Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday rejected the Opposition United National Congress’s (UNC) claims that he refused to compromise on the inclusion of a sunset clause in the Anti-Gang Bill 2017.
Opposition Whip David Lee claimed that was why the UNC voted against the bill on Thursday.
Speaking in the House of Representatives, Rowley said, “In fact, the inclusion of a sunset clause as a proposed government amendment was a result of my own initiative.”
He said the amendment was included after he listened to the Opposition’s view on this issue, then held discussions with government MPs and legislative drafters. Rowley said at his request, Lee met him behind the Speaker’s Chair and he told Lee the sunset clause would be put in the bill.
Rowley said in addition to Government proposing the sunset clause, on which the Opposition hinged its support for the bill, the question of the inclusion of a sunset clause for a period of four years was put to all MPs who were present. Rowley said the Parliament’s Hansard record, “where only the truth resides,” shows clearly that this question was put to all MPs three times.
He said Hansard also shows that no MP, including Opposition MPs, “voted ‘no’ against that proposal as this specific clause was put” on each occasion.
Rowley said it was shocking for Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar “who led her members to vote against the bill, thereby defeating it, now seeking to defend her actions by claiming that this position was motivated by my refusal to include a sunset clause in the bill.”
St Augustine MP Prakash Ramadhar, the lone Congress of the People (COP) MP in the House, was the only MP who abstained from voting.
Rowley said in his 31 years as a parliamentarian, he had never experienced “the manner of objectionable and vile attack such as the one that I am now being subjected to.” He claimed Persad-Bissessar is leading Opposition MPs “in an orchestrated course of malicious character assassination” against him, by seriously misrepresenting events which occurred in the House earlier this week.
Rowley said he felt “personally affronted and offended” and that as Prime Minister, “I extended myself and made a very concerted effort to ensure that this Government reached across the aisle to give serious consideration to the concerns of the Opposition on this particular bill.” He said the only conclusion he could reach about the Opposition’s attacks against him was they were designed to personally damage him as Prime Minister and Diego Martin West MP.
Rowley said he had served in Opposition for 14 years, and it was his experience and understanding that the Opposition usually registered its disagreement to a clause in a bill if it feels strongly about any particular issue. “This did not happen on this occasion,” he said.
Describing the actions of Persad-Bissessar and other UNC MPs as unfortunate, Rowley urged citizens who heard reflections on his words and actions during committee stage on the bill, “to evaluate the events only on the basis of the records of Hansard.”
Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George dismissed claims from UNC MPs Dr Roodal Moonilal and Rodney Charles that Rowley was making a controversial statement.