Up today, down tomorrow

By Raffique Shah
October 12, 2015

Raffique ShahI switched on my television last Friday just in time to see and hear a stern-looking House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George say to former minister and current MP for Caroni Central Bhoe Tewarie, “You have three seconds to wrap up…starting now!”

I did a double-take, wondering if I hadn’t mistakenly tuned in to the Western channel rather than Parliament, some wild-west movie in which the “fastest” gunman in town gives an impossible ultimatum to his adversary.

But the be-robed Speaker confirmed that I was indeed watching the Budget debate in Parliament, and, sporting a Lee Van Cleef look, she repeated: three seconds!

Bhoe seemed confused, not knowing what to say or do, when Ms George again delivered her ultimatum, by which time I calculated almost three minutes had elapsed. Tewarie took his seat, muttering something about being “unable to function in this House under the PNM”, and I wondered what on earth I was witnessing.

Now, I admit I had not listened to all the proceedings before that “gun talk”, catching some of what Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had said earlier, so I have no idea what cardinal parliamentary sin Bhoe committed to warrant such treatment.

It seemed to me, though, if he had merely exceeded his allotted time, the Speaker could have simply said, “The speaking time of the Honourable Member has expired.” That, while on her feet, would have signalled that he remain seated and another MP be invited to make his contribution.

That showdown at high-afternoon, which came amidst a continuous cacophony that accompanied all contributions on both sides of the House, set me thinking: is Parliament bottoming out? Have we reached the nadir, a reflection of the lawlessness in wider society, a complete breakdown in discipline that even children are copying?

Have we lost all sense of civility?

I can well imagine that Speaker Bridgid (if I may take the liberty to so address the lady) must be disturbed by the street-market-type behaviour that many members of the now not-so-august Chamber display, and she wants to stamp her authority early o’clock.

But she can do that with some class that will distance her from, say, Wade Mark, who was the worst Speaker in the history of our Parliament, if not the world.

I shall not recount Mark’s many sins, his hostility towards the opposition and partiality towards those who elevated him to high office.

To underscore my assessment of his stewardship, I need recall only two injustices over which he presided.

He allowed Vemella Alleyne-Toppin to slander then Opposition Leader Keith Rowley in the vilest way without so much as questioning the veracity of what she said. Indeed, even if what she said had an iota of truth, Parliament, with its privileges, was not the place to do it.

Then there was the motion to suspend Rowley from the House that he entertained, a PP-injustice that came to haunt them when Rowley returned to the Chamber triumphantly as Prime Minister.

Mark did not counsel his comrades that it was an abuse of their parliamentary majority.

So the Speaker Ms Bridgid should not seek to emulate is Mark, who, I might add, will have treated a PNM member the way she treated Bhoe.

As someone who has taken a keen interest in the politics of this country for almost half a century, and who was an MP for five years when the legendary Arnold Thomasos was Speaker, I can say without fear of contradiction that the impartiality of the presiding officer, be it Speaker or President of the Senate, is a myth.

The great Thomasos was as biased as one could expect, given that he was appointed by the PNM from its ranks, and was fiercely loyal to Dr Eric Williams.

But he knew how to appear to be impartial, which is what mattered for me, and I imagine others. The one occasion on which he was patently unfair to me resulted in the only time in his career that he was roundly cussed.

But he was man enough to apologise to me, as I did to him: ask Kamaluddin Mohammed, the only other living witness to that episode.

Opposition members must feel they are being treated fairly, which is as good as it gets for them. In the end, the “ayes” will always have it.

Besides the perception of impartiality, presiding officers, in demanding respect from members, must in turn show them respect.

It is in that context I found Speaker Bridgid’s treatment of Bhoe distasteful.

All members of Parliament, in their interaction with each other, need note that the electorate is unforgiving, changing governments every five years.

Today you are up, tomorrow you are down-as many PP overlords (and ladies) of yesterday still cannot come to terms with.

14 thoughts on “Up today, down tomorrow”

    OPPOSITION Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal expressed regret over his “stink mouth” outburst in the House of Representatives yesterday, while MP Darryl Smith was reprimanded and a call made for Finance Minister Colm Imbert to apologise for insensitive comments.

    While Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi was delivering his contribution to the budget debate at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, around 10.19 a.m., Moonilal shouted from the Opposition benches: “Hush yuh stink mouth!”

    It is not the first time the utterance has landed Moonilal in hot water for the year.

  2. I hope Prime Minister Rowley can encourage his members, especially the news ones in government, to carry on with their business and leave the foul-mouthed and otherwise hostile remarks alone. Although certain parliamentarians may choose not to restrain themselves from hurling insults as a normal part of their banter, these new members should not go down the same road.

