Sinanan suspended Panday from the House indefinitely, having instructed the Government to move a motion to expel him (Panday). He then ordered police officers present to remove Panday “by force”.
Panday, supported by UNC A colleagues, refused to budge, later telling reporters the ruling was illogical, contrary to Parliament’s own thrust at modernisation and was proof he was being targeted by the Government. Sinanan eventually adjourned the sitting.
As private members day, the House was due to continue debate on Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Harry Partap’s motion hitting the Government for “failing to contain food prices at affordable levels for the entire population”. The incident, ironically, follows on the heels of the Senate’s sitting on March 18 which laid the First Report of its House Committee which “recommends Senators be provided with (i) Laptop computers and (ii) Wireless Internet Connectivity.” (SEE PAGE 10)
Yesterday’s drama in the house began when Sinanan reminded MPs of his prior circular that they must first seek his permission before using electronic devices in the House and usage must be confined to issues raised in debate to which MPs “intend to respond on the date on which the permission was sought.”
Sinanan asked Sports Minister Gary Hunt if he would speak in the debate to which Hunt replied “yes”. Sinanan then asked Panday, who replied by saying he could not give an answer on if he would speak until he heard how the debate was proceeding.
Sinanan ruled, “You have not sought my permission to use your computer to contribute in today’s proceedings. If it is you are not going to contribute in the debate today, I am asking you to put away your computer.” Panday said Sinanan was behaving like a schoolmaster and repeated his excuse. Couva South MP Kelvin Ramnath shouted to Sinanan, “You came here with a plan to harass people.”
Sinanan then ruled: “I wish to draw the attention of the House to standing order 43(5). I wish to indicate that the Member for Couva North has shown disregard for the authority of the Chair. I am calling upon a Minister to ‘name’ the Member for Couva North. I am naming the Member for Couva North.” UNC A MPs then shouted in unison: “Shame! Shame!”
House Leader Colm Imbert complied, amid Opposition shouts of “Dictator!” Sinanan put the question to MPs and after a division, 23 Government MPs voted to suspend Panday, while 11 Opposition MPs voted against.
“I will ask the honourable Member for Couva North to leave this chamber and the precincts of the House.” Panday remained seated and Ramnath dared Sinanan — “Why don’t you get the police involved?” Sinanan then suspended the sitting for ten minutes and left the Chamber.
Opposition MPs gathered around their leader. In the huddle, Panday’s daughter, Oropouche West MP Mickela Panday, rested her hand reassuringly on her father’s shoulder as if to calm him and they later exchanged a confident “high-five” hand-slap.
When the House resumed, Sinanan saw Panday still present. “Honourable Members, I wish to draw your attention to the fact that the honourable Member for Couva North, Mr Basdeo Panday, has refused to leave the House, withdraw from the House and its precincts. As such, recourse to force is necessary to remove Mr Panday from the precincts of this chamber. I therefore call on the police to remove the Member of Couva North from this chamber and the precincts of this House.”
An incredulous UNC A MP shouted, “Boo!” A seated Panday related aloud the tale of how former premier Albert Gomes has once similarly been ordered ejected from the chamber. A police inspector and corporal asked Panday to leave. Panday remained seated. UNC A MPs rose and stood behind Panday’s chair, supporting their leader.
Ramnath scolded the police, saying, “You should be ashamed. You have no authority here in the first place.” Sinanan ruled, “Pursuant to standing order 43(12), the House is now adjourned.” Princes Town MP Subhas Panday shouted, “Shame on you!”
Speaking to reporters later, Basdeo Panday vowed to return to the House at its next sitting. He opined that the ruling PNM must be saying “Thank God, Panday is no longer in Parliament.” He dared Sinanan at the next sitting to expel all UNC A MPs who he said would all walk with their laptops. “So, he will expel the whole Opposition on the stupid ground that you are using a computer? I find it so strange.”
Panday said he was entitled to have his computer on in Parliament even if he was unsure if he would speak in the debate. “For example, I have on my computer all the false promises the PNM has made over the years...it’s on my computer. That would be so many documents, I can’t walk with that.”
Panday said there was no written rule banning computer use in Parliament. “In fact the Speaker issued a letter and said he agrees that electronic equipment can be used provided it does not disturb anyone and I agree with that, but the only person who seems to have been disturbed was the Speaker.”
He recalled police officers asking him to leave, saying, “I said the Speaker has advised that you use force and therefore please use force. The police said, ‘that won’t be necessary’ and I said ‘yes, please use force, it will be necessary’.”
Panday accused Sinanan of putting PNM interests first and he scoffed at the circular saying he would refer it to the party’s lawyers, the media and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).
“Incidentally, after that circular was sent, I did use the computer in Parliament, as you know. What they gave us computers for? To sit on?” He said the Opposition would not let Sinanan treat them like children. Alleging ulterior motives, he said, “The issue is not about computers; the issue is about Panday.”
He alleged that Sinanan was acting to block the Opposition from its work of criticising the PNM. Caroni Central MP Dr Hamza Rafeeq said neither the Standing Orders nor May’s Guide to Parliamentary Practice banned the use of computers.
Asked where do they go from here, Panday quipped: “I go home, to use my computer.”
He promised that if expelled, the Opposition would take Parliament to the people. “We will organise some tyre-burning, demonstrations and public meetings in order to get what the people deserve. We shall take Parliament outside of the Parliament.”