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Camille Robinson-Regis addresses members of the media following the cremonial opening of the 12th Parliament yesterday.

Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis has accused the Opposition of embarking on an “obstructionist” course in the new Parliament term–but Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has declared the UNC will stand up for democracy and will “not be shut up.”

Both spoke (one after the other) to reporters at the Red House yesterday after the term was officially launched and where issues arose with election of a House Speaker and on the reduction of speaking time. The UNC rejected the PNM’s choice of incumbent Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George and nominated attorney Nafeesa Mohammed. UNC also objected to the speaking time reduction.

Robinson-Regis said the nomination by the UNC for Speaker had not been done since 2001 and the situation also signalled “nothing had changed” with the UNC which had brought a no-confidence motion against Annisette-George last term.

She said the Government was taken aback by the UNC’s move which she felt was obstructionist, “But this is the UNC, so they brought a shadow over the opening of the new term. But we live with it.”

Robinson-Regis said she could not understand why the Opposition objected to the reduced speaking time since this had been used since the COVID pandemic started,”There was no need (to object), it was just obstructionist.”

Robinson-Regis said the situation would not frustrate the Government. But she admitted the PNM had to manage its Parliament business carefully due to less numbers. PNM has only mustered 21 votes for the Speaker instead of its full 22 since PNM MP Foster Cummings arrived after the vote.

Persad-Bissessar and her team were standing in the background listening to Robinson-Regis’ comments to reporters. The UNC leader rejected Robinson-Regis’ “obstructionist” accusation. She said the UNC had supported Annisette-George’s nomination last term but after issues over the term, the UNC would stand for democracy without the way things happened last term.

The UNC on Thursday had noted problems including being unable to file motions on issues affecting constituents and on national natters.

She said the UNC was not being obstructionist but was representing its constituents and had taken a policy stand on the nomination. “We won’t be shut up, we will represent our constituents, over 390,000 people voted for us and we’ll do all we can to stand for democracy inside and outside of the Parliament.”

Persad-Bissessar said democracy had prevailed for the Speaker yesterday and the UNC would continue to function as MPs.

On whether Mohammed might have been biased given her criticism of the PNM, Persad-Bissessar said Mohammed was a very competent, experienced attorney who has worked in and out of Parliament and would have been a very competent Speaker.

She said it was undemocratic to reduce speaking time. She accused Government of wanting to change the Standing Orders to reduce speaking time rather than simply waiving the regulations. Persad-Bissessar said she did not know of any of her members under probe, including Anil Roberts, who she said was not found guilty of any allegations in a Life Sport audit report. But she said there are MPs on the PNM’s side under probe.