PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – The People’s Partnership coalition used its overwhelming majority in the Parliament on Monday night to vote in favour of an immediate suspension of former prime minister Patrick Manning , who had been found guilty by the Privileges Committee of contempt.
The eight-member Committee had last weekend submitted its report after it met to discuss allegations Manning made against Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar regarding the construction of her private home.
Manning, who had asked to be excused from Monday’s parliamentary session where the report was debated and who did not appear before the Privileges Committee, had accused her Government of carrying out the agenda of those who financed them in the election campaign, those «who were involved in the drug trade».
Charging that Government was undermining the anti-drug effort put in place by his administration, Manning had said the private residence cost TT$150 million (US$25 million) telling legislators “to what conclusion do you expect us to come? They were struggling to build that house before the election».
The Prime Minister denied the accusation and the Committee stated that despite having invited the former prime minister to appear before it to answer the allegations against him and to be heard on numerous occasions, «the Member has refused to respond to the allegations before the Committee and has requested adjournments of the Committee’s proceedings for a variety of reasons».
By a vote of 25 to nine, Parliament voted to accept the findings of the Privileges Committee.
“Mr. Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning is accordingly suspended from the service of this House with immediate effect,» Speaker Wade Mark said after the vote.
A number of Parliamentarians were absent from the 41-member Chamber when the vote was taken.
Earlier, Leader of Government Business, Dr Roodal Moonilal who piloted the motion to have the report debated, said that the Committee took an inordinate amount of time on this matter—six months—and therefore could not be accused of «rushing» to take action against Manning.
He dismissed Opposition charges that the Privileges Committee had moved with indecent haste to make a contempt finding against the former prime minister.
“There are people in this country who believe they are untouchable, and they can commit a wrong and no one dares to touch them. But they on this side, anybody on that side could touch them,» he said.
He said the message the Parliament was sending was that: «no one on your side and on this side is above the law. And the recent evidence suggests that no one in the Government is above the law and no one in the Opposition must be above the law as well”.
In dismissing the Opposition claims that Manning was not given sufficient notice of the Privilege Committee’s meeting, Moonilal asked whether the Committee had to put up a neon sign advertising the meeting.
He also dismissed a call that the prime minister should have been questioned by the Privileges Committee where the three opposition members would have had an opportunity to gauge her response as well as challenge some of her statements she submitted.
Moonilal said nowhere in the bundle of 500 pages of the report and the verbatim notes of the Committee’s meetings did the Opposition asked that Persad-Bissessar be interviewed.
“Why would the Parliament examine the person against whom allegations are made, rather than the person making the allegations. He who alleges must prove,» he said, adding that this is the system.
Moonilal said he was certain that despite threats to challenge the issue in court, he was certain the former prime minister would not do so, having regard to the high cost of paying for senior counsels if he lost.
Opposition legislators had argued that the Privileges Committee made several blunders including the fact that at no time was Manning told that the Committee intended to proceed and to make an adverse finding of contempt against him and that there had been a breach of natural justice in the whole affair.
Manning, who is in Cuba receiving medical treatment, is due back on May 20.
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