The only thing the Opposition can do is inform the public of the real issues in Trinidad and Tobago, and Government is slowly taking away that right, UNC Senator Anil Roberts said at the opening of Parliament on Friday.
Roberts told the media the Constitution does not allow the Opposition to take any decisions and through the covid19 protocols, Government is gerrymandering the opposition’s ability to speak out.
“You could go in the mall, crowd up with Faris (Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi) in Gulf City Mall looking for Pfizer (vaccines), but we can’t come here and debate our full time."
As well as reduced parliamentary speaking time, he also took issue with the physical measures adopted in Parliament to mitigate against covid19.
"Right here, the covid19 protocols in this building (the Red House) do not make sense. All that they do is thwart the one thing that we can do, which is give information so the media and the population could ask, and we have been curtailed.”
He argued, "Keeping senators and parliamentarians out of the building does not make sense, because the building is huge, there is social separation, Plexiglass, testing, we are all masked. But the Government has thwarted all our rights, including the speaking time of the Opposition.”
Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George, announced on Friday that because it is still unknown how many MPs have been fully vaccinated the number allowed in the Chamber will be reduced from 26 – 14 government members and 12 opposition – to 14 – eight government members and six opposition.
“I wish to assure honourable members that as more data becomes available on the numbers of vaccinated members, there will be an ongoing evaluation of risks with a view to adopting a path to normalcy.” Annisette-George said on Friday.
Roberts also responded to questions on the Opposition’s strategy of abstaining instead of voting “No,” saying both had the same effect – a disagreement with policies put forward.
“People don’t understand the 'abstain' and the 'no.' They both have the same impact.
"Maybe it is a symbolic gesture to say no...But abstinence means that you do not accept the process.” Roberts said.
He said people have been critical of the opposition because of its decision to abstain from certain votes. But he said the Opposition's hands have been tied because of what he called a constitutional arrangement that would ensure the Government would have its way.
In fact the first-past-the-post system means the government always has a majority in Parliament.
But Roberts argued, "The main thing is that the Opposition will lose anyway, because the constitutional arrangement that we have is that the Government will have its way. So the only thing we can do is talk. Previous speakers have said that the Opposition will have its say because the Government will have its way.”
Outside the Red House, police detained activist Ishmael Samad after he allegedly staged a protest.
Samad showed up in front of the Red House, brandishing a sign which read “$84 million fake oil question: Is the Prime Minister a shareholder in A&V Drilling Oil and Gas Ltd?”
When police noticed his sign they surrounded him and told himt he should not protest during a state of emergency. He responded that he “just wanted to ask the Prime Minister a question.”
Told he could not display the sign, he sat down on the roadside, reiterating that he simply wanted to ask the Prime Minister about his alleged involvement in the oil company.
Police then detained him and escorted him to the Central Police Station on St Vincent Street.
“This is not fair. I came to ask the Prime Minister a question,” he said.
Police said no form of protest whatsoever is allowed during a state of emergency, and if he wanted to ask the Prime Minister a question he should engage him at the Office of the Prime Minister, and not the Red House.
They added that displaying a placard made his action a form of protest.