Thursday 23 November, 2017

Rowley not in contempt, House Speaker says

House Speaker Brigid Annisette-George has dismissed a motion of privilege brought by Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar against Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

Persad-Bissessar raised the motion after objecting to statements made by Rowley during an interview with media on September 16.

During the interview, Rowley was questioned about his relationship with owner of A&V Oil and Gas Ltd Nazim Baksh, who was the centre of a "fake oil" probe at State-owned Petrotrin.

Rowley responded that he did not knowingly associate with crooks, except in Parliament.

Persad-Bissessar said Rowley's comments insinuated that all members of Parliament, including the Speaker and the parliamentary staff, were “crooks” or “involved in illegal and criminal activities”.

She said the comments brought the Parliament into disrepute.

But delivering her ruling on the motion, Annisette-George said Rowley's comments did not occasion any disciplinary action.

"I am of the considered view that while some may find the statement attributed to the Honourable Prime Minister objectionable, it is insufficient to meet the threshold required to find a prima facie case of a breach of privilege," she said.

"The statement made is too remote to attribute a reflection on the Members, Presiding Officers or staff of the Parliament. It is vague, and lacks the specificity required to qualify as a reflection on a Member or on the House.

"Upon analysis, the statement does not go beyond the realm of political comment, and is too wide to be interpreted by a reasonable person to have brought the Parliament into disrepute and odium or impute any mala fides."

Annisette-George said it would not be prudent to take serious action against every offensive statement made by members that may be viewed as a reflection on the House.

"I myself have heard comments made by many other Members in the public domain which, if held to a strict interpretation of privilege, could well fall into the category of a reflection," she noted.

Annisette-George however cautioned that Members of Parliament must strive to maintain respect and dignity.

"As we all know, Members of Parliament regularly engage in public discourse outside of Parliament. Members speak at political rallies, town meetings, media conferences, and television and radio talk shows and I wish to seize this opportunity to remind all Members that our words, whether uttered inside this august chamber, or spoken in another forum, as well as our conduct, ought always to maintain respect, dignity and decorum," she said.