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Speed debating

By Andre Bagoo Tuesday, June 17 2014

EARNING their increased pay, Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday passed five bills in a single sitting.

The House of Representatives sat at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port- of-Spain from 10 am to 5 pm. There was a lunch-break of about one and a half hours and some of the time was devoted to Questions on the Order Paper.

Debates of several pending pieces of legislation were closed, the final committee stages taken and the bills passed, in some cases with the support of the Opposition.

The bills passed related to: 1) criminal justice reform (fingerprinting and DNA sampling) 2) the Hindu Credit Union (HCU) bailout 3) new road traffic rules to curb speeding; and 4) validation of statutory leases. The Opposition supported three out of five of the bills.

The pace was so fast that one committee stage – during which time legislation is examined in detail clause by clause – took only two minutes. The sitting was billed as a test-run for new Parliament rules due to take effect later this year.

“Historic day: five major bills that improve the quality of lives have been passed!” Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal told Newsday at the end of the sitting. “We are practicing for the new standing orders.” New standing orders stipulating shorter debate times will come on-stream in coming months.

The sitting began at 10 am. Question Time was taken until about 10.20 am when Attorney General Anand Ramlogan – visiting from the Senate – closed the debate of omnibus criminal justice reform legislation which introduces finger- printing of visitors, deportees and persons on charges.

Ramlogan called for support for the Miscellaneous Provisions (Administration of Justice) Bill, 2014, which had been debated on April 11, May 9 and up to last Friday. The Attorney General also noted the legislation seeks to regulate a DNA database and to remove the involvement of the executive from matters involving the detention of children at trade facilities.

Committee stage on the bill was taken at 10.35 am, during which time several clauses were amended, including one clause which was widened to ensure fingerprints of persons on criminal charges are also stored in databases. The bill was passed at 10.52 am, with 26 Government MPs voting for it, five Opposition MPs voting against it and Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner abstaining.

Next up was the Purchase of Certain Rights (HCU) Bill, 2014. This legislation, which authorises the State to bail out persons with more than $75,000 in shares or deposits at the HCU, had previously been debated. Finance and Economy Minister Larry Howai wrapped up the debate by stating Government would explicitly provide that related parties would not benefit from the bailout in an amendment. Sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses and co-habitants of HCU officials would not be allowed to benefit, he said.

However, the exact terms of this bar proved a difficult issue at the committee stage which was taken at 11.06 am but stood down at 11.34 am to allow the Chief Parliamentary Counsel to provide advice on the bar and to respond to concerns raised by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne.

Browne had queried whether the bar should be made explicit in two clauses, while Rowley queried whether the bar would violate rules against legislating against individuals.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the State was advised that the bar was in relation to a class of individuals but the matter would be considered in further detail while other Parliament business was considered. She noted the issue of who would benefit had been raised from the PNM. However she called for the matter to be stood down.

“We need to ensure the legislation is watertight,” Persad-Bissessar said. Howai stated the Clico bailout legislation did not contain a specific bar on related parties benefitting but rather the Memorandum of Understanding which ostensibly governed that bailout did.

At 11.35 am, the Parliament moved on to the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, 2014, which proposes to authorise the State to use radar guns to police speeding. Minister of Transport Stephen Cadiz closed the debate and the committee stage was taken at 11.42 am. During this stage, Cadiz assured the PNM’s Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert that regulations to be issued under the legislation would stipulate that the radar guns are to be independently calibrated. All 34 MPs present in the chamber then voted for the bill. Warner missed the vote.

Next up was the Land Tenants (Security of Tenure) (Amendment) Bill, 2014. Housing Minister Moonilal took about five minutes to close debate of that bill which had previously been debated. Committee stage began at noon and ended at 12.02 pm. All 35 MPs supported the legislation, which validates the terms of statutory leases issued by the State. The House then reconsidered the HCU legislation, agreeing to the terms of a bar on related parties. That bill was passed at 12.28 pm. A lunch break was taken until 2 pm.

At 2 pm there was debate of prison reform legislation. The Miscellaneous Provisions (Prisons) Bill, 2014, which establishes a Prisons Inspectorate, was passed at 4.22 pm. The House then entertained Labour Day and Corpus Christi greetings.

The Mace was removed at 4.46 pm, while the next sitting was set for next Wednesday at 1.30 pm for consideration of a finance bill to supplement the 2014 Budget. Before this, the Parliament’s Finance Committee – comprising all MPs – will meet in-camera on Monday at 10 am, Moonilal indicated.

The manic Monday came as Parliament is due to prorogue at the end of next month.

The sitting was the second-straight sitting at which several pieces of legislation were dealt with. Last Friday debate on several bills took place, though only one bill was actually passed. The bills debated on Friday were: the Miscellaneous Provisions (Administration of Justice) Bill, 2014; the Cyber Crime Bill, 2014 and The Trinidad and Tobago Cyber Security Agency Bill, 2014; the Miscellaneous Provisions (Prisons) Bill 2014; the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2013. The Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 2013, were passed while debate on the other bills were adjourned.

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