Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 25th 2014 Contents A6
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Saturday, January 25, 2014
Ten government MPs scam-
pered back into the Parliament
chamber yesterday to support the
extension of the speaking time
of Dr Tim Gopeesingh during the
debate on a bill to amend the Libel
and Defamation Act.
The MPs had vacated the cham-
ber during Gopeesingh s contri-
bution and when his 45 minutes
original speaking time had expired
an additional 30-minute extension
was requested by Mayaro MP Win-
ston "Gypsy" Peters to Deputy
House Speaker Nela Khan.
It is the norm for such a request
to be approved with any fanfare.
However, at that stage, the
Opposition taking note of the
vacant seats on the Government
benches, objected to the extension
and requested a vote on the mat-
ter.During the vote count, around
3 pm, there were only ten govern-
ment MPs seated in the chamber
and ten Opposition members.
Government MPs, including
Works and Infrastructure Minister
Dr Surujrattan Rambachan, Legal
Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar,
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan and
Public Utilities Minister Nizam
Baksh were seen rushing to their
seats to support the request to
extend Gopeesingh s speaking time.
Two Opposition MPs, Colm Imbert
and Paula Gopee-Scoon, also
returned to their seats.
At the end of the count the Gov-
ernment had 21 votes for
Gopeesingh s time to be extended;
the 11 Opposition MPs present
voted against the extension (San
Fernando East MP Patrick Man-
ning, who attended the previous
two sittings, was absent yesterday);
and Chaguanas West MP Jack
Gopeesingh was the first to con-
tribute to the continued debate,
presented by Attorney General
Anand Ramlogan last week Friday.
The bill seeks to abolish the crim-
inal offence of malicious defama-
tory libel by repealing Section Nine
of the act.
During Gopeesingh s first 45
minutes, several government min-
isters, including Leader of Govern-
ment Business Dr Roodal Moonilal,
left the chamber.
Gopeesingh s continual refer-
ences to treatment of the media
by former PNM Government min-
isters caused Opposition Leader Dr
Keith Rowley, Opposition Chief
Whip Marlene Mc Donald and
Laventille East Morvant MP Donna
Cox, to tell the Deputy Speaker
repeatedly that the minister was
They were overruled and
Gopeesingh was told to link his
point as he resumed.
Gopeesingh began his extended
time by describing the attempt by
the Opposition to deny him extra
time to speak in the Parliament as
"a living example of the viciousness
of the PNM in their constant mode
to erode the democracy and free-
dom of expression."
The minister said such action
inside the Parliament was "shame-
ful and disgraceful, they should
hold their heads in high shame."
He said if the PNM were ever to
be returned to government, there
would be "thuggery, we would be
handcuffed, we will be muzzled
and we would never be able to say
There was frequent desk thump-
ing as he started his extended
Cox then raised a point of order,
claiming that Gopeesingh was
being irrelevant, but the Deputy
Speaker, who was presiding for
absent Speaker Wade Mark, over-
ruled her and told the minister to
Minutes later Rowley got up
again claiming the minister was
"We have a bill before the
"The member is making a whol-
ly irrelevant speech attacking us.
I ask your ruling, please," Rowley
Deputy Speaker Khan said she
had ruled and asked the minister
to resume. Before Gopeesingh could
finish his next statement Rowley
said the minister was being irrel-
evant. Khan told Rowley he would
have his chance to speak in the
debate and told Gopeesingh to con-
What might have been a normal
debate on the Libel and Defamation
(Amendment) Bill turned into a rowdy
tit-for-tat in the Lower House yes-
terday, between Education Minister
Dr Tim Gopeesingh and Opposition
Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
It got personal, with Rowley saying
he did not know Gopeesingh, his friend
from university days, had loose screws.
It began with Gopeesingh s contri-
bution to the bill, which will abolish
malicious defamatory libel.
The bill was piloted by the Attor-
ney General with the intention of
removing the clause that made libel
and defamation a criminal offence. The
Opposition does not support the bill.
