The following is a press release by the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute in response to the Government’s suspension of Opposition Leader and Diego Martin West MP, Dr Keith Rowley:
On Wednesday 6 May 2015, The House of Representatives approved a motion to suspend the Leader of the Opposition for the remainder of the Parliamentary session. This action is of grave concern to the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (Transparency).
The practice has always been for the Speaker to refer disciplinary matters which may result in suspension to the Committee of Privileges. This allows for due process in two respects.
It permits matters to be further investigated by the Committee so that the substance of the complaint can be properly delineated. Secondly, it affords natural justice to the parties affected as they are able to defend themselves before the Committee.
By directly suspending the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker and the House effectively bypassed the Committee of Privileges depriving the process of all fairness and legitimacy. This means that the Leader of the Opposition was denied the opportunity of further investigation, legal representation and any minimum standard of due process.
This is crucial in a case in which there are pending investigations outside of Parliament, relating to the same subject matter, which are as yet unresolved.
It is axiomatic that any action by the House in purported discipline of its members must conform to minimum standards of constitutional due process. The actions of the House and Speaker in this matter appear to be in conflict with the rule of law. This conduct falls well below acceptable standards of Parliamentary conduct.
Any finding of misconduct on the part of a member of the House can only properly be made after a transparent and fair process. At minimum this requires the leading of evidence, the opportunity for cross examination, and to put forward a defense.
The sanction of suspension affects not only the Member in question but all the now unrepresented members of his constituency.
There are approximately six weeks left before Parliament is prorogued. Transparency calls on the Speaker of the House in particular and Members of Parliament to observe the accepted rules of the Parliamentary process and thereby safeguard the Parliament and our democracy from actions which may threaten both.