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UNC too ashamed
In Response To: Tea room report ()

Newsday's Editorial

TWO weeks ago, we asked why the Opposition United National Congress was against the report on the tea room brawl being debated in Parliament. Now that the report has become public, it seems clear why the Opposition in both the Upper and Lower Houses felt it necessary to walk out when the matter was raised. It is not because the Opposition was so passionate about upholding the principle of sub judice. It was because they would have had a hard time hiding their embarrassment. Well, maybe not, since politicians are without shame.

But the report on the tea room brawl certainly casts the Opposition in the dimmest political light. In the first place, it seems that there was no brawl. There was, at most, an altercation. And, from the report, it seems that the altercation was started by Fyzabad MP Chandresh Sharma, who went so far as to call Diego Martin West MP Keith Rowley a racist. Dr Rowley, it seems, responded aggressively but he did not, as Mr Sharma had alleged, take physical action. Indeed, the UNC witnesses to the incident disagreed on specific details about Dr Rowley's alleged assault - whether he was sitting or standing, what hand he used to hit Mr Sharma, and so on.

Well, eyewitnesses do often disagree on details. But the most damning testimony came from Mr Sharma himself - or, rather, from the record of his actions on that afternoon. After this assault, he was able to attend a Finance Committee meeting and make contributions to the discussion. He also sat through 90 minutes of the sitting of the Lower House. At no time did anyone comment on his bruised face or upset manner. Well, perhaps the bruises took a while to show and perhaps Mr Sharma is a man of immense emotional control. But the escalation of his condition certainly seems curious.

By 3.30 that afternoon he had made a police report; later that evening, he got a doctor's report saying that he had suffered "soft tissue damage"; by dusk, his colleague Siparia MP Kamla Persad Bissessar was telling the nation that Mr Sharma was on drips and suffering from high blood pressure. Well - actually, well nothing. It turns out that the doctor didn't really examine Mr Sharma, but just took his word that he had been assaulted. It seems reasonable to infer that Mr Sharma, along with Mrs Persad Bissessar and Chief Whip Ganga Singh, misled the doctor. So, too, did their colleagues Kelvin Ramnath and Dr Roodal Moonilal attempt to deceive the Privileges Committee.

This is a punishing setback for the UNC, because the tea room incident makes the party less palatable as an alternative to form the government. For one thing, here was little political benefit to bringing down Dr Rowley, when the Opposition could have put its energies to much more pertinent criticisms of the Manning administration. For another, the fact that leading UNC MPs attempted to make a Boston tea party out of a broken teacup reflects a slyness and a venom that does the party's already tarnished image little good. And this does the country little good, either, since the ruling PNM, feeling unthreatened by the Opposition, will be less motivated to deal with the myriad problems confronting the society.

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