PNM mulls motion against AG

Contacted prior to yesterday’s caucus meeting at the Office of the Opposition Leader on Charles Street, Port-of-Spain, Point Fortin PNM MP Paula Gopee-Scoon said, “I intend to raise it at the caucus.”

Under the Standing Orders, an MP may request the Speaker to discipline a member for abusing Parliamentary privilege and misleading the House.

Deputy Speaker Fuad Khan yesterday told Newsday that if a motion is filed in time for Wednesday’s sitting of the House, he will adjudicate on it.

“It is up to the Speaker,” he said. “If they come by Wednesday then I have to decide it. It will have to take the form of a motion of privileges, alleging that the Attorney General misled the House.” Speaker of the House Wade Mark, who returns tonight from official business in London, confirmed he is likely to miss Wednesday’s sitting and said the issue is for the Deputy Speaker. “Deputy Speaker Fuad will have to decide,” Mark said in an interview from London.

Gopee-Scoon said the PNM had not discussed the matter prior to yesterday’s caucus meeting. She however noted the Opposition has until noon tomorrow to send a letter to the Deputy Speaker, requesting leave to raise a matter of privilege against Ramlogan.

Chief Whip Marlene McDonald said it would be up to Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley to make a final decision on this matter. Rowley did not attend last night’s caucus as he was on a walkabout in the Toco/Sangre Grande constituency earlier in the day and later addressed a public meeting at the Sangre Grande Civic Centre.

Former prime minister Patrick Manning would not rule out whether or not a matter of privilege would be raised against Ramlogan. He declined to answer questions, saying, “No, I can’t. Please speak with my lawyer, Mr John Jeremie and he will speak with you.”. However, Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert said, “On the face of it, without studying the AG’s actual words, the impression was given, or alternatively, it was certainly propagated in the media, that the AG insinuated that Mr Manning had something to do with the missing piano. I do intend to look at the Hansard carefully to see whether he actually committed a breach, or whether what he said was taken out of context.”

“Let me say at the outset that I have always had great respect for Mr Ramlogan’s legal prowess, especially in constitutional matters, but I have also noticed that he tends to get carried away in the Parliament and he has been making some rather outrageous and unfounded statements recently, which are not in anybody’s best interest, including his,” Imbert added. Imbert cautioned Ramlogan to ensure the information that is given to him is accurate, before he repeats it, “however ‘juicy’ or sensational it may be otherwise he runs the risk of being viewed as a scandal maker and rumour monger.”

The possibility of a motion of privilege being brought against the Attorney General raises key issues given the wider powers afforded his office under the Constitution. Under the Standing Orders and the Constitution, a motion of privilege may be brought against the Attorney General in the House of Representatives, even though he is a senator and not a member of the House.

“Yes, this can occur if he makes the statement in a particular House,” Mark confirmed. “Under our Standing Orders and the Constitution, he is the only person who can appear in both Houses of Parliament by right. Not even the Prime Minister has that privilege.”

Section 62 (4) of the Constitution enshrines the Attorney General’s powers to roam freely between both houses.

The section reads, “nothing...shall preclude the Attorney General from attending any sitting of the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, and taking part in debates and other proceedings and speaking on any motion before any such House, as the case may be, and moving amendments to any such motions even though the matter falls within the portfolio of some other minister.”

Ramlogan made the comments under dispute last Wednesday, piloting a motion to refer anti-corruption legislation to a Parliament Joint Select Committee.

When Ramlogan raised the motion in the House last Wednesday to amend the Anti-Corruption Act, he questioned Manning about the whereabouts of one of ten grand pianos which was placed at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s. In response, Manning told reporters at his constituency office in San Fernando last Thursday that the piano was located on the eastern part of the outdoor stage at the Diplomatic Centre and was still there long after last May’s General Election. Subsequent checks by the Government confirmed the piano had never been removed from the Diplomatic Centre.

Ramlogan has insisted he never accused Manning of taking the piano and saw no need to apologise for his statement in the House. The AG maintained the issue was the wastage of taxpayers’ monies to buy the pianos.

Manning and Sports Minister Anil Roberts are the only members of the House currently before its Privileges Committee. Manning was referred to the committee regarding allegations he made about Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s ownership of a house in South Trinidad. Roberts is before the committee for allegedly misleading the House about the expenditure on the Nicki Minaj concert last year.

Ramlogan may avoid censure if, as a pre-emptive move, he issues an apology to Manning in Parliament, a move that will fly in the face of his public utterances on the issue since the piano was found last week.


"PNM mulls motion against AG"

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