In what was an otherwise acrimonious sitting of the Parliament – which saw Mark issue warnings to MPs over what he described as “orangutang behaviour” and “obscene” language – MPs jokingly speculated whether the Speaker had “buss a mark”, pulling out the election date from his “back-robes”, so to speak.
The light moment came as the House debated long-awaited legislation to reform the way the State awards contracts. As to be expected, Government and Opposition MPs sparred over the legislation as well as the timing of the recently concluded vacation period.
At one stage, Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert alleged the Government previously used its majority to adjourn the House and claimed the recess period was unusual, but the Speaker stated the Opposition never objected to an adjournment.
While Imbert spoke, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar objected on a point of order, stating Imbert was imputing improper motives to Government. Cross-talk broke out, including from Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley, the Opposition Leader. This prompted the Speaker’s intervention.
“Member for Diego Martin West (Dr Keith Rowley), cool it. You don’t have to be shouting across the floor. Please, please, please,” Mark said. “Listen, next year – before September – is the election.”
Imbert queried, “You know?”
“Yeah well I know!” Mark stated. All sides of the House broke out in laughter. But the light moment did not last for long. The Speaker continued, “But you see right now let us conduct ourselves in a dignified fashion. This kind of orangutang behaviour I don’t like it. I want honourable members to conduct themselves honourably.”
Mark continued, “The records will show that when the Government Whip moved to adjourn the House not a single member of the Opposition objected. I do not think it is fair to say that the Government abused its majority. It was a decision of the entire House.” This prompted more cross-talk and objections.
Rowley said, “Mr Speaker, you in the debate? He is clarifying the Government’s position! That is not proper!”
Mark replied, “I would not like you to misrepresent the facts.” Rowley continued objecting. Mark countered, invoking rules which forbid persons from speaking or even moving around in the chamber while the Speaker is addressing the House. He said, “Don’t argue as I am on my legs. I am saying do not speak whilst I am on my legs. If you have a problem with the Speaker, file a substantive motion.” Rowley continued, “The Speaker has joined the debate!”
At another stage, while Planning and Sustainable Development Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie was piloting the procurement reform legislation, Government MPs alleged Rowley had used an expletive to dismiss Tewarie’s contribution. The crucial exchanges were largely inaudible, but they led Mark to issue a warning after Persad-Bissessar raised objection.
Persad-Bissessar said the remark was unbelievable.
“I would not repeat what he said,” she said. “We will get the tape, the Hansard tape.”
Mark told the entire House he did not hear the comment in question, but stated, “Cross-talk is healthy but your language must not be abusive, objectionable or obscene. Your language needs to be disciplined and civilised.”
Asked what the remark objected to was, Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal said, “Rowley said Bhoe talking (expletive).”
Asked by Newsday what remark – if any – led to the Speaker issuing a warning against obscene language, Rowley said, “Obscene language? What is the genesis of this question?” Asked whether he used an expletive to describe Tewarie’s contribution – as claimed by MPs – Rowley did not deny this.
“You may wish to check with the Speaker or you may wish to trust your sources,” Rowley said. “Expletive could mean anything. Did you get any of the points made by Diego Martin North East!”
Tewarie, in his contribution, accused the Opposition of peddling misinformation. He said when the Government sought to provide information in Parliament, the Opposition sought to prevent it.
“I have done the best I can under the circumstances,” Tewarie said, adding enigmatically, “and the Opposition knows what those circumstances are. Let us not squander this opportunity to do something of value.” He said he was skeptical the Opposition was committed to procurement reform, stating the PNM had attempted to undermine and sometimes delay the legislative process that led to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (No 2) Bill, 2014.
Opposition Whip Marlene Mc Donald objected, stating Tewarie was imputing improper motives.
Imbert stated the legislation did not apply to the transferring of State lands into private hands, a matter which has raised objection from construction industry stakeholders. He alleged this was a deliberate omission. To facilitate transfer of lands to “friends and family of the Government”.
Minister of Education Dr Tim Gopeesingh raised objection to the remark. Imbert immediately withdrew the statement.
Imbert said the Government did not need the Opposition to pass the legislation. He asked for extra speaking time given all the heated exchanges during his contribution.
Of one exchange, he said, “it reminded of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. I felt as though I was in some other place.”
The legislation replaces the Central Tenders Board with a powerful Office of Procurement Regulation which would be subject to Parliament scrutiny. Penalties for offences such as bid- rigging are also introduced.