In the end, no mercy was shown, as the Government by its substantive majority, passed the motion which effectively suspended Manning from sittings of the House of Representatives with immediate effect. Manning was not present at the sitting, having gone to Cuba for a medical check-up.
Following the laying of the report of the findings of the Parliament’s Privileges Committee on claims made last November by Manning regarding the private residence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar–by Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal – Rowley led off the Opposition’s response by questioning why Government rushed debate on the disciplinary committee report.
“Since it appears to be that we are exacting vengeance I would remind this Government that vengeance is always to be tempered with mercy,” Rowley said as he spoke during the motion to approve the First Report of the Parliament’s Privileges Committee.
The Opposition Leader noted that the report was tabled in Parliament last week Friday unsigned and without a definitive finding that a case of contempt had been made out. “Why didn’t you lay the report in Parliament properly?” Rowley asked Government MPs. “Parliament should be about fairness, accuracy and sound process. In bringing this report in this manner, we have cast some aspersions on this process.”
Rowley also argued that the report was incomplete as it lacked a minority report from Opposition members of the Committee. While Government MPs claimed that Opposition members refused to attend a meeting of the committee which was ear-marked for the finalisation of findings, Rowley argued that the MPs had not been given an opportunity to submit their opinions.
“You gave them no opportunity to do that. Why? Why?” Rowley said. He said Government members had openly complained that the committee proceedings were dragging.
The Opposition MPs on the committee were: Port-of-Spain North/St Ann’s West MP Patricia McIntosh; Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert and Port-of-Spain South MP Donna Cox. Their names do not appear on the signature page of the report. The only name which appears at that section of the report, which was finanlised after Manning refused to answer the case against him as he sought to challenge procedural issues, is that of the chairman Speaker Wade Mark. While Mark is named, no signatures–including Mark’s—appear on the report.
Rowley also noted that the report contained no recommendation of sanction and fell short of an actual finding that Manning had committed a contempt of Parliament in relation to a series of allegations he had made in November last year over Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s private home.
Rowley warned MPs that the report stated: “your Committee reports that the grounds of the alleged contempt appear to have been established.”
“I take that to mean that there is room for doubt,” Rowley said. “The committee has not definitively said to this House that it has not been established.” The Opposition Leader warned that these questions lingered over the process of the tabling of the report and undermined the procedures of Parliament. Those procedures he said should be, “like Caesar’s wife.”
“The process should be beyond reproach,” he implored. At the same time, Rowley still maintained his position on the issue of whether Manning was entitled to legal representation at the committee, an issue which spawned court action and a failed private motion by Manning in Parliament which split the Opposition vote. Rowley — who abstained on that private motion — said he remained of the view that lawyers should not be allowed to address committee members or cross-examine witnesses. “Only those with privileges are allowed to participate in that way,” he said.