Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar accused Prime Minister Keith Rowley of breaching parliamentary privilege, during the non-ceremonial opening of the new parliamentary session yesterday. In requesting leave to raise a matter of privilege against Rowley, Persad-Bissessar based her accusations on statements Rowley made to reporters at a health fair at the Diego Martin Boys RC School on September 16.
According to Persad-Bissessar, Rowley told reporters, “If there is wrongdoing, identify the wrongdoing and hold people accountable. I don’t know that we should be overdoing it and I am not afraid of identifying the people I associate with because I do not knowingly associate with crooks except in Parliament.”
As Persad-Bissessar made this statement, Rowley was observed talking with Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young. Describing Rowley’s comments as “intentional, reckless and contemptuous,” Persad-Bissessar claimed Rowley implied that Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George, the Parliament’s staff and MPs, “were not persons who law abiding citizens should associate with.”
She alleged that Rowley implied all of these people, “were not to be trusted in carrying out their public duty.” Persad-Bissessar said the Constitution, House Standing Order 32 and May’s Parliamentary Practice provide guidance in the law, practice and usage of parliamentary privilege.
Noting the subject matter Rowley was commenting on, Persad-Bissessar reiterated his statements were, “made as a reflection upon the character and reputation of members. “The statements made by Rowley were in response to questions about his friendship with the owner of A&V Drilling and Workover Limited, Nazim Baksh. Persad-Bissessar also claimed Rowley brought indignity to the House.”
In response to Persad-Bissessar’s request to refer Rowley to the House’s Privileges Committee, Annisette George said, “ I have reserved my determination on this matter and shall give my decision at a subsequent date.”