Speaking during the pre-lunch debate of the Finance (Supplementary Appropriation) Bill, Mark called on the Government to investigate claims of widespread corruption at Udecott, which is now the subject of a commission of inquiry. In particular, he dropped a bombshell that so vexed those sitting in the government benches that they went on to take the rare step of voting against his speaking time being extended. But their vote was not successful.
“I understand somebody has a videotape... showing where on Friday November 3...Calder Hart of Udecott received $27 million in cash on the eve of the General Election,” Mark said. As soon as he made the statement, senators from the government bench, including Local Government Minister Hazel Manning, protested crying out, “Please! Please!”
Mark continued, saying, “I want you to investigate that for me. Investigate that! Where did Udecott collect $27 million in cash?”
Mark claimed an unnamed person will present a tape showing the alleged transaction to the Uff Commission of Inquiry into Udecott and the construction sector, which is tentatively due to begin hearing next January.
The senator’s bombshell came in the middle of a fiery presentation in which he accused the Government of abusing the “letter and spirit” of the Constitution by bringing supplementary appropriation bills to effectively create “a fourth budget” for which it will not face scrutiny.
Mark alleged the Government was “playing hide and seek” and engaging in “deception and deceit” by bringing the Finance (Supplementary Appropriation) Bill, which seeks to up the Government’s budgetary expenditure for 2007/2008 by $3.9 billion.
Of this sum, $2.4 billion is to go to the Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF), which provides financing for several special purpose enterprises like Udecott. A similar appropriation was passed earlier this year in addition to the original budgetary allocations of the last financial year.
“The Government has been operating three budgets annually. It has now added a fourth,” Mark said. He called the IDF a “slush fund for the PNM Government,” amounting to about $20 million and said that in effect, the 2007/2008 Budget was $55 billion and not $50 billion because of a surplus of $5 billion in the IDF.
“And while they are increasing the price of premium fuel in this country you have huge cost overruns amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars and large-scale theft and widespread corruption at Udecott who is in charge of that particular project called the Brian Lara stadium,” Mark said.
“Where is the accountability? This Government is on a hoodwinking mission,” the senator charged. But things came to a head in the chamber when Mark’s 45-minute speaking time expired. Mark was in the middle of a passionate attack against the Attorney General over the question of her using the Freedom of Information Act to blank parliamentary questions when Senate President Danny Montano informed the house that the senator’s speaking time had run out. Opposition Senator Adesh Nanan asked for Mark’s speaking time to be extended by 15minutes, as members of the government benches heckled, crying out, “No! No!” After putting the motion to the house, government members cried out “No!” while the Independent and Opposition senators cried, “Yes!”
Montano hesitated before saying, “The no’s have it.” He explained further, “I heard more no’s than I heard more ayes.” He called for a division in which 11 government members were outvoted by the 12 Opposition and Independent senators present.
The members of Government who voted against letting Mark speak further included Leader of Government Business Conrad Enill, Attorney General Bridgid Annisette-George, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Mariano Browne, Health Minister Jerry Narace and Manning. National Security Minister Martin Joseph, who attended the pre-lunch session, missed the crucial vote as he had stepped out of the chamber at the time, paving the way for the Government’s defeat.
Manning, in voting no, explained why she did so saying simply, “too many lies.” After the 12 Opposition and Independent senators all voted for Mark’s speaking time to be extended, Independent Senator Helen Drayton explained her position saying she was not objecting to the Government’s stance but said the matter was one of “personal discretion.” Montano cautioned Mark to temper his remarks before allowing him to speak further. The senator went on to speak for about five minutes and fired back at the Government for voting against allowing him to finish his presentation.
“I think it is a very sad day,” Mark said, accusing the Government of trying to muzzle him. But Annisette-George rebutted, saying it was not a senator’s right to have an extension of his speaking time. The two would go on to exchange antagonistic cross-talk right up to the lunch- break even as other senators went on to make their contributions.
“There was no attempt to muzzle anyone,” the Attorney General said at one stage.
“How you mean there was no attempt? You voted! You tried to muzzle me!” Mark responded, seated in his chair. “You guilty of wajang behaviour!”