The United National Congress has viewed the absence of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in the parliament on Wednesday, as a demonstration of the complete contempt that he and his entire PNM party have for the system of parliamentary democracy in Trinidad and Tobago.
In a release, the UNC said “Compounding the insult, the finalised list of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) were distributed to MPs at 12:46 p.m. Wednesday afternoon by the Speaker of the House. No instruction was given that the Prime Minister would not be present to answer the questions, as required by the Standing Orders of Parliament. The Speaker of the House also did not seek leave of the House as she should have by asking that PMQs be taken at a later date. Even when requested by the Opposition Chief Whip, no indication was given of when the PMQs would be answered.”
They said “One must ask, when did Keith Rowley apply for exemption from the sitting? Was the Speaker misleading MPs knowing that the PMQs were not going to be entertained, or was she also shown similar disrespect by the Prime Minister?”
“Neither did the Government Chief Whip or anyone else from the Government side inform the Opposition of Keith Rowley’s absence, although they very well knew that the Prime Minister would not be present.”
According to the UNC, the Prime Minister’s appearance on a morning show in Tobago on Wednesday was an open flouting and disregard for his Parliamentary obligations. His refusal to inform the Opposition of such intent displays Keith Rowley’s lack of respect for our Parliament and, more so, his total disdain for accountability to the people of this nation.
The Opposition said “Prime Minister’s Questions are one of the few opportunities that the Opposition has to officially ask the Prime Minister questions on any matter, and the Prime Minister is required to answer immediately, in Parliament, without delay.”
According to the Standing Orders of the Parliament (Standing Order 26(1)) PMQs are scheduled only once per month, on the second sitting of each month, as it was for Wednesday’s sitting of the House of Representatives. This was an innovation introduced by the PP Government under Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Speaker of the House Wade Mark.
“The PNM, on the other hand, simply wishes to do away with the Opposition altogether and, therefore, to do away with the system of parliamentary democracy itself.
“While legal or procedural sanctions must be sought against the Prime Minister for showing this contempt, the entire population – not only the Opposition which represents over 300,000 citizens, but also the general citizenry, the media, civil society and other stakeholders – must emphatically stand up against this erosion of our democracy.”