Opposition Chief Whip on Ragbir’s surprise vote for Government: ‘I was taken aback by Rai’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Chief Whip David Lee. – Faith Ayoung

OPPOSITION chief whip David Lee was philosophical when asked to respond to his colleague Rai Ragbir’s surprise vote for the Government’s bill in the House of Representatives on Friday. “In politics you are and should never be surprised about anything.”

He however did admit to being completely taken aback when Ragbir voted “yes” to the Whistleblower bill when every other UNC MP voted no, in keeping with the party’s line and stance.

“I was taken aback by the vote of Dr Ragbir because that was not the agreement.

“I had a conversation with his so-called team leader MP Paray and he had given me the assurance that (the UNC internal) election is over and all his colleagues would be under the whip,” Lee said.

He was referring to Mayaro MP Rushton Paray who was a team mate with Ragbir on the United Patriots slate in last Saturday’s UNC internal elections. That slate lost to the slate aligned to UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Lee said Friday’s press had reported statements by Paray and Ragbir that they would be under the UNC whip in Parliament. “There was a statement by him (Ragbir) in the media that he would take the whip. So I am surprised that he has put out a release which contradicts his (earlier) release.

“Even on this bill we just voted on, the (polygraph) testing bill, Mr Ragbir voted with the Opposition in favour of the bill.

“So for all his concerns he had in his release about the first bill, it really negates because Mr Ragbir I don’t think has gotten over what transpired on Saturday and the loss he got.

“I hope Mr Ragbir gets over his tabanca, quickly, so we can do the people’s work and keep the Government in check.”

Newsday asked if Ragbir will retain the UNC whip or function as an independent UNC MP in Parliament.

Lee said, “What he displayed today was rogue-like behaviour.

“So we have to caucus as a party and part of the national executive with our political leader (Persad-Bissessar) and we will have to discuss what measures will be taken.”

Newsday asked what was the Opposition’s problem with the Whistleblower Protection Bill that it voted against, with the exception of Ragbir.

“The Whistleblower Bill in its original form was a three-fifths bill where it infringed on the rights of the people. All this Government did today was brought an amendment deleting that clause of the three-fifths bill. No proper justification. Deleting that clause which contravenes the rights of the people under sections four and five of the Constitution.

“So in good conscience – where it is now a simple majority bill – we could not vote for that piece of legislation.

“There were other concerns with the whistleblower legislation in the form in which the Government brought it.” Lee said the Opposition had always had a concern with the bill.

“When we spoke on the bill, Dr Ragbir and his other colleagues would have been aware of the bill.

“They never raised any issues with me on their concerns about the bill. Then all of a sudden MP Ragbir has gotten some sort of conscience.

“I think Mr Paray, who is his leader, seemed to have also been taken aback by his vote, because Mr Paray had given me the assurance in a conversation yesterday. Mr Paray called me to say the election is over and they are coming back under the whip.

“We focused this same piece of legislation, the whistleblower bill, and he was in agreement on how we would have voted today.”

Lee said Ragbir’s other colleagues from the United Patriots team had voted with the UNC whip, namely Paray, Naparima MP Rodney Charles and Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally.

“I think they would have been also surprised how MP Ragbir voted .”

In the sitting, Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, said the bill could be made a simple majority one due to the application of a Privy Council ruling in a local case known as the “Suraj case,” where if the bill overall “strikes a proportional balance” it can be passed with just a simple majority, and not a special majority.

Mayaro MP Paray told Newsday: “At the end of the day, every member is entitled to their own disposition on any particular bill. The election is over. There is no Team Patriot anymore. There is Team UNC in the Parliament.

“I can tell you there was no caucus in terms of how the vote would have been taken. I voted with my colleagues in this particular instance because I felt the Government had no justifiable reason to remove the three-fifths majority at the committee stage and the explanation was given that the prime minister wanted it .

“That was not sufficient for me. We have a duty as legislators to pass good law that can stand the scrutiny of the court.”

Paray said the day’s second bill, the Miscellaneous Provisions (Testing and Identification) Bill 2022, was good law.

“There were issues. The three fifths majority was maintained and the Government got the support on the bill. We always maintained that we will continue to support good legislation as long as it is presented in a proper format.”