HEAT IN HOUSE
By CLINT CHAN TACK Thursday, May 29 2014
SEVERAL members of the People’s Partnership (PP) Government and the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) engaged one another in a no-holds barred shouting match in the House of Representatives yesterday, introducing naked election politics into debate on the Purchase of Certain Rights (Hindu Credit Union - HCU) Bill 2014.
The tirade took place in the absence of both Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. The actions of Government and Opposition MPs saw House Speaker Wade Mark being forced to lay down the law, telling them: “I want no speeches!”
The sparks flew when Government Chief Whip and UNC deputy political leader Dr Roodal Moonilal said Persad-Bissessar summoned the House to meet yesterday, to implement a promise made in 2009, by then Opposition Leader and UNC political leader Basdeo Panday.
Reading a private motion on the HCU, which Panday filed in the House five years ago, Moonilal boasted that Persad-Bissessar leads an administration which, “is now effecting a promise made by her predecessor in 2009.”
“Who you stabbed in the back,” Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert asked as he made a direct reference to events which saw Persad-Bissessar ousting Panday as UNC leader and Opposition Leader in 2010.
Moonilal countered by saying prior to then prime minister Patrick Manning calling a snap General Election in 2010, “that was before the Member for Diego Martin West (Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley) conspired to remove the Member for San Fernando East (Manning)!”
When Imbert made an inaudible comment to Moonilal, across the floor, Moonilal said, “I will address the Member for Diego Martin North/East now on this matter to remove San Fernando East. I would ask him whether or not and I’m not unparliamentary, whether or not he told the Member for San Fernando East that the Member for Diego Martin West was stealing from the construction sector.”
“Me?” asked a visibly surprised Imbert while several PNM MPs raised their voices in protest as Government MPs “oooohed” and “aaahhhed” in surprise at Moonilal’s remark.
Opposition Chief Whip Marlene McDonald sprang up and declared, “Mr Speaker, I rise on (Standing Order) 36 (5). I rise on 36 (5)!” Looking at Moonilal, who remained on his feet,” McDonald said, “Oropouche East...you need to sit! Mr Speaker 36 (5).” Standing Order 36 (5) states: “No Member shall impute improper motives to any other Member of either Chamber.” It was the beginning of a torrid workout for McDonald as she rose several more times during the debate, to protest utterances from the Government side.
Rising to his feet, Mark advised Moonilal, “I know the question you are asking but it is imputing improper motive. So I ask you not to go there...please.” As Mark took his seat, Sports Minister Anil Roberts told Moonilal, “Good question.”
Responding to the Speaker’s directive, Moonilal said, “Mr Speaker I withdraw that question.” Government MPs laughed and thumped their desks when he quipped, “I wait for the answer.” Imbert then stood up and declared, “The answer is no!”
“Let me move on. That which we do in the darkness shall come to light,” Moonilal countered.
Referring to the PNM’s May 18 internal election, Moonilal claimed that less than 15 percent of the PNM’s 82,000 members voted for Imbert who was a member of the Rowley slate and who contested the seat of party vice-chairman. As Imbert reminded Moonilal that the gap between himself and his (Imbert) rival in the internal election was 6,000 votes, Moonilal said, “The people supporting you are less than VAT (Value Added Tax).” McDonald fired back saying, “You (UNC) are afraid to hold allyuh internal election.” The UNC is yet to announce a date for internal elections.
Both the Congress of the People (COP), the second main party in the PP, and former Cabinet minister Jack Warner’s Independent Liberal Party (ILP), will hold its respective internal elections on the same day — June 29.
Moonilal took a shot at Warner, who missed yesterday’s sitting, recalling the ILP once announced it was opening offices, across the country, “like rain.” While not mentioning Warner by name, Moonilal observed, “That is the sign of a conman!”
He then charged that Rowley (who was re-elected as PNM political leader on May 18) is already acting like as if he is prime minister. Rejecting Imbert’s claim that the HCU financed the UNC, Moonilal claimed that former finance minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira had repeated Manning’s statement in 2009 that Government could not intervene in the HCU collapse, because its asset base did not pose a systemic risk to the population, Moonilal alleged, “It was the HCU in 2007, that participated in a significant way in her campaign in D’Abadie/ O’Meara.” Nunez-Tesheira was elected D’Abadie/O’Meara MP in 2007, but lost the seat to Roberts in 2010.
“It is admitted. It is in print that she benefitted from the HCU. Again no declaration that they were involved in campaigning and would have given significant assistance to the PNM candidates in 2007,” Moonilal said. He said this was why by 2008 and 2009, HCU president Harry Harnarine “became untouchable” during the PNM’s regime.
“He led a brigade to Balisier House and as a result of bullying at Balisier House, the then Prime Minister told the then junior minister of finance Conrad Enill to apologise (to Harnarine) for bringing the HCU into disrepute by saying they have problems,” Moonilal said.
He reminded MPs that Rowley was once Nunez-Tesheira’s Cabinet colleague before Manning fired him in April 2008. “She was also a (Clico) shareholder. She signed a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the people and did not disclose that (her being a shareholder),” Moonilal claimed.
Saying the former PNM government knew that something was wrong at the HCU between 2002 and 2004, Moonilal said, “For political expediency, they allowed that situation to hit the fan. They then washed their hands.” McDonald expressed surprise when Moonilal said the PNM had a credit union which collapsed.
Stating this was disclosed on December 9, 2009 by then Labour Minister Rennie Dumas, Moonilal remarked, “None of them (Opposition MPs) know PNM history. They just joined looking for something.” An angry McDonald stood up again and declared, “Mr Speaker 36 (5)! I am looking for nothing! I am sure that the members on this side are looking for nothing!” Before taking her seat again, McDonald told Moonilal, “You are rude!” Moonilal responded by raising his hands in mock surrender.
Saying he did not have time to list the Government’s achievements over the last four years, but promising to do so another time, Moonilal boasted, “The power of delivery will trump the gloom of your propaganda.” When Moonilal urged the PNM to abandon its policy of discrimination and inequitable treatment which caused McDonald to rise again as she accused Moonilal of imputing improper motives against the Opposition. Moonilal countered by saying he was not accusing any PNM MP of wrongdoing and most of the current Opposition were not in Parliament when Manning was prime minister.
Moonilal then disclosed that he was a HCU depositor, having deposited $250 in the credit union in 1988. “I am now owed $40 for which I received a letter in the mail confirming this and indicating from the Ministry of Finance that they are taking steps to help me,” he said.
While Moonilal was speaking, Speaker Mark warned Imbert and McDonald from engaging in cross talk with him. Responding to an inaudible comment by Imbert, Mark warned: “I can tell you to leave the Chamber.” (See Page 7A)