Gopeesingh charged the last PNM
administration had used State intim-
idation against the media and traced
its war with the Newsday newspaper.
He said after Suzanne Mills wrote
a column in the Newsday headed "No
Red House for Manning," the PNM
launched an assault on the newspaper,
withholding advertising and refusing
its reporters entrance to press confer-
ence with US President Barack Obama,
during the Commonwealth Heads of
Government in 2009.
He said Point Fortin MP Paula
Gopee-Scoon scolded reporters for not
writing stories on the Government.
Diego Martin Central MP Amery
Browne was the first Opposition MP
to attempt to use the Standing Orders
against Gopeesingh. He said according
to Standing Order 36:6, no member
should mention another member s
But Deputy Speaker Nela Khan shot
this down, saying Gopeesingh was
quoting from a newspaper article.
Emboldened, Gopeesingh proceeded
with obvious relish to trace the Patrick
Manning administration s assault on
the Newsday after an article written
by reporter Andre Bagoo. He charged
that a politician slapped Bagoo s
recorder out of his hand.
Amidst a chorus of protests from
her colleagues, Opposition Whip Mar-
lene McDonald shot to her feet, citing
Standing Order 35:6.
Khan overruled again and allowed
Gopeesingh to continue. He recalled
that recently deceased Newsday edi-
tor-in-chief Therese Mills was hauled
before Parliament s Privileges Com-
mittee with Bagoo to answer 100 ques-
"One of the icons in the world of
journalism, God rest her soul,"
He turned the heat on Opposition
Leader Rowley, charging he had
attacked the media three times.
Rowley, too, used a Standing Order
in a bid to shut up Gopeesingh, saying
he was imputing improper motives.
"I am seeking your protection," he
appealed to Khan. Khan stood her
ground in defence of Gopeesingh and
ended up in a small row with Rowley.
"Are you overriding the Standing
Order?" he asked, breaching protocol
by remaining on his feet while the
Deputy Speaker was standing.
"Member, please have your seat,"
Khan said sternly.
The Opposition had been carefully
timing Gopeesingh and when they
judged he had gone a few seconds
beyond his speaking time, they protest-
"Sit down, please," Gopee-Scoon
Rowley rose to put the Hansard
record straight. He said Gopeesingh
had painted the Government s rela-
tionship with the media as lovable,
warm and fuzzy and the PNM s as
detrimental and evil.
He charged that a former UNC
administration drove former TV6
Morning Edition host, the Barbadian
journalist Julian Rogers, not just out
of the newsroom but out of the coun-
"The Government also hauled people
before the Privileges Committee several
times for representing the people with
exposes, including the controversial e-
mails. It did not matter whether they
were guilty or not, the Government
was abusing the power of the Privileges
Committee," Rowley said.
He recalled the UNC had issued a
public directive to boycott the Guardian
after former editor-in-chief Jones P.
Madeira wrote an article headlined
Then he got personal with
Gopeesingh, saying he and Gopeesingh
had some good days at the Mona Cam-
pus in Jamaica, played cricket together
and ate meals together. He said he even
visited Gopeesingh s house and when
the PNM wanted him to run for the
Fyzabad seat, it was he (Rowley) who
had made the recommendation.
"What happened to him? I didn t
know he had some loose screws," Row-
Rowley said it was the UNC the
media were afraid of, and whenever
the PNM was in power, anybody could
say or do anything.
in rowdy tit-for-tat
'Missing MPs' in
rush to vote for
Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley, second from, left, along with his MP's from left, Chief Whip, Marlene Mc
Donald, Donna Cox and NiLueng Hypolite listen attentively to Education Minister, Dr Tim Goopeesingh during
the sitting of Parliament yesterday. PHOTO:ABRAHAM DIAZ
Education Minister Dr Tim
Goopeesingh during his contribution
at the sitting of Parliament,
yesterday. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ
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