the President, Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes declared the novel coronavirus as an infectious disease. Yet on the same day you refused Dr Tim Gopeesingh’s (then Member for Caroni East) motion to discuss same ruling inter alia that it was not urgent and important,” Persad-Bissessar stated in the letter .
The former prime minister stated that Annisette-George would have been aware that on February 4, 2020, Senate President Christine Kangaloo also turned down Senator Wade Mark’s motion to discuss the Covid-19 scenario, adding that again on March 4, 2020, Annisette-George refused Gopeesingh’s motion to discuss the dreaded virus.
“It is ironic that the proposed legislative agenda on the first day of this 12th Republican Parliament arises out of the Covid-19 pandemic. I say humbly and respectfully to you that you should not take the seat of Speaker to preside in matters which relate to a factual reality you yourself substantially contributed to,” stated Persad-Bissessar.
The Opposition leader noted that to date thousands of persons are afflicted with this dreaded disease and the death toll has also increased. “The Government has failed inter alia to provide enough facilities for those who are now being diagnosed as confirmed cases leaving such persons to stay at home to possibly die whilst spreading the infectious disease to surrounding family members. To put it extremely mildly, we have an untenable state of affairs,” stated Persad-Bissessar.
In the letter, Persad-Bissessar further criticised Annisette-George for not declaring that her husband, Newman George is chairman of Paria Fuel Trading Company.
“Perhaps more damning was the fact that on 27th April, 2020 you breached fundamental principles of natural justice and/or failed to declare that your husband was at the heart and core of the controversial sale of fuel by State Enterprise Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd (he being the chairman) when you adjudicated upon the request of Member of Parliament Dr Roodal Moonilal to have the same debated as a definite matter of urgent public importance,” the letter stated.
Persad-Bissessar said Annisette-George, having failed to declare her interest displayed real bias, pointing out that she subsequently also proceeded to “berate” Moonilal, referring to him as “unrepentant” and his behaviour as “egregious, intolerable”.
Frivolous and vexatious
The detailed letter cited numerous instances where Persad-Bissessar claimed the Speaker was impartial and biased to the Opposition between 2015-2020.
Also accompanying the letter were Hansard records to support each claim.
The letter also contained an Appendix listing some 14 critical Motions brought by the Opposition denied by Annisette-George.
Persad-Bissessar also accused the Speaker of allowing Government members “to shout insults, personal attacks and frivolous and vexatious remarks” to the Opposition without intervention by her.
“However, whenever Members of the Opposition Benches responded, you over zealously summoned the standing orders in a disproportionate manner thereby creating an uneven playing-field,” she stated.
Persad-Bissessar added that by unlawfully cutting off or stopping debate, by suspending and/or removing Members of the Opposition from the House for no or no apparent good reason the Speaker deprived Member/s and the thousands of constituents who they represent, their collective right of free speech and association, in violation of their constitutional rights.
“I am constrained to now write you and to advise that I, as Leader of the Opposition, and the team of Opposition Members of Parliament are not prepared to support your nomination as Speaker of the House of the Representatives,” she stated.
Persad-Bissessar stated that should Annisette-George fail to recuse herself or to step down or to withdraw as a nominee for Speaker of the House of Representatives, “we reserve the right to raise your conduct on substantive motions before the House and to debate any continuing impartial action”.
She added the Opposition also reserves the right to approach the courts to seek a declaration that Annisette-George’s actions have deprived Members of the Opposition Benches of their rights to speak.
“In the event that we are constrained to approach the courts at any time, we reserve the right to also seek an order enjoining you from taking further such actions in violation of the rights of Members of Parliament and their constituents. We trust that good sense will prevail and that you will act in the interests of our nation.” stated Persad-Bissessar.