In a report tabled in Parliament late yesterday, the Parliament’s Privileges Committee found that Manning, through his refusal to co-operate with the proceedings, failed to answer a case against him which was referred after a motion was brought by Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner on November 24.
“In circumstances where the Member for San Fernando East has declined to answer the allegations and otherwise assist the Committee, your Committee reports that the grounds of the alleged contempt appear to have been established,” the report, submitted by House Speaker Wade Mark to the House of Representatives, said.
“Your Committee further found to be noteworthy the Member’s refusal to explain and bring clarification on this matter and considered that his absence from and attitude and responses to your Committee also suggested contempt for the Committee.” Warner, in his motion, accused Manning of misleading the House; bringing the House into disrepute and grossly and recklessly abusing his rights as an MP to unfettered speech in the Parliament chamber.
At a sitting of the House of Representatives on November 19, 2010, Manning made comments in relation to Persad-Bissessar during debate of the Interception of Communications legislation. The legislation was brought in the wake of a spy scandal in which Manning was implicated by Persad-Bissessar.
On November 19, 2010, Manning held up placards bearing pictures of the Prime Minister’s private residence at the San Fernando/Siparia/Erin Road just off Bryan’s Gate, Phillipine. According to Mark’s report, Manning “suggested that campaign funding had been obtained by (Persad-Bissessar) for persons involved in the drug trade.” Manning said the house, built by Persad-Bissessar over 30 years, cost $150 million and that it “has more space that the Prime Minister’s Residence” at St Ann’s. Manning accused the Government of dismantling security and following “the agenda of the drug dealers...to whom they are beholden.”
Days later, on November 24, 2010, Warner raised a motion of privilege against Manning, arguing that Manning knew or ought to have known better. He also noted that Manning had to be stopped several times by the Speaker during his contribution.
On November 26, 2010, Mark found a first instance case against Manning and referred the matter to the Privileges Committee for report. When the matter came before the committee, a procedural issue arose.
At the third meeting of the Committee on January 31, 2011, Manning raised the issue of legal representation at the committee. He was informed of the settled practice which allows lawyers to attend meetings but not to question witnesses or address members. Manning then filed an application at the High Court on February 17, seeking leave to challenge this position. The next day, the Committee adjourned the matter pending the court’s determination.
However on February 22, Manning’s attorneys discontinued the High Court matter. Instead, a private motion was filed at the House of Representatives by Point Fortin MP, and Manning loyalist, Paula Gopee-Scoon. On February 25, the Committee once more adjourned the motion. Gopee-Scoon subsequently withdrew the motion. Manning was then invited to appear before the Committee. But then a new private motion was then filed by Manning, asking the House of Representatives to deal with the issue of legal representation. The Committee, for a third time, suspended deliberations.
On April 15, 2011, the private motion was debated and failed. The Opposition split ranks with four Opposition MP s for the motion and five (including Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley) abstaining.
In light of the failed motion, Manning was invited yet again to appear before the Committee on May 3. The Commitee met, but Manning did not appear. An attorney for Manning filed a petition with the Clerk of the House requesting leave to refer and exhibit verbatim notes of its proceedings. On that day, Manning requested another adjournment. For a fourth time, this occurred.
On May 5, the Committee was served with notice of a Constitutional motion filed by Manning. The Committee was not named as a party to the proceedings.
“The Committee has invited the Member for San Fernando East to appear before it to answer the allegations against him and to be heard on numerous occasions,” the report noted. “However, the Member has refused to respond to the allegations before the Committee and has requested adjournments of the Committee’s proceedings for a variety of reasons.”
“Your Committee believes that it has done everything in its power to ensure that the Member was fully apprised of the allegations made against him and to give him an opportunity to be heard.”
“It was the general consensus that the chairman and members of the Committee had exercised tremendous patience and forbearance in accommodating the Member for San Fernando East and his multiple requests for adjournments of the Committee’s proceedings with respect to his matter.”
The Committee was forced to deal with the issue only on the materials before it. The report, entitled First Report of the Committee of Privileges, noted that Manning’s statements about Persad-Bissessar were not “off-the-cuff”. The claims he made, the Committee found, were not supported. Manning, though indicating that he would bring a motion to debate Persad-Bissessar’s conduct, never did so. Yet still, Manning refused. Noting that Manning was a former Prime Minister and head of the National Security Council, the report opined that, “citizens of this country were likely to believe his accusations” and that his public offices would have “lent a degree of credibility to his statements.” The report did not make a recommendation but its contents will be debated in Parliament on Monday, Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal said last night on the Parliament’s motion on the adjournment. At yesterday’s sitting the house also agreed to accede to Manning’s request for a formal copy of the Hansard which was brought under a motion for a true record of the proceedings by Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert.
The Opposition last night objected to Moonilal’s plans to have the report debated on Monday. Opposition Chief Whip Marlene McDonald noted that the Opposition members had wanted to write a minority report and the report was presented without such.
“I want to denounce how this got to Parliament today,” Mc Donald said, at about 6.15pm. “My understanding is when a report is done the members of the committee will sign a report. I understand that there should have been a minority report because the PNM people who sit on the committee were not in agreement with this report. In order for us to debate this Monday we need to have the minority report....What is the rush?”
Moonilal, noted that the matter dated back to January.
“We cannot understand this claim that there is any rush,” he said.
The Privileges Committee is chaired by Mark and comprises five Government members and three Opposition members including: Mark (chairman); Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal; PNM Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert; PNM Port-of-Spain North/St Ann’s West MP Patricia McIntosh; Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar; Minister of Labour Chandresh Sharma; Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister Rodger Samuel; Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh and PNM Port-of-Spain South MP Donna Cox.
The report was not on the Order Paper for yesterday’s sitting of Parliament but was placed on a Supplemental Order Paper among other items. The report was circulated among MPs late in the sitting. At the end of a debate of the report the house may vote on sanctions which include warnings to suspensions.