UNC stages fifth walkout on AG

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Kamla Persad-Bissessar –

THE Opposition UNC staged its fifth parliamentary walkout on Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, on Wednesday.

The latest walkout came as Armour prepared to contribute to debate on the National Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2022 in the House of Representatives.

The fourth walkout happened earlier in the sitting, when Armour made a ministerial statement on public procurement legislation.

On Tuesday, opposition senators walked out on the AG twice before his contributions in debates on the Bills of Exchange (Amendment) Bill 2022 and the Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in the Senate.

The first opposition walkout happened on June 12 in the House, before Armour spoke on the same bills.

On Tuesday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar repeated her call for Armour to resign or be fired by the Prime Minister. The issue is his disqualification from the almost two-decade-old Piarco Airport corruption case in a Miami court.

As most of the opposition MPs left the chamber, Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George ordered them to do so in silence as they had oral exchanges with some government MPs. She instructed the latter to be silent as the former left.

Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh was the lone opposition member who stayed in the chamber.

Armour supported earlier comments by Finance Minister Colm Imbert about the bill.

“The key point is the relief by way of waivers which are bestowed as a benefit to individuals.”

Armour said the bill enhances the ability of the National Insurance Board to better “pursue those who submit false information, documents or statements.”

There was nothing wrong with a waiver being implemented via ministerial order, Armour said. “Such an order is regarded as subsidiary legislation authorised under the principal act.”

He added that Monday’s ruling by the Privy Council, which upheld Government’s covid19 regulations, implemented in March 2020, supported this point.

Annisette-George rejected Indarsingh’s claim that Armour was being irrelevant.

Armour said, “The significance of that decision is to demonstrate, as the court – Privy Council – has held, the constitutional remit of a duly elected government which has the majority in Parliament – as does this government – to pass legislation by simple majority, including subsidiary legislation, by the issue of the order which the minister is authorised to give, pursuant to the amendment brought.”

Armour offered to e-mail an electronic link of the judgement to Indarsingh.

“It is an educational instrument and judgement which takes us back to pre-republicanism and independence.”

Armour said the judgement helps legislators “to understand the seriousness with which we should undertake the tasks which we come here on oath to discharge.”

The ruling, he continued, is an important vindication of Government’s longstanding legislative agenda and the use of legislation passed with a simple majority.

“This issue has been the subject of running vocal comments by members of the opposition and the judgement has definitively addressed that.”

Armour said the framers of TT’s Constitution did not intend that “democratic processes of law-making and the democratic nature of the State should be compromised by creating a veto power in a minority of an elected body.”

He claimed this was the Opposition’s approach to “every attempt which this government makes, forming the majority in the House of Representatives, to pass legislation for the peace, order and good governance of the citizens of this country.

Before the opposition walked out, Oropouche West MP Dave Tancoo accused the Government of passing the bill to benefit someone. He claimed through the waiver, certain people or businesses could avoid making national insurance payments.

“Who will benefit from this?”

Speaking after Armour, Indarsingh accused him of wasting Parliament’s time and supported Tancoo’s claims.

“This government is rewarding people involved in fraud.”

Annisette-George warned Indarsingh over this comment. He was also warned over comments against Armour.

Indarsingh heeded Annisette-George’s ruling, but claimed the Government would regret its defence of Armour, declaring, “They can run but they can’t hide.”