“Emotive” and “entirely without foundation” was how Manning described Rowley’s criticism of the two bills, the Property Tax Bill 2009 and the Valuation of Land (Amendment) Bill 2009, during last Friday’s heated debate in the House of Representatives.
Rowley who had accused the Government of trying to deceive the population, declared there was no need for higher property taxes and claimed the measures were designed to fund the country’s $7 billion deficit in the 2010 fiscal package. He dismissed the Government’s position that the public would actually pay less through the introduction of a rate of three percent for residential properties.
Manning, who had been out of the country attending the UN Climate Change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, missed last Friday’s debate, which was marred earlier in the day by the arrest of a trade unionist after a clash between anti-property tax protestors and the police.
Speaking with reporters during a briefing yesterday morning on the Copenhagen talks at his offices in St Clair, Manning said based on the feedback he received, Rowley’s response was “purely emotive and designed to promote an emotional response but we have Parliament this afternoon (yesterday) and we will deal with that.”
Manning hinted that disciplinary action was in the works against the MP for his behaviour during the debate last Friday, but insisted he had nothing personal against Rowley, who he said is still a member of the People’s National Movement and subject to its rules, regulations and disciplinary procedures.
“If those rules are transgressed the party has rules to deal with that. It is not a personal anything. I am in politics long enough. I take nothing personal ladies and gentlemen. It is not about me...Therefore, I take nothing personally.”
Manning said his concern was the policy prescriptions for the benefit of all.
Asked if the government would hold its hand on the property tax, Manning advised reporters to be at the Parliament to hear the Government’s stance when debate resumed yesterday.
Many expected Manning to respond there to Rowley, but instead it was Leader of Government Business Colm Imbert who dealt with Rowley warning him to desist from using his speaking time in the Parliament to badmouth the Government. Imbert observed that Rowley’s contributions in the Parliament have, for some time, been similar to those of Opposition members.
“Mr Speaker, it is a bitter pill to swallow when a sitting member of the People’s National Movement comes into this Parliament and gives food to the Opposition...I object to a member of the PNM using his speaking time to object to the party to which he is a part,” said Imbert yesterday.
Imbert called on Rowley, who was not in the chamber at the time of Imbert’s contribution, to immediately stop the practice. “I will have none of that,” he declared.
Imbert, towards the end of his contribution, waded into Rowley’s contribution, insisting he had a fixation with Udecott and its executive chairman Calder Hart.
In his contribution last Friday, Rowley questioned why Hart had been allowed to remain in charge of Udecott while the embattled state corporation was the subject of a recently-concluded commission of inquiry.
“If I read every speech of my colleague from Diego Martin West, he is obsessed with Udecott and Calder Hart,” Imbert said.
“Mr Speaker, as a member of the PNM, it cannot be right. As I said, I am very disappointed. But, I understand why the honourable member for Diego Martin West is behaving like this. He is hurt and he is allowing his emotions to take over.
“He has lost all reason as far as I am concerned because of this obsession that he has with Calder Hart and I have one piece of advice for my honourable colleague from Diego Martin West.
“If he allows Udecott to become the centre of his universe, if he continues to be obsessed with things at Udecott, he will continue to lose all reason. Let it go and it will set him free,” he said.
Imbert also chastised Rowley, whom he repeatedly described as his one-time comrade-at-arms, for saying the Government was brambling (trying to deceive the population) in its presentation of the property tax legislation and that the bills were designed to fund the country’s $7 billion deficit.
“I have been very careful to make the point that the revenue collection from property tax will be based on less than one percent of the expenditure of fiscal 2010. In fact, 0.3 percent. And, therefore by no stretch of the imagination could the property tax be used to deal with the $7 billion deficit,” Imbert said.
“I am really, really disappointed. I am sorry he is not here. I would have liked to talk when he is here. But tough. He is not here.”
Insisting that Rowley was on a quest for “populism and revenge”, Imbert also took issue with his suggestion that citizens did not trust the Government. “This is the part that particularly disappoints me Mr Speaker,” he said. “We fought six elections together. We defended the Government together. When he was in the Government, you would never hear a word from him about the Government is not speaking the truth. The Government is not brambling anybody.”
Imbert said Rowley, during his years as agriculture minister in 1991 to 1995 and later as planning minister, was one of the main architects of the property tax legislation.
The Government’s attack on Rowley continued with Attorney General John Jeremie who, in a special appearance in the Parliament, expressed his “sense of horror” at Rowley’s fiery contribution.
“I was a member of the caucus as to who will speak when and where and so on,” Jeremie said. “I was appalled by the behaviour of the member for Diego Martin West who, in spite of the assurances implied or expressly given in the caucus, he volunteered to speak on the bill and came to the House and did everything but support the legislation.”