There was thunderous heat in the Parliament yesterday over House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George.
United National Congress MP Roodal Moonilal called on Annisette-George to “take a walk” out of the Parliament chamber and apologise for failing to recuse herself from a matter he tried to raise in Parliament in April, which involved Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd where her husband is chairman.
“I call for a public apology from the Speaker for her conduct on this matter,” Moonilal declared.
But Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, praising the Speaker’s tenure, slammed Moonilal’s accusations as an attempt to save his UNC candidacy.
“We see this as someone (Moonilal) trying to gain favour … an opportunity to tarnish the Speaker in a bid to promote himself…” Rowley retorted.
Both faced off—followed by other frontline UNC and PNM MPs —during yesterday’s heated debate on a motion which Moonilal presented accusing Annisette-George of failing to act properly in the matter he tried to raise on April 27.
This concerned alleged sale by Paria Fuel Trading of fuel to ES Euro Shipping which later allegedly redirected to Venezuela, in contravention of international sanctions.
Moonilal said Annisette-George’s husband (Newman George) was made Paria chairman in August 2019. His motion claimed Annisette-George in ruling that his April matter didn’t qualify under Standing Order 17, “failed to declare a possible conflict of interest.” He claimed the Speaker breached established rules of conduct and conventions of the Lower House and the House should censure her failure to act properly and impartially.
Yesterday’s debate was presided over by Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde, since Annisette-George recused herself from proceedings. (See page 12)
Moonilal said Annisette-George acted improperly outside of her terms under Mays’ Parliamentary Practice (the Parliamentary rulebook) and the Integrity in Public Life Act. He said his April motion concerned “international scandal reports on the fuel issue and he presented the motion to give Government an opportunity to confirm or deny.”
“The Speaker should have realised it was in the public domain, it involved Paria Trading. The spouse of the Speaker was made Paria’s chairman in August 2019,” he said.
“The Speaker ought to have had the deputy Speaker to handle the motion… there’s perceived conflict of interest, as it involved the spouse of madame Speaker. But on April 27 I was in shock to see she sat in the chair to adjudicate on this matter … she should have recused herself!”
Moonilal said the second “strike” against Annisette-George was after he wrote to the US Ambassador on the fuel shipment issue noting his Parliament motion was turned down. He said Annisette-George subsequently condemned his action in a statement under the Parliament agenda item for “announcements.”
“It’s the first time since 1962 a Speaker used an agenda item for ‘Announcements’ to condemn an MP. She said I made statement and communicated with foreign emissaries. But she didn’t say there was conflict (of interest) in the matter. She ought not to have engaged herself in politics by hiding behind ‘Announcements’ to undermine my rights! She was complainant, judge, jury and executioner.’’
He said the Speaker could have made a statement in public but she used Parliament’s privilege to protect herself in case he took legal action.
Noting the Speaker over the term told MPs to ‘take a walk’ out of the chamber – when tempers flared, he called on her now to also “take a walk… The matter is alive – there can be no conclusion unless she responds in some form.”
outstanding job —Rowley
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday that UNC MP Dr Roodal Moonilal motion was futile and a waste of Parliament’s valuable time.
“This is a stretch,” Rowley said of Moonilal’s accusations.
“He has problems – he’s fighting for his political survival, he has to find a way hoping not to be washed away. It’s a waste of our time he chose to file this motion to raise his profile when they (UNC) screen themselves. We see a desperate MP in a desperate bid to save his career.”
“This is the B team, every one of them (gone),” Rowley added.
Rowley said the Speaker is supposed to adjudicate on a motion to see if it’s acceptable and she ruled the content of the motion didn’t qualify.
“Therefore, there was no business before the House,” he said.
Saying Moonilal wasn’t a frequent associator with “veracity,” he accused Opposition members of “creating a story” that Paria had violated US sanctions by sending fuel to Venezuela.
“That allegation found itself in Reuters, landed in Opposition hands and since then they’re milking it like a cow – but it’s been shown beyond any repudiation that allegation has no basis in fact. No-one has been able to show what Paria’s said on the issue isn’t true.”
He said no fuel was sold to Venezuela as the UNC alleged, yet Anisette-George’s husband was perceived as being guilty and it was perceived she should have recused herself on Moonilal’s matter. He asked if there was no basis for the matter, what she was supposed to recuse herself from.
Rowley lashed Moonilal’s statements as being devoid of fact and “loaded with malice and nastiness.” He noted efforts had to be made to expel Moonilal from a committee after he was the subject of testimony to the committee from the Police Commissioner. He said although there was conflict of interest, Moonilal refused to absent himself. Rowley said Moonilal, in the current issue, was being “downright hypocritical.”
Moonilal protested, “He not addressing Gabriel Faria here!”
Rowley said the Speaker has done an outstanding job “for which the people will be grateful.” He said she had so well conducted herself in the five years that to have her character being called into question was the unkindest cut.
“Our Speaker is an exemplar to whom every parent can point and say ‘I want you to be like Bridgid Annisette-George’ and any attempt by UNC will be defeated and rejected by those of us on this side who believe there must be a level beneath which you will not sink in your desperation for political entertainment in T&T.”
Rowley was interrupted many times by objecting UNC MPs. Deputy Speaker Forde also had to warn MPs to put on their masks.