The Opposition's insistence on drawing out the tearoom brawl suggests that the United National Congress (UNC) has lost touch with the nation's people. Despite crime, poverty, jobs and health being the main concerns of citizens, the UNC leadership refuses to let this trivial, albeit soap operatic, tearoom incident be consigned to the dustbin. In the Lower House on Friday, Speaker Barry Sinanan raised the motion passed on May 6 - to wit, that Fyzabad MP Chandresh Sharma either apologise for misleading the House or be suspended for a month.
Mr Sharma had two choices. He could have taken his suspension or apologised. Instead, he came to the chamber on Friday with the clear intention to prevaricate - and, not ironically, this was apparently the way he behaved before the Privileges Committee when giving his testimony, even though he was the one who set the whole matter in motion. Mr Sharma attempted to give a political speech, starting off by describing the PNM government as "thugs" and the report of the Privileges Committee as "biased." Even if this were so, it is beside the point. As a Member of Parliament, Mr Sharma is bound to obey its rules - or he would be if he conducted himself according to his title of "Honourable."
Speaker Barry Sinanan made every attempt to allow Mr Sharma to behave with dignity - or, in more local parlance, like a big man. The Speaker stopped the MP twice, saying that either he was apologising or he was not. Only on the third occasion of Mr Sharma's non-compliance did the Speaker suspend him, according to the original motion, for one month. At that point, Mr Sharma could have saved some face and left the chamber. Instead, he chose to remain, with the obvious intention of degrading the House by having himself manhandled by police officers. However, the officers took no action. And this raises another issue. When the Speaker calls on officers to remove a member of the public who is behaving in an unacceptable manner, the police do not hesitate to act.
Despite the attempt by the Opposition to confuse the issue, the Speaker's authority in the House is paramount, and the officers' inaction thus represents a breakdown in discipline. Speaker Sinanan was thus forced into adopting a different strategy. After giving Mr Sharma more than enough time, the Speaker returned and imposed an indefinite suspension from all business of the House. This sterner suspension means, among other things, that the employees at Mr Sharma's constituency office will not be paid. Since the UNC has made this teacup matter their cause celebre, however, we assume they will be drawing on the party's coffers to ensure that the workers do not suffer for the duration of Mr Sharma's suspension. Meanwhile, we remain at a loss to understand why the UNC has latched on to this matter with such fervour.
UNC leader Basdeo Panday, in the press conference held after this debacle, asserted that the PNM was ensuring that constitutional reform was being placed on the national agenda. This is a truly large leap, even for such a famously flexible politician like Mr Panday. But he and his party seem convinced that they can use the tearoom incident to demonise the PNM administration. We would have thought that focusing on the Government's failures in the areas of murder, kidnapping, school discipline, and poverty would have been a far more effective strategy. But the Opposition, it seems, has a different idea about what worries the people of the nation.
Mr Panday also misled the nation when he referred to an incident several decades ago involving a city councillor, Albert Gomes, who clashed with the Mayor Captain A A Cipriani. Cipriani ordered the police to remove Gomes from the council chamber. Panday said on Friday that they could not remove Gomes. The fact of the matter is that Gomes was removed although he had stretched himself flat out on the floor of the council chamber believing that his massive weight of over 300 pounds would be too much for the police. It wasn't. Eight policemen bodily lifted him out of the chamber, not once but twice.
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