Panday and Ramnath’s actions allowed Manning and other Cabinet Ministers to escape having to answer questions about new documentary evidence which appears to conclusively establish family ties between Hart and the directors of CH Development which was awarded a $368 million contract to build the Legal Affairs Tower at Government Campus Plaza in Port-of-Spain. CH Development is now known as Sunway Caribbean Construction Ltd.
Speaking in the House of Representatives, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar sought to raise the need for the Government to dismiss Hart as Udecott chairman and from the boards of the other State enterprises as a definite matter of urgent public importance under Standing Order 12.
She explained the matter was urgent in light of “incontrovertible documentary evidence” which has been placed in the public domain which confirmed family relationships between Hart and two persons who were directors of CH Development before it became Sunway. Persad-Bissessar said Hart was in breach of the Section 29 (1) of the Integrity in Public Life Act because “he did not declare such interest nor disqualify himself from the decision making process as required” by Section 29 (2) of the same Act.
Persad-Bissessar argued that as long as Hart was allowed to continue to function in his present roles in State enterprises and especially as Udecott chairman, “public confidence in the administration of same and in expenditure by same from the national treasury will be further undermined.”
Sinanan determined Persad-Bissessar’s motion had merit.
“I have considered the motion raised and I am of the view that it qualifies under this Standing Order,” Sinanan said. “Is leave of the House given (to debate the matter)?”
Sinanan repeated the question after receiving muted replies from Government and Opposition MPs. PNM MPs replied, “No” while UNC MPs said, “Yes.”
Sinanan then said, “I must have 11 members who must indicate that. Do I have 11 members indicating that you wish to have this matter debated. Can you stand?”
Persad-Bissessar, Chief Whip Jack Warner, Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, Caroni East MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh, Fyzabad MP Chandresh Sharma, St Augustine MP Vasant Bharath, Princes Town North MP Subhas Panday, Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Harry Partap and Mayaro MP Winston “Gypsy” Peters all stood up in response to Sinanan’s request.
However Panday and Ramnath, who both sat on the Opposition’s backbench, did not stand and denied the UNC the 11 MPs they needed to debate the matter.
“Regrettably, it determines that this matter cannot proceed further,” Sinanan told the Opposition apologetically. Government MPs thumped their desks and some mocked the nine UNC MPs as they sat down.
UNC Tabaquite MP Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Oropouche West MP Mickela Panday were not in the Parliament Chamber at that time. Manning also was not there. All three arrived shortly afterwards. UNC Naparima MP Nizam Baksh missed the sitting due to illness. UNC Caroni Central MP Dr Hamza Rafeeq, who is said to be recovering from illness in Canada, has been granted leave from Parliament until March 12.
Speaking with reporters at the tea-break, Panday said he did not give his support because he did not know what Persad-Bissessar was going to say.
“Suppose it ended up being a statement that I totally disprove of, I am prepared to do anything to preserve my integrity. At all costs,” he declared.
While Panday said allegations against Udecott should be thoroughly investigated and the guilty dealt with, Persad-Bissessar should consult him first if she wanted his support. “I will not be treated like a child or a puppet,” he declared.
At a subsequent news conference during the tea-break, Persad-Bissessar condemned the “shocking behaviour” of Panday and Ramnath. “When the PNM can depend on Mr Panday and Mr Ramnath to rescue them, it is a sad day for citizens and opposition politics in Trinidad and Tobago.” Persad-Bissessar said the matter will be re-filed on Monday under Standing Order 11 which only requires the Speaker’s consent for it to be debated as a motion on the adjournment.
She said the UNC would consider how to deal with Panday and Ramnath but did not say if this meant they would be disciplined. “I am speechless” was how Warner described the duo’s action. “Very shocking,” Moonilal said. “Mr Panday is the most selfish human being I know,” Peters said. Bharath, who once strongly backed Panday, said he was “very disappointed” by his actions.