Speaker Wade Mark, chairman of the committee, in his ruling at 8.25 pm declared, “Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning be suspended with immediate effect” after the House approved an amendment to the motion to adopt the Committee’s report.
Manning was absent from yesterday’s sitting as he flew to Cuba for a heart check-up.
In the vote on the amendment moved earlier in the sitting by Toco/Sangre Grande MP Dr Rupert Griffith which called for Manning to be suspended with immediate effect, all 25 of the Government MPs present voted “yes” while all nine Opposition MPs present voted “no.”
During the vote, Finance Minister Winston Dookeran had to be asked twice by the Clerk of the House for his vote since he was speaking with Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
On the Opposition side, Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne cried “no, no, no” when he was asked to vote on the amendment.
Government last night voted to suspend Manning in a debate on a contempt motion against the former prime minister for allegations about the construction of Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar’s private residence in Phillipine, South Trinidad.
When Mark called upon the House to vote for the original motion as well as the amended motion, the 25 Government MPs again voted “yes.”
The nine Opposition MPs again voted against the motion with Browne remarking “kangaroo court” and Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox qualifying her no vote with the word “definitely.”
As he concluded the debate, Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal declared, “There are some people in this country who feel they are untouchable. No one in this country is above the law. No one on this (Government) side and no one on that (Opposition) side.”
Stating that the passage of this motion to suspend Manning will show the population that the Government is serious about dealing with wrongdoing, Moonilal quipped, “This is a society in which you have to set an example.”
He added that Manning’s suspension “may well be for the benefit of the Member for Diego Martin West (Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley).”
Moonilal rejected earlier arguments from the Opposition, stating that Manning had been given ample opportunity to present his case before the committee and there was no breach of the Standing Orders in presenting the amendment in the manner that it had been.
Earlier in the debate, Moonilal had accused Manning of “playing hopscotch”, jumping in and out of the Privileges Committee, which itself had bent over backwards to accommodate Manning at least 20 times.
Moonilal moved a motion to adopt the Privileges Committee’s First Report, laid last Friday, which finds Manning guilty of contempt in his allegations in the House on November 19, 2010 that Prime Minister and Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s new private house at Phillipines had cost $150 million alluding a link to the drug trade, a charge she has flatly denied.
Toco/Sangre Grande MP Dr Rupert Griffith, a former speaker, later added an amendment to the motion requesting the suspension of Manning.
Moonilal said Works Minister Jack Warner’s motion on November 24, 2010 complained that Manning had deliberately misled the House, brought the House into disrepute and public odium by imputing improper motives to an MP and grossly and recklessly abused the House’s privilege of freedom of speech.
“We find all three grounds satisfied. The Member committed a contempt,” said Moonilal, of the report’s conclusion.
Doubting Manning’s sincerity, Moonilal noted that the standing orders only allow a MP to be criticised by a substantive motion brought for that very purpose but to date Manning had failed to do so.
Moonilal hit Manning’s absence from the House, stated at the start of the sitting by Mark. Moonilal said that last Friday, Manning had not said he would miss yesterday’s sitting, only telling Mark by an email late Sunday night.
Moonilal cast doubt on Manning’s medical check-up in Cuba as his reason for missing the House sitting. “A pre-arranged appointment suggests there is no medical emergency,” he scoffed. But Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox shot across the floor, “Are you a medical doctor?”
Moonilal continued, “You ever hear someone call an emergency meeting for two weeks from now?” Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne objected on the point of order that bans anyone questioning the conduct of an MP.
Mark agreed, saying the House must accept the word of one of its honourable members, prompting Moonilal to withdraw his remark.
However Moonilal wondered aloud why Manning had not taken the opportunity to speak out in his own defence in the House or the Privileges Committee. He said the committee has been pained in its approach so as to ensure procedural fairness. “The Committee has done everything to apprise the member and showed tremendous forbearance to the member.”
Moonilal said that in contrast to Manning’s failure to use any one of 20 occasions of the committee’s sitting to substantiate his allegations, Persad-Bissessar had on November 24 (the next sitting after Manning’s charges) promptly brought all her documents to the House showing her house was above-board.
Moonilal said it would have been a dereliction of duty for the Privileges Committee not to have proceeded against Manning, adding that all MPs have a duty to uphold the House’s dignity.
“To refuse to answer to the Privileges Committee is a contempt in itself,” said Moonilal. “To frustrate and delay the Committee’s work is high contempt.”
Accusing Manning of cajoling the Committee, Moonilal said, “The Member believes he is entitled to call the shots, as he did in this country for several years.”
Earlier Moonilal gave a time-line of how Manning had allegedly tried to frustrate the Committee by a series of parliamentary and legal devices. •MANNING from Page 3A
“He made damning allegations and jumped out of the meetings, played hopscotch with the committee, jumping box to box to box,” said Moonilal.
He said on November 19, 2010, Manning had made malicious, scandalous and extremely serious allegations against Persad-Bissessar without evidence or documentation, to try to assassinate her character, but in reply, she had promptly presented deeds, bills and documents to thoroughly refute the allegations.
Manning, at the committee’s third meeting (January 31), had asked for his attorneys to address the committee which was refused because it would reduce the sitting to legal entanglements. On February 17, Manning filed a High Court action to challenge the committee, making the committee abort its February 18 sitting in deference to the court. Manning then dropped his court-case.
Moonilal said that next, Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon had moved a motion in the House to let Manning’s lawyers address the committee, which in reply at its sixth meeting (February 25) suspended talk on this issue, so as to let the House consider the motion. Gopee-Scoon then dropped the motion. “It was appearing to be a joke,” related an exasperated Moonilal. He said next, Manning had sent a motion to the House for his lawyers to address the committee, causing the committee to suspend its meetings again. With relish, Moonlal recalled the “high noon” of April 15, when Manning’s motion had split the Opposition– some abstaining, some opposing and some absenting themselves. Moonilal quipped that the committee should have begun printing invitation cards to Manning who was invited to visit on May 3, but declined. Moonilal said, “The chairman (Mark) always insisted we bend backwards to allow procedural fairness.”
Next, related Moonilal, Manning had filed a constitutional motion in court to challenge the House. Moonilal cited the part of the report listing Manning’s reasons for not attending the committee sittings.
Manning, by a phone call at 8.45 the very morning, declined an invitation to attend the committee on January 21, citing a funeral. He attended the committee on January 31 but queried its procedure. Manning attended on February 4 but sought an adjournment to consider its letter to him. He also attended the committee on February 18 but sought an adjournment due to his judicial review.
On February 25, he attended but requested an adjournment due to Gopee-Scoon’s motion.
In a letter dated April 21, Manning had asked the committee to suspend its sittings because he was asking Parliament to use its Hansard in court, but Moonilal said this matter was disposed of in just 45 seconds. “He also said he had a medical check-up for April 26, so the committee didn’t meet on April 26.” The committee sat on May 3, but Manning’s absence caused it to adjourn. On May 5 he filed a constitutional motion in the High Court and asked the committee to adjourn until the court case was heard. The committee invited Manning to attend its May 11 sitting but he declined, and said he would not be available for the next two days.
“On Friday May 13, when the committee report was laid in the House and debate was set for today, the Member for San Fernando East gave no indication that he would be out of the country.”
Last night, Manning became the second former prime minister in recent parliamentary history to be suspended from the House.
When he was Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday was suspended, under the PNM administration, for ignoring former speaker Barry Sinanan’s instruction to put away a laptop which he did not have permission to use during a sitting on March 28, 2008.
Panday served as prime minister from 1995 to 2001.