UNC MP Ganga Singh has defended his decision to break ranks with fellow Opposition parliamentarians and support passage of the pensions’ clause of the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill brought by government at last Friday’s Parliamentary sitting.
The Chaguanas West MP had voted in favour of the clause at the committee stage.
The Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non-Profit Organisations) Bill, 2019 was passed with amendments on Friday night.
The Bill was passed with 21 members voting for while 16 members voted against it. There were no abstentions. However Singh was not present when the division of the vote was called by the House Speaker.
But in a statement yesterday Singh said his vote was a principled one saying it was similar to the stance he adopted when voting against the amendments to the Freedom of Information Act.
“It must be said that the same principle by which I supported the increased pensions for the president, judges and legislators was my guide in voting against amendments to The Freedom of Information Act. It has always been the way in which I conducted myself and carried out my public duties as a legislator and previously, a cabinet minister, and chief executive of WASA.”
He said the pensions’ clause addresses the small pensions given to a limited group of former legislators and judges, some of which he knew personally and whose lives “have become extremely difficult because of the small amount they now receive.”
“It would be unconscionable for today’s legislator to turn away from the silent suffering of former parliamentary colleagues on either side of the aisle. Equally, it is unconscionable that this is being done, apparently, in a vacuum and so many of our citizens are also suffering silently.”
He recalled that in 2014, the then People’s Partnership Administration had introduced similar legislation regarding pensions of legislators. He also noted that the Opposition UNC had supported similar legislation in 2009.
“For me to have changed that support, for the sake of political one-upmanship would have been to sacrifice the public good, and to fly in the face of the very principle which motivated us as a Government.”
However, Opposition chief whip David Lee said Singh’s vote had been a surprise as he was aware of the party’s decision regarding the proposed amendments.
“He would have known why we did not want to support those clauses as it was discriminatory, it discriminated against past legislators, retired legislators, retired judges, retired prime ministers because it would not have benefited them.”
“We were prepared as an opposition to forego any benefits that we might enjoy as being present legislators at the expense of past legislators we could not in good conscience vote for that especially what is happening in this country with this present government and how many people have lost their jobs.”
Asked whether Singh was aware of the party’s reasoning, Lee said, “of course Mr Ganga Singh was aware of that.”
Lee predicted government, through the Senate on Monday might bring an amendment to correct that discrimination against the past legislators.
He said Singh had, however, supported the Opposition in voting against the FOIA amendments and then left the chamber before voting was done on the entire bill.Asked whether Singh would be asked to provide an explanation, Lee said, “We would have to have discussions with Mr Singh because Mr Singh left the parliament after he voted on the FOIA clause.”
“He left the parliament before we could talk to him.”
Lee said the opposition had also voted against the Central Bank clause and the NIS clause which would debar Venezuelan migrants from paying NIS contributions.
Asked whether his support might have been eclipsed because of Government’s majority, Singh said: “The Bill might have passed with or without Opposition support, but the concept of principle is not to simply use one’s vote and voice for politics, but for the good of a nation that will carry on after us. The people who will govern this country are watching closely and may pattern their actions and approaches by ours, so we have a duty to do the right thing and set some form of leadership example.”
“My position remains the same because it was not one made in the heat of debate, it was one made to preserve the principle upon which the UNC held office, and will again hold office,” Singh said.