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Political death penalties

Published: 
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Public Affairs

The lights were on in the House of Representatives yesterday. But not everybody was at home.
(In the physical sense) these included Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, PP MP Suruj Ram- bachan and PNM MP Marlene McDonald. Persad-Bissessar and Ramba-chan are at the Caricom intersessional meeting in Grenada. McDonald, according to House Speaker Wade Mark, was unwell.
It was a different story on Wednesday when the House was set to continue death penalty debate.
The lights were off and most everyone was “home.”

The chamber had been plunged into darkness as Speaker Mark started the opening prayer that day.
Mark continued praying. But the power supply failed to be touched by divine appeal. Darkness pervaded for an hour until the situation was rectified. PP MP Jack Warner, hawk-eyed for political opportunities, made the best of the moment, laying the blackout at the PNM’s door.  “Shame! Shame.... this is PNM’s legacy!” Warner pronounced. Relieved of debate, all kinds of activities took place in the darkness.
PP’s Roodal Moonilal chewed a snack widely.

PP’s Herbert Volney and Stephen Cadiz must have been engaged in some sort of hair product conversation since Volney was seen (generously) stroking his colleague’s hair. PNM MP Colm Imbert crossed to the Government leader’s side—a seat he once occupied—to talk to Moonilal. PNM’s Patrick Manning chatted with PP’s Suruj Rambachan . An ole talk caucus among PP’s Nizam Baksh, Rudy Indarsingh, Nela Khan, Stacy Roopnarine and Jairam Seemungal was in progress on the backbench.
Halfway into the unscheduled “break,” everybody got bored enough to return to their seats and quietly attend to various tasks, looking exactly as if the sitting was in session.

The one-hour “rest” appeared to have energised PP MP Rambachan since his contribution in debate got more points for decibel level than delivery and graphic detail of the child rapes and murders he related.
(So much so that PNM’s Manning, grimacing and covering his ears, signalled to Rambachan that he was into overkill volume-wise.) Rambachan’s accusations against the PNM irked even mild-mannered PNM MP Pat McIntosh, who jumped to her feet twice in protest. Speaker Mark maintained a deadpan—somewhat robotic—refrain of “Your objection is not sustained” as PNM attempts against Rambachan continued.

Death bill headed for defeat

For all the Government’s sound and fury on the death penalty legislation in two marathon debate sessions, the bill seems headed for defeat when its final leg—committee stage—climaxes on Monday.
This final stage and any division call therein will test the Opposition’s strength in the Parliament since the Government requires two Opposition votes, in addition to its 29, for the special three-quarters majority needed to pass the bill. The PNM is standing firm on its position that Government should redraft the bill, removing sections seeking to entrench it in the Constitution and implement the timeframe for execution stipulated by the Privy Council in the Pratt and Morgan case. Since the PNM is seeking withdrawal of the bill, the Opposition will be unable to be part of any joint select team that may be mandated to examine the bill.

If the bill fails in Monday’s vote, Government has six months in which it can be returned to the Parliament, Government officials said. Superficial arguments by each side regarding who supported the death penalty (or not) in or out of government may have a tied result. However debate on the death penalty as deterrent as opposed to non-disincentive may indeed hinge on the State’s ability to apprehend culprits in the first place before the sentence can be implemented. With defeat looming, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan began plugging Government’s defence at Thursday’s Government media briefing. Noting major concessions Government has made to the Opposition, Ramlogan predicts dire poli- tical consequences for the PNM if Opposition support was withheld. Same could apply to the Government which has banked on the bill as a pivotal part of its anti-crime thrust. And image therein. But Government still has the convenient edge of blaming the PNM for future crime sans death penalty (as Ramlogan has signalled).

Politically correct noises from Government on the crime issue echoed this week in the emotive matter of Daniel Guerra’s death when Persad-Bissessar shed tears. (The PM has however put herself in the position of possibly being viewed askance if she does not apply same in the case of every other missing child henceforth. Particularly in Opposition seats.) Persad-Bissessar’s frontal role in initiating Defence Force patrols in “hot spot” areas may heighten her stocks as Caricom’s crime committee chairman at Caricom’s intersessional meeting However, regional states which look to T&T as the region’s leader may still harbour concerns on T&T’s lack of pace on curbing the crime situation. Also, regarding T&T’s security situation following disbanding of various security agencies, the firestorms which have erupted over Persad-Bissessar’s handling of recent issues within these divisions and recent police protests.
Yesterday in the House, Government and Opposition continued quarrelling about the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA), the handling of files under each other’s tenure, plus past and present SIA issues. PP’s Tim Gopeesingh found himself hamstrung from attacking Manning by the same ruling Mark had cautioned PNM’s Keith Rowley with, when Rowley went after the Prime Minister recently.
 
