MP for Pointe-a-Pierre and Opposition Chief Whip David Lee said Minister of Finance Colm Imbert prevented the Prime Minister as well as other key ministers the opportunity to speak when it closed the budget debate on Saturday afternoon.
Lee was speaking at the UNC media conference at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition on Sunday.
Imbert presented the budget in the House of October 4. Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar began the debate on October 8.It ended on Saturday around 6 pm after PNM MP for D’Abadie/O’Meara Lisa Morris-Julian ended her contribution. And no UNC MP rose to speak.
Lee said the opposition came prepared to respond to key ministers and was not afforded the chance when Imbert closed the debate.
“We understood the game the government was playing…and we didn’t play their game,” he said, adding Morris-Julian’s contribution was “nothing of substance,” and it would have been a wate of their heavy hitters to respond to her.
“That was the plan; to run out our speakers, then on Monday ad Tuesday (they would have) run several ministers and we would not have been able to respond to anything they would have said.”
Lee questioned why Dr Rowley was not given the opportunity to enter the debate. “I wonder who the real Prime Minister is in this country. Is it the Minister of Finance? Why did (Imbert) not allow him to debate?
“We were waiting to rebute the heavy hitters who did not speak…Any one of them could have gotten up at any point and speak and they chose not to and the question that needs to be asked is why not?”
He said “backbenchers” were allowed to speak instead, including MP for Port of Spain South Keith Scotland, wasting parliamentary time. “They don’t hold ministries. The people want to hear from the ministers who (responsible for) the expenditure of this country.”
He said Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis should have adjourned the House at 5:45 pm on Saturday until Monday morning at 10 am to continue the debate.
“We had until Tuesday,” he said. “Go and ask Robinson-Regis and Imbert why they did not allow (Rowley) to speak. They had the power to adjourn the house. They could have asked for (Rowley) to start on Monday morning and I would have said yes.
“It is not that we are afraid of (Rowley). Maybe it is the other way around and he does not want to respond to the opposition ministers.”
When asked why the opposition did not respond to Robinson-Regis’ and Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde’s repeated attempts to respond, Lee said, “That is not how a debate works. A debate is where the government responds to their ministry, and we send up a shadow minister to respond.
“Could you imagine listening to ten ministers consecutively without any rebuttals from the opposition? That would be a derelict of our duty.”
Lee said the ministers who were not allowed to speak that the opposition was prepared to respond to included Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales, Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds, Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan and Minister of Energy Stuart Young.
Ten Government MPs spoke in the budget debate between Friday and Saturday. Government senators Paula Gopee-Scoon, Dr Amery Browne and Donna Cox, who are all cabinet ministers, contributed to the House budget debate on Saturday and 11 UNC MPs made their contributions.