The Opposition’s absence had nothing to do with health concerns—it is all about politics.
So said Government Leader Camille Robinson-Regis, as she commented on the Opposition’s decision to boycott yesterday’s sitting of Parliament.
“They are trying to make a political point that because the Prime Minister has tested positive for Covid they are at risk, but that is not so... All the persons who have been in contact with the Prime Minister, according to the medical protocols, have been tested and nobody else has tested positive, as far as I understand it. And in addition to that, they would have to be in quarantine and they are in quarantine,” she said.
None of the 19 Opposition MPs attended yesterday’s sitting, causing Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde at the start of the proceedings to rise and say that given the absence of Opposition Members from the chamber, the four urgent questions would lapse.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, who was acting Government Leader, immediately condemned the Opposition’s action.
“The PNM is here to do the people’s business. Where is the Opposition to do the people’s business today? This is a total dereliction of duty, a disgrace to the country and violates the oath of office of every single Opposition member,” he said.
The House then proceeded to the debate on the Anti-Gang Amendment Bill which, after a short debate, was passed.
The bill required only a simple majority.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, in piloting the measure, also chastised the Opposition.
“I stand before the members of the Government and the nation...in the absence of the Opposition to deal with a matter of very serious import. I have been in the Parliament now for 11 years, and I have never once on any occasion witnessed the absence of the Opposition. And I wish at the outset... to roundly condemn the Opposition for the dereliction of duty to consider the business of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” the Attorney General said.
He said the Opposition was fiddling while lives were being lost, when two, three, four people are alleged to have abducted daughters of this country who were murdered and dumped and people found with their bank card.
“And Siparia (MP) has the temerity, the audacity, the bold-facedness to tell the Opposition not to turn up in the Parliament today. Shame on you, member for Siparia!” he thundered, to desk-thumping support.
He said UNC prosperity was tied in with “chaos and destruction of Trinidad and Tobago. “And I am stating today in my advocacy on behalf of the people of Trinidad and Tobago... that I have had enough of the UNC. For me today is a watershed event.”
Robinson Regis: Lee came to sitting with runny nose
At a news conference earlier yesterday, Robinson-Regis said the Opposition’s “political gambit had fallen flat on its face”.
“What they are showing is that they have no regard for the business of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” Robinson-Regis said. “It is clear that as far as they are concerned once they are not in Government, then Trinidad and Tobago could go to hell in a handbasket. Once they are not the ones who are governing this country then the people of this country are of no concern to them.”
Noting that the Opposition had sent a letter to the Speaker expressing concerns about Covid-19 in view of the fact that the Prime Minister had tested positive, Robinson-Regis stated: “Let me say that all the persons with whom the Prime Minister has been in contact in the normal fashion of the contact tracing, that has been done, and any person who needed to be quarantined or who needed to have any kind of medical attention has received same. So there is no way that anybody in the Parliament has been exposed.”
Responding to the Opposition Leader’s statements, Robinson-Regis said: “The Prime Minister has not been in the Parliament since he tested positive. He has been in quarantine.”
She said a few Fridays ago, Government Members became concerned after Chief Whip David Lee was sniffling and wiping his nose and appeared to have “symptoms”.
“We asked the Speaker to have him give us the assurance that he did not have the symptoms of Covid. But we did not absent ourselves... So ladies and gentlemen of the media, I am here to say that I denounce what the Opposition has done. They have done this without any cause and, as usual, they are trying to make every issue into a political issue. But this Covid is serious, and it is not to be trifled with. And they have absolutely no reason to have absented themselves from today’s sitting,” Robinson Regis said.
Told that Lee had indicated then that he had tested negative for Covid-19, Robinson-Regis asked: “How do we know that? He had a runny nose and was wiping it all the time.”
She said Lee is the only MP who came to the Parliament exhibiting symptoms.
In circumstances where you have a runny nose or any flu-like symptoms, you should not come out, she said.
Robinson-Regis said if there was one institution that had been extremely careful about the Covid protocols, it was the Parliament—which had put in place certain protocols, including the reduction in the speaking time, the reduction in the numbers in the House to 14 Government Members and 12 Opposition Members, as well as the reduction in the numbers of staff and police officers in the chamber and the sanitisation and taking of temperatures of people entering the Red House.
“So what is this Opposition really trying to prove?” she asked.
She labelled the Opposition’s decision to absent themselves as “vaps” because they had filed Urgent Questions for Ministers.
“We got the notice of the Urgent Questions at 12.38 p.m. (yesterday) and subsequent to that... about ten minutes later the clerk informed me that she received a series of requests to be excused from today’s sitting...So I think it was a vaps on their part and they thought this would cause an issue,” she stated.
Robinson Regis said throughout the Covid pandemic the UNC had been very negligent. • See Page 7