OROPOUCHE East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal has slammed a gag he received after failing to apologise to the Parliament for statements made to Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds as the "highest act of cowardice" he has ever seen in Parliament.
A report by the Privileges Committee had ruled that Moonilal should apologise for the statement "Snake have lead for you" at the sitting on Friday but Moonilal requested more time saying he did not know that he had to issue a written statement before hand.
Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis asked if Moonilal had submitted an apology. House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George replied she was still awaiting an apology though she received a letter from Moonilal in which he said he could not accept the invitation to apologise as recommended by the "illegal committee."
Robinson-Regis then invoked standing order 38:l (a motion arising out of any item of business made immediately after that item is disposed of and before the next item is entered upon) until Moonilal apologised. Moonilal asked if he would be allowed to read his explanation but he was not recognised by the Speaker. The standing order went to a division and 18 Government MPs voted for and 11 Opposition MPs against.
Moonilal rose and asked what was the effect of the order but was ignored by the Speaker. He subsequently left the Chamber with some members of his constituency and then spoke with the media.
"If there is a dispute with my handling of the matter they could have taken the opportunity even to suspend me from the Parliament. But to keep a member in the Parliament and deny him the right to speak on behalf of his constituents is an act of a dictatorship and a tyrant and we condemn the Government in the fullest terms today for this coward act of betraying the people today who have elected members of Parliament to come to the House and speak on their behalf. I think it is a very sad and disgraceful day for the country."
Moonilal said he was due to speak on a motion on the TT Revenue Authority and was unsure if he could continue to function at the parliamentary committees. He pointed out in his personal explanation he outlined clearly that he had a matter before the court.
Moonilal in the letter wrote: "Today, I cannot accept the invitation to apologise in the manner as recommended by the illegal committee. To do so will be to undermine my case and compromise my position that the committee was illegal and violated my constitutional rights."
He added: "I call on the Judiciary to quickly dispense with this critical and urgent matter in the national interest. I have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and the law. I am prepared to sacrifice my political life to do so."
He said in the explanation he reported that on two previous occasions he did apologise on the matter.
"And then this almost medieval parliamentary instrument of a gag was raised by Ms Camille Robinson-Regis. This is something two, three hundred years ago I think they did. It is really an affront to modern democracy. It is indecent and the constituents of Oropouche East, over 27,000 persons, have now been rendered voiceless in the nation's Parliament."
Asked if he would not sit in the Parliament Moonilal said in the coming days that would be discussed with the lawyers and the party.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar told the media the Parliament through its committee had breached the Constitution and stressed the Parliament was never above the law.
"The Constitution gives us the right to challenge any act by any public body. And the Parliament and the committee is part of that public body. The member is within his right to seek redress."
She said it was a serious matter about constitutional rights and was a historic moment for the courts. She added no decision would be made on the issue at the spur of the moment.
"The matter is before the court and I find it really untenable and offensive that this matter could not wait until the court gave its decision which is just a few days to go."
Moonilal said the matter returns to court on July 8 and he is confident he will be vindicated.