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Speaker to declare Anil’s seat vacant

By Clint Chan Tack Monday, August 4 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Anil Roberts...
Anil Roberts...

THE People’s Partnership (PP) Government begins the Fifth Session of the Tenth Parliament today with a further reduction in the seats it holds in the House of Representatives. When the House sits today at 1.30 pm, the D’Abadie/O’Meara seat that was formerly represented by Anil Roberts is expected to be declared vacant.

This may affect Government’s ability to pass certain types of legislation in the House. Roberts resigned as Sports Minister and D’Abadie/ O’Meara MP last Thursday in the wake of public outcry over the Life Sport controversy. His resignation letter as an MP should be sent today to House Speaker Wade Mark. Contacted yesterday, Deputy Speaker Nela Khan, who was acting for Mark while he was attending a conference in Barbados, said she had not received any correspondence from Roberts during that time. Mark returned home over the weekend and will be chairing today’s sitting. Efforts yesterday to contact Mark were unsuccessful.

Roberts’ resignation means the PP’s seats in the House have been reduced from 27 to 26 seats. The PP had 29 seats in 2010. This was reduced to 27 last year, following losses in the Chaguanas West and St Joseph bye-elections.

While Government can pass simple majority legislation in the House with or without all its remaining 26 MPs being present, it cannot pass legislation which requires either a two thirds majority (27 votes) or three-fourths majority (31 votes). Government can only pass these bills with the support of the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) or Independent Liberal Party (ILP) chairman Jack Warner, who is also Chaguanas West MP. The PNM has 13 seats in the House.

Government could also find itself in difficulty to pass bills requiring a three-fifth’s majority or 25 votes in the House, if it cannot maintain a minimum of 25 MPs in the House at all times. Today will also see the new Standing Orders for the House, that were approved in July, being put into effect for the first time.

One of the features of the new Standing Order is for there to be question time for the Prime Minister, every month, on a designated week.

Question time will be limited to a period of 30 minutes with each question not exceeding 15 seconds. Each question, “must be asked without argument or opinion and shall not address more than one matter of general government policy.”

The new rules will see a reduction in speaking times for MPs. The MP piloting a bill is limited to 40 minutes, while the first three contributors to debate must take 50 minutes. Thereafter all speakers will be limited to 30 minutes. All members can ask for a final ten-minute extension, meaning on average each speaker is limited to about one hour. Currently, debate contributors have 75 minutes. The times for statements are also limited to ten minutes, explanation of tabled papers, three minutes. For motions, the person proposing gets 40 minutes while each debater gets 30 minutes. Currently the motions follow the same time scheme as debates.

According to today’s House Order Paper, there is no Government business listed for debate, either by way of bills or motions. There are also no questions for the Government to answer (either orally or in writing). According to the Order Paper, the main order of business is the Clerk of the House reading the proclamation issued by President Anthony Carmona to declare the new parliamentary session open. Newsday understands Persad-Bissessar may use today’s sitting to outline some of the legislative matters which Government will be addressing in the new session.

Today’s opening of the new parliamentary session is not a ceremonial one, in which the President addresses a joint sitting of the House and Senate. No date has been set for the first sitting of the Senate in this session.

Three bills which are expected to engage the Government’s attention in this session are the Judges Salaries and Pensions (Amendment) Bill 2013, the Retiring Allowances (Legislative Service) (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and the Public Procurement Bill 2014. At the last sitting of the House on July 28, Persad-Bissessar tabled a special motion in Parliament calling for the money bills to not be presented to President Carmona for assent.

These bills, which are intended to improve pensions for judges and parliamentarians, lapsed with the prorogation of the last session and will be reintroduced in the new session. Also lapsing was the procurement bill, despite calls from private sector and civil society for the House to pass it before the end of the last session. Persad-Bissessar promised Government would bring this bill, with amendments, back to Parliament in the Fifth Session.

Out of a total of 29 bills brought to Parliament in the Fourth Session, Government succeeded in only passing eight. These were the Appropriation Bill 2013, Finance (Supplementation and Variation of Appropriation Bill 2014, Finance Bill 2014, Libel and Defamation (Amendment) Bill 2013, Dog Control (Amendment) Bill 2014, the HCU Bill 2014 and the Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill 2013. The Municipal Bill saw the introduction of proportional representation at the local government level.

Other bills which lapsed at the end of the last parliamentary session included the Miscellaneous Provisions (Proceeds of Crime, Anti-Terrorism, Financial Intelligence Unit of TT) Bill 2014, Miscellaneous Provisions (Prison) Bill 2014 and the Planning and Faciliation of Development Bill 2013.

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