Speaker reins in Imbert

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George. –

SPEAKER Bridgid Annisette-George sought to rein in Finance Minister Colm Imbert in the Standing Finance Committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, by urging him to treat opposition MPs the way he himself would like to be treated. The committee examined the budget’s allocations to the Ministry of Finance, among other heads.

It was a very heated portion of the sitting where Imbert was often unable to supply answers to queries, and at one point answered the Opposition’s consternation with the quip, “Too bad!”

Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

When Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh asked if extra money was allocated to hire more customs officers, and whether they would fall under the proposed TT Revenue Authority (TTRA), Imbert scoffed that it shouldn’t take Indarsingh a proverbial ten minutes to ask a five-second question.

He said funding would help to fill customs posts, and later on these officers could be redeployed to the TTRA or choose to leave the public service.

Indarsingh retorted, “The member seems to be a disturbed individual this morning.”

Annisette-George rose, to urge members to be tolerant and compassionate.

Indarsingh then asked when daily-rated workers would get a pension, declaring this to be a genuine line item in this budget and also promised in successive budgets.

Oropouche West MP Davendranath Tancoo said it was very disturbing that Imbert did not have details of a $20,000 allocation. Imbert responded sharply.

The Speaker chided, “Minister of Finance!” She again upbraided him twice.

Tancoo queried a $930,000 overtime allocation for customs officers, to which Imbert replied this could not be an exact science owing to the nature of the hours of the job.

When Tancoo sought details of the line item on government’s contribution to a group health insurance plan, Imbert questioned his integrity.

Annisette-George shot, “Minister of Finance! Minister of Finance!” She said his remarks were as improper, as had been the earlier claims that he was disturbed.

Annisette-George urged Imbert to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Indarsingh sought an apology or withdrawal from Imbert, but before he could voice his grievance, the Speaker said she had already spoken to the minister.

Imbert said the insurance figure was an estimate, but Tancoo said his request had sought a reasonable answer.

Minutes later Tancoo asked about property tax field officers in the Treasury Division, to which Imbert replied he would give details “in due course.”

Tancoo objected to that phrase. Imbert scoffed, “Too bad!”

The Speaker ruled, “‘Too bad’ is not an acceptable answer.”

Imbert, in his defence, claimed, “The member is badgering me.”

Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein asked about an escalation in an allocation from $14 million to $135 million. Imbert replied tartly, earning a rebuke from the Speaker. She was not buying his defence, and ruled, “Let’s stop playing with words.”

Hosein then urged Imbert to give more replies to Freedom of Information Act requests by opposition MPs.

Imbert retorted that these requests were often frivolous and malicious. He alleged that opposition MPs used these requests to litigate and earn a livelihood.

Hosein called for him to withdraw the remark which had imputed improper motives. The Speaker shuttled along the debate to the next line item.