Opposition Chief Whip David Lee has condemned the actions of the Government in the aftermath of the passage of the property tax bill on Friday saying the Parliament was hijacked and the Opposition was prevented from continuing the debate. He described the actions of the Government side as “being thoroughly deceitful, dishonest and tyrannical.”
Speaking during an interview yesterday, Lee said given the importance and impact the proposed amendments to the Valuation of Land Amendment Bill 2018 and Property Tax Amendment Bill 2018 would have on the country, all Opposition MP’s were prepared to speak on behalf of their 350,000 constituents. He explained, however, that at the beginning of the sitting on Friday, the leader of Government Business, Camille Robinson-Regis indicated that they would not be completing the debate but would be sending up three speakers initially and would be obliged if the Opposition did the same.
Lee said as Chief Whip he discussed the matter with his colleagues and it was agreed that there would be six speakers – three on both sides – and they would return at a later date to complete the debate.
He said, to his utter shock and amazement, after their second speaker, Princes Town MP Barry Padarath, was finished, “The Minister of Finance stood to conclude the debate disregarding the agreement made between myself and the leader of Government Business, therefore, denying our other speakers the opportunity to contribute.” Lee wondered whether the decision to cut short Padarath’s presentation had anything to with him citing references where the current Prime Minister was highly critical of the imposition of a property tax during the Patrick Manning-led administration.
An angry-sounding Lee declared, “This is a form of blatant dishonesty on the part of the Government as, not only did they break our agreement, but they also denied 16 Opposition members of Parliament the opportunity to speak on behalf of their constituents. What is even more damning is the fact that earlier, the Opposition had also agreed with Government’s request to debate both bills as one given that we thought this would be in the best interest of the Parliament and, more so, the nation.”
Lee said Government’s “oppressive” action was more evidence “that the Keith Rowley-led administration is the most insincere, most dishonest and unpatriotic administration to govern Trinidad and Tobago.” He said Government’s actions on Friday “ruined the dignity of the House of Representatives and further indicate that this Government will use any means possible to silence the Opposition in an effort to violate, burden and disrespect the citizens of our country.”
Meanwhile, former government minister under the People’s Partnership administration, Devant Maharaj is calling on Finance Minister Colm Imbert to withdraw the present amendments to the property tax laws with immediate effect saying Government was trying to reintroduce the “infamous” tax while his case was still pending before the High Court.
In a media statement, Maharaj called the passage of the property tax bill a gross disrespect to the court and the rule of law, Maharaj said Minister Imbert was trying to outmanoeuvre the court by introducing this bill which sought to, fundamentally, alter the policy and structure of the existing property tax laws to the detriment of an unsuspecting and innocent citizenry.
He reminded that Madam Justice Jacqueline Wilson had completed the property tax trial in the case he filed against the Government in the public interest. He said the court indicated that it would deliver its judgement by the end of February 2018. Unfortunately, this was not done and hence the judgement was outstanding.
Nevertheless Maharaj said, “The Government has a duty to show respect for the judicial arm of the State and should not pre-empt the court in such an obscene manner. This rush is clearly an attempt to use the window of opportunity presented by the delay in giving judgement to defeat the interest of justice. I, therefore, call upon the Government to allow justice and due process to take its natural course and halt the vulgar attempt to steal a march on the justice system when there is no justification for such an unusual course.”