Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley did not attend yesterday’s sitting of the House of Representatives, causing consternation from Opposition Members because it was the day set aside for Prime Minister’s Question Time.
There has been no Prime Minister’s Question Time for two months. In April, the Prime Minister contracted Covid-19 and did not attend any sittings in that month. The Speaker granted him leave of absence during that period.
And in May there was no second sitting as the country went into a wide lockdown. And no explanation was given for his absence yesterday.
Referring to PM Question Time, Couva South MP Rudy Indarsingh rose to ask loudly: “Is it that the Prime Minister isn’t feeling well because he took the Pfizer vaccine? We need to clarify. This is a very important exercise.”
At the start of the sitting, House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George ,under Announcements by the Speaker, had indicated that the Prime Minister had sought and had been granted leave of absence from the day’s sitting.
“Is it that the Member for Naparima is going to ask Question 1 under Urgent Questions,” the Speaker asked.
Robinson-Regis and Indarsingh began to engage in crosstalk. “You don’t need to know all of that,” Robinson-Regis said, in response to Indarsingh’s queries about whether the PM’s absence was related to the taking of the Pfizer vaccine. The Speaker intervened: “I am on my legs”.
Under the Standing Orders the second sitting of the month “shall” be for Prime Minister’s questions. The Prime Minister is normally present for Prime Minister’s Question Time, which is high on the agenda (before Urgent Questions to Ministers).
Parliamentary officials indicated that because the standing order is a mandatory provision (using the word ‘shall’), the issue of PM’s Question Time is likely to be held at the subsequent (next) sitting.
Roodal: Where de hell was the PM?
Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said the Prime Minister treated the Parliament, elected MPs and the people of Trinidad and Tobago with “gross disrespect and contempt”.
“Where de hell was the Prime Minister?” he asked.
Noting that the Prime Minister’s Facebook page indicated that he was at Channel 5 studio in Tobago doing an interview for its “Rise and Shine” morning programme yesterday, Moonilal said : “He shoulda rise and shine in the Red House. He could have done that interview anytime and via Zoom”. He said Question Time is the one day in the month when the Opposition has the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers on government policy and programmes. “Today we had no idea of where he is and there was no explanation from the Government as to his whereabouts, whether he was unwell or whether he had an emergency” Moonilal said.
Moonilal recalled that the Prime Minister did not attend the funeral of murdered Andrea Bharatt because he said he had to be in Parliament for Prime Minister’s Question Time. The Oropouche MP wondered whether the Prime Minister deliberately absented himself from Parliament yesterday to avoid questions on who got the Pfizer vaccines that were “surreptitiously” imported into Trinidad and Tobago. He said the Opposition wanted the names of the people who would be vaccinated with the 400 doses.
Moonilal said the Prime Minister preferred to escape the questions which had been approved about Covid management, vaccines, the Port of Port of Spain and all matters. The Opposition had submitted 15 questions and five were approved, he said.
He said the Government was under enormous pressure, adding that the “ Minister of Health is so blight that he could spoil hog food”. He said yesterday was another debacle where elderly people were in the rain in a thunderstorm awaiting their vaccination. “It was chaos,” he said, adding that Government had cancelled 8,000 people getting their vaccines this weekend with the new curfew hours, which is a “contradiction, if you want to reduce the spread of Covid”.