UNC MP breaks rank in House – Rai votes with the Government

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

MAN APART: Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Dr Rai Ragbir seated at the end of the Opposition benches on Friday in the House of Representatives. PHOTO COURTESY OFFICE OF THE PARLIAMENT –

CUMUTO/MANZANIILA MP Dr Rai Ragbir on Friday broke rank with opposition colleagues in the House of Representatives and voted for Government’s Whistleblower Protection Bill 2024.

Since last week, the Opposition vowed not to support this bill, which in its original form required a special majority. An amendment, made during the committee stage on Friday, made the bill passable by a simple majority. Following debate, when a division was taken, all Govt MPs voted “yes” while all of the Opposition UNC MPs – with the exception of Ragbir ­­– voted “no.” In the end, there were 22 votes for, and 15, against.

Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was not in the House having sought and gotten approval to be absent.

As the House’s clerk mentioned Ragbir’s name, and he replied “yes!” all MPs on the Government benches thumped their desks loudly for several seconds.

Several MPs including National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, Sport Minister Shamfa Cudjoe, and Labour Minister Stephen McClashie gestured and smiled broadly at Ragbir who acknowledged them with a slight bow of his head.

During the sustained desk-thumping, several voices were heard saying aloud “Rushton,” in reference to Mayaro MP Rushton Paray who had earlier voted “no,” in line with UNC MPs against the bill.

Several UNC MPs looked across at Ragbir in disbelief as he maintained his gaze over at the Government benches. When came her turn to vote, an angry Moruga/Tableland MP Michelle Benjamin practically shouted out, “no!”

Paray last Saturday led a slate in the UNC internal elections that was significantly beaten by a three-to-one ratio by the slate aligned to UNC political leader Persad-Bissessar.

Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally, who supported the Paray slate, earlier voted with the party against the bill.

Piloted by the prime minister, the bill grants a whistle-blower immunity from criminal, civil and disciplinary proceedings and protection from being harassed, intimidated or victimised, or suffering loss in relation to his/her “employment, family life, career, profession, trade or business.”

Acts which can be reported include crimes, miscarriages of justice, and mismanagement of public funds, once the disclosure is made in good faith and not for personal gain.

PRAISE FOR RAI

Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales, speaking on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Testing and Identification) Bill 2022 – immediately after the division of votes for the whistleblower bill, saluted Ragbir’s stance.

“Let me commence my contribution this afternoon by commending my colleague from Cumuto/Manzanilla for demonstrating in this House this afternoon what Members of Parliament are sworn to do when they are sent here by their representatives.

“Our responsibility here is in accordance with section 53 of the Constitution to pass laws that are for the good order, peace and the good government of the people of TT. That is our responsibility.

“And I want to commend the action of my esteemed colleague from Cumuto/Manzanilla to my colleague from Mayaro (Paray).

“When you wish to seek to lead and to lead a party you must stand on your own! You must stand on your two feet! You must stand for integrity. You must stand for honour. You must lead by example.

“And therefore from this evening, the new leader of the Opposition is the Honourable Member for Cumuto/Manzanilla,” Gonzales declared, while Government MPs thumped their desks and Opposition MPs sat in sullen silence.

Persad-Bissessar, later in a WhatsApp message to Newsday said:

“Not surprised at all. For us in the UNC it’s business as usual because I told everyone during the internal campaign that some of the dissidents were working with the PNM and would go to the PNM after getting rejected by the membership in the internal elections. So said, so done.

“MP Ragbir just proved to the UNC membership that I was totally correct.” She explained why the Opposition had not supported the bill.

“It contains clauses that breach privacy rights,” she said. “It breaches a fundamental constitutional right under the rule of law for aggrieved persons to have access to a court of law.

“Whilst the government contorted themselves to remove the 3/5 majority, that does not cure the need for more than a 3/5 majority with respect to depriving persons access to a court of law. She then promised: “This bill will definitely end up in the court house.”