David Lee –
THE population and the Opposition remain in the dark about the reasons for ending the state of emergency (SoE) on Wednesday. UNC MPs David Lee, Anita Haynes, Saddam Hosein and Rushton Paray made this and related arguments during their respective contributions to debate on a motion filed by the Prime Minister to terminate the SoE from midnight on Wednesday.
The House later approved the motion with 20 Government MPs voting for it and 14 Opposition MPs abstaining. The SoE was first imposed on May 15. The House met on May 24 to extend it to August 29 and subsequently met on August 25 to extend it further to November 29.
Under Section 10 (1) of the Constitution, the SoE can be extended, before it expires, by a simple majority vote of the House for three months. Section 10 (2) states the SoE can be further extended from time to time, but not more than three months at any one time.
Any additional extensions need three-fifth majority votes in the House and Senate for approval. This means Opposition support for the former and for the latter, Opposition and Independent senatorial support.
Section 10 (3) of the Constitution allows for the Government to revoke the proclamation of the SoE before its scheduled expiry date by coming to the House before that date and doing so by a simple majority vote.
The process for ending the SoE is much simpler. Section 10 (3) states, “The proclamation (of the SoE) may be revoked at any time by a simple majority vote of the House of Representatives.”
Lee claimed the only reason to end the SoE ahead of November 29 is the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election on December 6.” I ask is that the reason why.” He also wondered if a previous extension of the SoE from May 24 to August 29 “had anything to do with not having a commissioner of police (CoP) in place.” Referring to the appointment of members of the new Police Service Commission (Tuesday), Lee said, “I would not be surprised if next week if we get a merit list.”
Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis objected to Lee’s claim. “My friend is totally irrelevant.” House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George upheld Robinson-Regis’ objection and Lee complied with Annisette-George’s ruling. He said Rowley provided no evidence to show that the SoE helped to reduce the spread of covid19. Lee wondered why the SoE was being removed when covid19 cases were increasing.
“What is the new approach?”
Haynes observed that Rowley was the only Government MP to contribute to the debate, when she entered after Lee, Paray and Hosein. “That is a blatant disrespect to the people of TT.” Haynes claimed the silence of other Government MPs, including cabinet ministers, was evidence that the UNC was right about the SoE failing to curb the spread of covid19 in public.
Hosein supported the allegation that the SoE’s lifting was linked to the THA election. He wondered why new public health regulations were not drafted and presented to the House by Rowley. Acting Attorney General Stuart Young criticised Hosein for tedious repetition, noting that Lee and Paray made similar arguments before him. Annisette-George thanked Young for his observation but allowed Hosein to develop his contribution.
Paray claimed there was no data to show how effective the SoE and other measures implemented to date have been in terms of curbing covid19 in TT. But he said, “We have no objection to the termination of the SoE.”
Paray prayed there would not be an explosion of covid19 cases once the SoE ends.