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Games of charade

Published: 
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
TONY FRASER

Parliament was once again turned into a farce (a tragi-comedy) by the Government and Speaker Wade Mark. A few weeks ago the Speaker sat quietly and allowed MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin to make what he deemed on Friday last to be “unfortunate and unparliamentary” remarks against the long dead parents of the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley, and a wholly unsubstantiated allegation against Dr Rowley for being a second generation rapist. 

Yet Mark, (himself to himself—the genius of the Mighty Spoiler on show) ruled that Alleyne-Toppin should not be placed in front the Privileges Committee to answer for her clear abuse of the privilege afforded MPs to be free of slanderous libel when they speak in the Parliament. 

His claim is that she apologised at the first opportunity to do so and therefore all is well.

How does an individual apologise for such a willful and slanderous act is beyond my imagination; more so when she follows it up with a cynically choreographed non-apology. In response to the Speaker’s ruling, PNM MP Terrence Deyalsingh quoted from May’s Parliamentary bible that in such circumstances “the member must make an acceptable apology or must have withdrawn the expressions complained of … only then the motion of privilege has sometimes been withdrawn.”

Alleyne-Toppin did no such thing; in fact she and her colleague MPs are still calling on Rowley to “answer the question;” an indication of holding fast to the vicious and unsubstantiated statement.

However, the Speaker’s ruling is very understandable in the context of his having allowed Alleyne-Toppin to make the “unfortunate and unparliamentary” remarks without him ruling them to be not worthy of the Parliament.

To have sent the Tobago-East MP to the Privileges Committee would have been to indict himself for his facilitation of Alleyne-Toppin’s “unfortunate and unparliamentary” conduct. 

This was no reaction to provocation from the other side, no one was sitting there; this was a cold, calculated and well-planned attack on the character of the Leader of the Opposition, his dead father and a wound to the pride and dignity of Rowley’s son and his mother. 

Indeed, it seems quite evident this was an attempt to so tarnish Rowley that the Prime Minister could then steal a march on a weakened PNM and its political leader with the naming of an election day much earlier than the advertised date in September.

Indicative of the deliberate nature of the attack, Leader of Government Business in the House, Dr Roodal Moonilal, took responsibility for Alleyne-Toppin’s statement, he having approved it. It should not be forgotten too that Speaker Mark would have had to approve of Alleyne-Toppin’s use of the enlarged picture in her presentation and the context of its use.

Having so facilitated the savage irresponsibility of Alleyne-Toppin, the Speaker could not possibly send her to the Privileges Committee for possible contempt of Parliament and disciplinary action, which could mean suspension, even removal from the House.

I return to the subject to demonstrate to the national community the farcical nature of the functioning of the Parliament and the deep changes needed in yet another part of the apparatus of government.

In this political culture characterised by the centralisation of the power in a Prime Minister, it would be naïve to expect a Speaker would rule against the Prime Minister’s government and in this instance himself. 

But this is no isolated instance. Only recently the Speaker, notwithstanding that several eminent attorneys, former speakers and insistent voices from amongst the electorate had concluded that he deliberately sought to mislead the national community when he said he had received correspondence from the High Court when in fact the information, as the Speaker subsequently admitted when the pressure was turned on him to come clean, had come from the Minister of Finance. 

How could Speaker Mark have accepted his own apology and not agreed to the one tendered by Alleyne-Toppin? The whole thing is a charade.

Interestingly, Speaker Mark noted that he was aware of strong public condemnation of Alleyne-Toppin’s statement; but that the Parliament (House of Representatives) does not have to bother itself with such a popular view. Is the Parliament an institution unto itself unconcerned with the population?

Yes the evidence is that Wade Mark has on a number of occasions demonstrated his bias in the conduct of the business of this vital law-making body; but he was not the first and will not be the last unless there is constitutional reform to have the Speaker of the House, like the President of the Senate, elected to office in a neutral manner. 

It is unacceptable that the Parliament as a national institution of pride and nationhood could be so dysfunctional before a watching nation. Terrence Farrell is on mark when he comments that the institutions are failing the society. 

The badly fractured political body of T&T cannot withstand another five years under the present constitutional arrangements.

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