Crossed signals within COP

While COP MPs—Prakash Ramadhar, Anil Roberts, Lincoln Douglas and Rodger Samuel—have toed PP’s party line in death penalty debate, some members of COP’s executive want a referendum on the issue. The gaps between COP members in Government and COPers outside that circle regarding the legislation serves again to underscore the party’s own imbalanced situation within in the coalition Government. The sensitivity by some COP senior officials regarding the party’s place in the Partnership would only have been furthered after Tuesday’s statement by Independent Senator Subhas Ramkhelawan. Speaking about third parties, Ramkhelawan said: “In any event they (COP) are not in power.

They’re a party in power but they are not the leading light in the administration,” COP deputy leader Robert Mayers said Wednesday that Ramkhelawan—a former COP treasurer—was saying what he’d already articulated. “...And was criticised for,” Mayers added, noting condemnation by colleagues Ramadhar and Roberts. “I wait to see if Mr Ramkhela-wan will also be criticised. But I don’t know if he’s still a member,” Mayers said. COP deputy leader Wendy Lee Yuen, who says COP parliamentary caucuses are held, said talks on the death penalty issue were not concluded. Nor has a second meeting of Partnership chairmen been convened following the first in January, she added.

Lee Yuen said the executive was asked to wait until leaders received the minutes of that meeting. None has been forthcoming, she confirmed. That meeting will have to be after Carnival since UNC chairman Warner is overseas next week. Lee Yuen said, “You must develop a process for dialogue and if relevant persons are delaying this, then we’re no closer to getting on with the process of dealing with governance. “We promised the public participation and when, for instance, these bills come to the Parliament, your MPs need to get public feedback.” Lee Yuen added, “Instead you now have 41 MPs voting without feedback from the people, much as we had before. One cannot assume a majority position by MPs is a majority position by the people, which is why we say this issue is worthy of referendum.” 

Lee Yuen’s referendum stance—also held by COP vice chairman Vernon de Lima—wasn’t articulated by COP MPs like Roberts in debate. Roberts said, “The vice chairman is confusing himself and citizens. Referendum isn’t part of T&T’s law. That’s why our platform promised to examine referendum and other issues in constitutional reform. “It makes no sense now to call for referendum on the death penalty when referendum doesn’t exist.” Saying he agreed with Ramkhe-lawan, Roberts added: “What we are also includes disjointed positions presented by one or two individuals who continue espousing positions without proper information...  and then there are deputy leaders who are just shooting their mouths off. It shows that we in COP need leadership.” Roberts said there’s been a positive response to his hint about contesting COP’s leadership when that position becomes open—by July—and “when the bell rings, I’ll ring it back,” Roberts added.

New face of PNM exec
Government wasted no time capitalising on opportunities for attack provided by the PNM’s upcoming internal election. Picong flew in the House as early as last week Friday night’s session, hours before the PNM’s nominees were presented last Saturday. PP’s Warner, speaking on a motion by PNM’s Colm Imbert, was prompted by PM Persad-Bissessar that Imbert was campaigning. “Yes, he campaigning!” Warner echoed. Warner was still at it in the House on Wednesday.  On a question regarding the Point Fortin highway from PNM’s Gopee-Scoon, Warner said: “...This would be done in conjunction with the Point Fortin MP, who has no aspirations for political office in PNM’s  elections.”  The face of PNM’s new executive—including past ministers and PNM youth—has began shaping up since five nominees were unopposed. Unopposed are former Senator Mariano Browne (treasurer), former minister Neil Parsanlal (education officer), former Senator Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing (youth officer female), temporary Senator Daniel Dookie (assistant general secretary), and Joyce Bodden (welfare officer).
 


...R part of the price...

• UNC MP Chandresh Sharma’s new “toy” in the House is a glass coaster which he con-verted to a mini tassa, accompanying PP MPs’ desk-thumping of approval.

n ...Sharma, though, appears to have no idea his novel “instrument” comes over as a harsh rattle of a din, obscuring any remarks on the floor.

n Was it yea or nay? Did PNM’s Manning really side with Government in a House vote yesterday? Or was it just Carnival humour?

n Then again, PNM Senator Fitzgerald Hinds, at Tuesday’s Senate, pounded his desk along with Government senators who desk-thumped approval of PP Subhas Panday’s announce-ment that Government had answered all agen-da questions.

• “Point Fortin—how come I ent hearing you at all?” PP’s Lincoln Douglas’ query to PNM’s Paula Gopee-Scoon as PP’s Gopeesingh waded into the PNM yesterday.

• Douglas then proceeded to hear from Gopee-Scoon. Personally. At length.

• PP MP Gopeesingh’s shot at PNM division had unexpected feedback yesterday when he attempted “reminding” MPs their former leader had “tapped” their phones.

• “You could prove dat?!”—PNM’s Imbert.
“ ...How you know that”—Imbert again.
“Bring the evidence...!” MP Donna Cox.

• Gopeesingh was determined however: “Words can’t express the feelings of those who’ve had their privacy (sic) tapped,” he ploughed on.

• On the last note: Independent Senator Subhas Ramkhelawan’s quote from Benjai on Tuesday, will be echoed in a week by everyone else who is “...a Trini.”