The said document – purported legal advice supposedly recommending a securities charge against Howai in relation to a 2002 probe – was described as the work of, “ruthless fraudsters” by Howai last month. It was read out in Parliament by Rowley last month.
“I have given this matter careful and serious consideration,” Mark said. “I have examined the Hansard in detail and I am of the view that this matter warrants further investigation. In this regard, I rule that, prima facie, a sufficient case of breach of privilege has been established and I therefore refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges for full investigation and report.”
The committee has a limited time within which to rule as the Tenth Parliament is due to be dissolved by no later than June.
The complaint, a motion of contempt, was brought by Persad-Bissessar on April 24. She said Rowley was reckless in relation to his responsibility to provide accurate information to the House and that he knew or ought to have known, because of the office he holds, that the document he was reading was false, inaccurate and damaging.
In an immediate response, Rowley told reporters, “This last ruling by the Speaker is just outright scandalous. Under the Standing Orders, I get two bites at the cherry. One, to present the motion. Then I’m allowed to wind up the motion and assess what has been said and challenge what has been.” He said before that has happened, “The Speaker rules and sends me to the Committee of Privileges even before I have been given the opportunity to wind up the motion and respond to what the Government has said. If that is not perverse, you tell me what is.”
Also during yesterday’s sitting, Mark ruled on a complaint brought by Rowley against Energy Minister Ramnarine for mis-stating the salary of the former Petrotrin chairman Malcolm Jones. The Speaker said Ramnarine on May 1 apologised to the House for his error and therefore the matter would go no further. However, the Speaker warned that Parliament questions play an important role and ministers have a responsibility to present accurate information.
“Questions are an important means by which ministers are accountable to the House,” the Speaker said. “For a minister to provide inaccurate information is to act contrary to the spirit of the question process. It is expected that ministers will answer questions accurately. If a minister discovers that an answer is incorrect he is obliged to make a statement correcting his earlier response.”