  3. “I switched on my television last Friday just in time to see and hear a stern-looking House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George say to former minister and current MP for Caroni Central Bhoe Tewarie, “You have three seconds to wrap up…starting now!”
    Just tonight I was watching the contributions being made by the Attorney General Faris Al-Wari, on reaching his time allotted, the same Speaker Brigid Annisette-George rose and uttered the words “You have three seconds to wrap up…starting now!” to Faris.
    Based on the contents of his observations, Raffique Shah wrote this article believing it to be an unwelcome manner of speech to Bhoe Tewarie. I submit that if that is so, then the same has to apply to the courtesy or lack thereof to Faris. From my observations, I do not see this one act as a matter to draw serious conclusions because what was said to the Opposition member was also said to the Government member. In fact I do not find it dis-courteous at all. Being a new Speaker and a woman at that, I would expect Ms Anisette-George to rein in what was a get-away-horse under house Speaker Wade Mark in the Parliament of the former Government. We deserve to have order and decorum in the People’s house where serious matters are being discussed and contemplated upon. Members who are taking part in the discussions and those witnessing MUST do so with respect and adorn a sense of seriousness for the people’s business. Wade Mark was a sorry case and should not even be used as an excuse for Speakership. He was uncouth, biased and ungrateful as one charged with the discipline of members of the house. My sincere hope is that we NEVER IN THE HISTORY OF THIS COUNTRY have another Speaker as Wade Mark. Having said that, I am sure that the new Speaker is all too aware of the lapses that were allowed under the disgraceful last Speaker and by all means want to establish a more disciplined house where all have an opportunity to make their contributions without unnecessary interventions. This is very early in the game and at this time I do not really think that we can form any lasting opinions on what kind of Speaker we have.

  4. Raff your blog was interesting but I think you were too hasty in judging the new speaker. I feel that it is too early make a judgement especially when it is based on one incident. Give her time to make her mark.

  5. Rowley slams $6m helicopter tab*
    By Ria Taitt
    October 13, 2015

    Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley slammed what he saw as the flying squandermania of former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, saying taxpayers had to pick up the $6 million tab for her helicopter travel around Trinidad and Tobago.
    Speaking in the budget debate in the House of Representatives yesterday, Rowley said: “We can’t be wasting in a time like this. And I think it is extremely wasteful for this Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago to fly for 636 hours in helicopters around this country. The record shows that the last prime minister occupied helicopter time of 636 hours, 415 missions, at a cost of over US$974,000.
    “That kind of expenditure ought not to be on the backs of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley said to desk-thumping support from the Government bench.
    He gave the “long-suffering” population the assurance he would travel only on the ground and over water, and he would not be in the air, “unless it is absolutely essential and necessary”.
    Rowley said he wondered if this abuse was linked to a contract to a company called Bell Helicopter, to the tune of $500 million, by the National Operations Centre (NOC).

    1. Whistle blower legislation is urgently required so that public servants could report and expose these unusual expenses which appear to be corrupt.

  6. What is disappointing to me is that this debate is a carryover of the conduct that was so evident in the last Parliament. There is no doubt that the new Speaker wants to find a way to be in control and still allow the debates to be substantive in terms of the contributions made by the MPs. One thing for sure is that we CANNOT go back to the Wade Mark era of Speakership. That would be a disaster. One thing for sure – the Parliament shouldNOT be a place where anything a member says should be without fear of some form of disciplinary adjudication. Comments like “stink mouth” and “minority government” has to be eradicated from the behavior of members. Similarly, there must be restraint on young members of the 11th parliament to refrain from gloating. “We in charge” is the same as “is we time now” so there should be clear guidelines on conduct. The new speaker has to make use of disciplinary committees and procedures to address these faux pas issues. The Speaker of the House is symbolically the representative of the People of Trinidad and Tobago in parliamentary sittings. That is why she is so constantly addressed as “madam speaker”. So, it is her duty to represent us well and with decorum. She is the one responsible for allowing or disallowing evidentiary conversations on hansard.
    Therefore her job CANNOT be seen or interpreted as partisan in any way. Wade Mark was derelict in his duty as Speaker because he allowed the worst form of bigotry to allowed in debates. It is distasteful that he allowed Vernella to be so corrupt and vile in enunciating the garbage that emitted from her mouth to be entered in hansard, so there must be vigilance in making sure that that kind of conduct should NEVER be allowed to be aired on the Parliamentary Channel.

  7. Speaker, MPs conduct unbecoming—Dumas
    Former head of the public service Reginald Dumas is expressing concern over the conduct of parliamentarians during the debate on the 2016 national budget.

    Our children are watching
    Mayaro MP appeals for decency in House

    Forde mum on ‘Princess’ remarks
    …social media outcry over what have been understood to be homophobic remarks directed at Princes Town MP Barry Padarath.

    Calls for gay rights discussions
    WITH the issue of sexual orientation seemingly propelled onto the national stage during debate of the 2015/2016 fiscal package

  8. Hi Kian, it is so refreshing to read your wise comments. Your comments are always enlightening. It is my wish that others may emulate example.

  9. I cringe when I hear what passes for political discourse in the Hoiuse of Parliament. These elected representatives should be relegated to the street corner not in the House where sober thought and enlightened discussions should prevail. Whatever happened to eloquence, intellectual sparring and witty retort. “Stink mouth”? Really? Is that the best we can do? What a crying shame.

    1. Not “we”…moonilal’s behaviour is a function of the expectations of those he supports…curry duck limes officially hosted by a minister …hindu singers officially brought down by a government minister to tell indian voters who to vote for…moonilal is emulating the first political leader & wannabe prime minister emanating from indian trinidad…Bhadase Sagan-Maharaj…Sat Maharaj’s father in law….Bhadase’s contribution to politics in the 50’s was Nigger This & Nigger that (Public Platforms with his african bodyguards)…singing hindu bhajans & having workers dressed up only in saris…& the vast majority of the indian electorate rewarded him with 100% support…what do u expect?…panday said after losing the Prime Ministerial office in 01-02 that he would make the country UNgovernable….he was also handsomely rewarded with indian votes & support…the indian politician knows the mind of his/her supporters….and acts accordingly….

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