They declared the motion was a further attempt to cover-up the circumstances of the proclamation of Section 34 in a bid to discredit Police Complaints Authority (PCA) director David West, a witness for Rowley in his defence against a defamation lawsuit filed by former Attorney General (AG) Anand Ramlogan.
For a while, Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner, leader of the Independent Liberal Party, was the only opposition MP to remain in the Chamber, but he too would walk out after being kept in check by Speaker Wade Mark when he hit out at the Government over the motion.
In what seemed to be a planned move, Colm Imbert, the representative for Diego Martin North/East, was the first and only PNM MP to counter Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal’s opening statement on the motion, and gave the signal for the Opposition walkout.
Imbert described the motion against Rowley as “frivolous, vexatious, childish, vacuous, tenuous, absurd and having no basis and purpose”.
Asking what all the “tralala” was about, he declared, “Mr Speaker, I am not staying in this Parliament to continue this foolish debate.”
Throwing down a pile of papers on the desk while his PNM colleagues applauded, he said, “I am leaving now. It is overbearing. You could say whatever you want to say. Whatever you have to say. Say it outside. If you name man, if you name man, come outside. Don’t stay inside.”
As Imbert spoke his colleagues began to walk out as he packed up his things and he was the last to leave the chamber.
In his contribution to the debate, Imbert said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was bent on using the Parliament to discredit West for her lack of consultations with her Cabinet, Ramlogan and others in the criminal justice system, and to conduct background and security checks on him when nominating him to head the PCA.
Instead she tried to lay the blame on Rowley, who will in no way benefit from West being appointed a PCA director, Imbert said adding, “I cannot accept that she operates by ‘vaps’.”
One would assume, he said, that one of the first things Persad-Bissessar would have done was to consult with the AG on the appointment, but instead West’s nomination was made by former National Security Minister Gary Griffith, and agreed that West was a suitable candidate.
Since Persad-Bissessar recommended West to Rowley, Imbert said one would have assumed that any normal person making such a recommendation would have conducted all due diligence.
Claiming there was no way West’s appointment could enrich Rowley, Imbert reiterated, “the inescapable conclusion in this whole tralala is to damage the credibility of Mr David West.”
West’s 12-page witness statement, he said, “if true, is awful”, but it has nothing to do with the defamation matter brought against Rowley by Ramlogan.
“All West was testifying to”, Imbert said, was what happened in the extradition process of businessmen Steve Ferguson and Ish Galbaransingh, of being approached by Ramlogan, of being told to rescind instructions to arrest Ferguson and Galbaransingh, and to have nothing more to do with the extradition of the two men.
Government, he said, does not want people to know about the witness statement even though it was available in the registry of the courts for all to see.
When you look at the witness statement, he said, it had nothing to do with Rowley, but with everything pertaining to the Section 34 fiasco and witness tampering.
That was why the motion was frivolous and he could not stay in the Parliament, he said, as he set the stage for the walkout amid desk thumping from his colleagues.
Condemning the walkout, Moonilal, who at the time was about to speak with reporters in the corridors outside the Chamber, said he was nearly “stampeded” by Port-of-Spain South MP Marlene McDonald and others behind her as they emerged from the chamber.
Noting that they “just simply pack up their bags and lunch kits and gone,” he said, “This is outrageous. Abandon the Parliament?”
Calling on the people to abandon the PNM for their “reckless attitude,” Moonilal said, “People vote for you to come to the Parliament to discuss the issues.”
The walkout, he said, builds the case that those aspiring to high office were unfit for it and lack dignity.
While the PNM MPs walked out on the motion against their leader who wants to be Prime Minister, he said Government MPs would not walkout on the Opposition’s motion on the conduct of Finance Minister Larry Howai.
“We don’t intend to walk out. We intend to participate in that debate,” he said. Although Moonilal said the Howai motion would take place tomorrow, at the end of the sitting he noted that the Opposition Chief Whip was not in the Chamber to set the agenda for that debate. Therefore, he declared the House would adjourn to April 8 to continue the debate against Rowley.
Government had six MPs lined up to speak yesterday, Moonilal said. Rowley later called reporters to a press conference and when asked why the MPs did not leave the Chamber when Moonilal spoke on the motion, he said, “If we had walked out before, how would the population have been educated about the origin and rejection of this motion as any aspect of the Commonwealth parliamentary practice?”
Rowley said Imbert was not “talking to them (Government benches). Mr Imbert’s presentation today was talking to the people of Trinidad ad Tobago.”
The PNM, he said, “will take no part in establishing this horrible precedent in Trinidad and Tobago and the Parliament. What we have not done for 59 years we will not do in our 60th year.”
He continued, “We will have no part of it. They will stay in the Parliament and talk to themselves, and to Prakash Ramadhar.”
None of the PNM MPs, he said, walked out under duress.
Rowley reiterated that “the charade” in the Parliament was a continuation of the Prime Minister’s attack on West as a witness.
“The Parliament was being used in a most frightening way to terrorise and discredit a witness who is before the court on an explosive piece of testimony,” he said. The objective, he said, was to discredit West, and weaken and dilute his testimony before he goes to court to defend his allegations.
“It is not aimed at me, the Leader of the Opposition,” Rowley said, “it was aimed at David West.”
If West’s testimony survives in the court, he said, it means that the People’s Partnership Government should have been out of office since August 2013 on account of the Section 34 fiasco.
Claiming Persad-Bissessar used the Parliament to further a crime, he said she misled Government, Independent, and Opposition MPs on the Administration of Justice Act when she allowed the proclamation of Section 34.
“If she has confidence in me then I have an issue,” he said adding, “if they have confidence in me, they would want to share the loot with me.”
Reiterating his call for elections to be held now, Rowley said the Parliament was being used by Government to protect people who should be having their day in court. Responding to Moonilal that he had an apartment at One Woodbrook Place, Rowley said that even though he has never been unemployed since the age of 17 and his wife has been practising law for the past 30 years, he cannot afford to buy an apartment there.
(See pages 8, 9, 16A)