Before the start of the sitting, Opposition Chief Whip Jack Warner gave reporters a seating plan indicating Panday would sit in third place on the front bench, after Warner and Persad-Bissessar in first and second spots. However moments later, parliamentary staff told reporters that Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal would instead be in the third seat, while Panday would occupy the fifth seat on the back-bench.
At 1.31 pm, Panday entered the chamber solemnly, greeted Government MP Indra Sinanan Ojar- Maharaj who sits on the Opposition back-bench because the Government side is full. Panday’s meek countenance evoked sympathy in some observers.
A minute later, Persad-Bissessar walked in, escorted by Warner, and was greeted by loud desk- pounding from the Government MPs. Panday, now sitting higher than the front-benches, stood and pointed to the Government MPs, teasingly chiding, “I’ll be in this House looking down on you.”
Starting the sitting at about 1.32 pm, Speaker Barry Sinanan said he had received letters from President George Maxwell Richards revoking Panday’s appointment. At that Panday pounded his desk in applause.
Sinanan then disclosed Richards’ letter appointing Persad-Bissessar evoking more applause. Prime Minister Patrick Manning rose to congratulate Persad-Bissessar saying she has a huge responsibility on her shoulders. Manning said Panday was now occupying a back-bench position which he too had once occupied in 1990, after Panday’s split from the NAR government had seen Panday replace Manning as Leader of the Opposition. “But he has had a long and distinguished career,” said Manning of Panday. Manning said while in 1990 he had looked forward to government, he did not know what is now on Panday’s mind, but he wished him well in his long service to Trinidad and Tobago.
Panday stayed quietly seated next to Tabaquite MP Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, with whom he shared a light moment during a speech by House Leader Colm Imbert. Panday and Maharaj were seen chatting regularly during the sitting. “I am looking down on you,” Panday said in response to remarks from PNM MPs across the aisle.
Speaking with reporters during the tea break, Persad-Bissessar said she was “very disappointed” that Panday refused her offer to sit in the seat to her left, which she occupied while he was Opposition Leader. Chief Whip Jack Warner said he informed the Speaker that Panday would be sitting to Persad-Bissessar’s left but “Mr Panday informed me that he is no longer under the Chief Whip and he wants to go the back bench”.
“That is his democratic right and the party will go forward. I think that our front bench looked strong and solid together and more will join us in that front bench as we go forward,” Persad- Bissessar added.
She said the question of where Panday sits in Parliament is irrelevant. Persad-Bissessar thought Manning’s references to Panday as his “good friend” to be very instructive. Persad-Bissessar said Couva South MP Kelvin Ramnath, who normally sits to her left, missed yesterday’s sitting because he was in Guyana on private business. Ramnath had threatened to sit in the back-bench.
Persad-Bissessar was non-committal when asked about her relationship with Maharaj who was one of seven UNC MPs who did not support her as Opposition Leader. “What goes around comes around,” was Warner’s observation of Panday and Maharaj’s conversations during the sitting. On Panday’s new seat in the back-bench, Warner noted, “I used to sit there before (I became Chief Whip).” Contacted yesterday, Panday said, “The view from the back is very good.”
Persad-Bissessar revealed she has advised the President to reappoint UNC deputy leader Lyndira Oudit to the Senate on Tuesday. Oudit will be joined in Senate by another deputy leader Suruj Rambachan. Panday had advised the President to revoke Oudit’s appointment to allow PSA vice- president Christopher Joefield to become a temporary Opposition senator. Persad-Bissessar declined to say which of the current Opposition senators Wade Mark, Jennifer Jones Kernahan, Adesh Nanan, Mohammed Rahman or Sharon Gopaul McNicol would be dropped to facilitate the appointment of Oudit and Rambachan. Neither did she said if she would replace them all.