After a sitting which spanned more than six hours, the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was passed without amendments in the Upper House on Saturday.
The Government’s push to expedite the law, which would see members of the public risking a ticketable offence should they fail to wear a mask in public, was the urgent matter in the Senate.
However, the decision to adjust Parliamentary speaking time during this pandemic period was found unfavourable, not only by the Opposition as it had been in the Lower House, but members of the Independent Bench as well.
Leader of Government Business Franklin Khan moved the motion to adjust the speaking time during this period to 30 minutes for the mover of the motion and the closing speaker, and 20 minutes for the all other speakers.
This was questioned by Opposition Senator Wade Mark, who was immediately said the motion was not up for debate. He, however, was able to force a division vote.
When taken, unsurprisingly, the entire opposition bench voted against the adjustments. But seven Independent Senators, Dr Varma Deyalsingh, Anthony Vieira, Amrita Deonarine, Hazel Thompson-Ahye, Charrise Seepersad, Maria Dillon-Remy and Deoroop Teemal all voted no.
Paul Richards and Evans Welch voted yes, allowing the motion to be passed as the count ended 17-13.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, while introducing the Public Health Amendment to the Upper House addressed the issue.
“All of these indicators demonstrate the gravity of the material before us and certainly that gravity is to be founded in the knowledge that we are dealing with a global pandemic. It is for that reason for a moment ago we suspended the standing orders and adjusted the time frame for speaking because the reality is, this is not business as usual,” said the Attorney General.
the adjustment in speaking time, the sitting still exceeded six and half hours without the Senate taking a lunch break as contributions were made by all six Opposition Senators as well as seven Independent Senators.
Maiden contributions were made by Jayanti Lutchmedial and David Nahkid, who both questioned the wording surrounding the fixed penalty notices attached to the bill.
Lutchmedial, however, denied that she had a conflict of interest in the debate, after a query by the AG, due to her involvement in an ongoing case challenging quarantine orders under the public health ordinance.
She, however, said the law needed to be adjusted so that loopholes would not potentially burden the legal system further.
“What you are doing is not creating more room for litigation, the litigation that you complain about. That the UNC lawyers going to bring, well don’t do that! Don’t create room for litigation, create a good law,” Lutchmedial said as she called for the law to be done separately to the Public Health ordinance.