Opposition Motion to Censure Trinidad and Tobago Speaker Defeated

Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jun 27, CMC – Government used its majority in the Parliament on Friday night to comfortably defeat an opposition-inspired motion that sought to censure Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George amid allegations that she had breached the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA).

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, who led his administration’s defence of the Speaker, described the motion filed by opposition lawmaker Dr. Roodal Moonilal as part of his strategy to ensure his political survival.

“The member has a problem. He is fighting for his political survival. As all politicians do. He has to find a way to swim in swift currents and not be washed away,” Rowley said, adding “it is disreputable and a waste of our valuable time to raise his profile wherever they (the United national Congress) screen themselves”.

Earlier, Moonilal said the move to censure the Speaker followed his failed attempt on April 27 to move a definite matter of urgent public importance on the sale of fuel to someone in Aruba which, allegedly, was rerouted to Venezuela in contravention of United States sanctions.

The Speaker had ruled that the matter did not qualify under the Standing Order, but Moonilal Friday said she failed to declare a possible conflict of interest in that her husband, Newman George, is the chairman of Paria Trading, the state-owned company which sold the fuel.

“I submit to you that the Speaker did not conduct herself in a fair and impartial manner,” Moonilal told legislators, adding the role of the Speaker is to defend the rights of members and must be impartial. He said the issue of the alleged fuel sale was a “raging scandal” at the time and continued to be an issue.

“Paria is involved in something suspicious, dark and clandestine.”

The main opposition United National Congress (UNC) has sought to link the sale of the fuel to sanction busting by the Rowley government and has warned that Trinidad and Tobago could face sanctions from Washington, which is seeking to remove the Nicolas Maduro government in the South American country.

During a parliamentary sitting on may 8, the Speaker was critical of Moonilal after it surfaced that he had written to the United States Ambassador here Joseph Mondello complaining about not being able to raise the issue of the sale of the fuel in the Parliament.

Moonilal Friday defended his decision to write the US diplomat saying also that the Speaker committed a breach of the established rules of conduct and conventions of the House as well as bringing her high and noble office into disrepute. He said as a result Parliament should censure her for her failure to act properly and impartially in the exercise of her office.

“Today I tell the Speaker, having told us for five years to take a walk, the Speaker should take a walk. Take a walk on this matter alone,” he said.

But Prime Minister Rowley, as did many of the government legislators, defended the Speaker, saying that as by her authority, adjudicated on whether a motion was acceptable.

Rowley said the Speaker ruled the content and nature did not qualify, and therefore there was no business before the House. He said if the motion had qualified, then in that motion someone could point to a conflict.

“He is saying the reason the motion didn’t qualify is because the Speaker did not want it. Because of a family-member pumpkinvination,” Rowley said, adding that opposition legislators created the fuel sale story.

“Since then they milking it like a cow.”

Prime Minister Rowley said it has been demonstrated beyond repudiation that the fuel-sale allegation has no basis in fact, with Paria Trading showing it was not so via “irrefutable evidence in the public domain, and government members demonstrating to the world that Paria did not trade to Venezuela, but the documents went to Aruba.

“Nobody has been able to demonstrate an iota of evidence that what Paria said in their defence is not true,” he said, adding “if here was no basis and the motion was not approved, then what did the Speaker have to recuse herself from?

Rowley said the Opposition has a propensity for “nastiness and untruths” and the motion was “devoid of facts and loaded with malice and nastiness.”

Rowley recalled that while Moonilal has made a big issue of recusing oneself when there is a conflict, he was the same member who sat on a committee where the Commissioner of Police gave testimony about his conduct and his association with people being monitored for criminal conduct in a hotel in Port of Spain.

He recalled that when Moonilal was asked to remove himself he flatly refused, and a committee had to be convened to expel him.

“To implicate and nasty the name of a company is typical UNC nastiness. That is totally uncalled-for and unnecessary. Why are you so hell-bent to label the company, officers and the Parliament as breaking sanctions?”

When the vote was taken on the issue, 17 government legislators voted against it while 14 opposition members voted in favour. There were 10 legislators absent. – CMC