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Up today, down tomorrow: Shah throws a wary eye on the new House Speaker

I switched on my television last Friday just in time to see and hear a stern-looking House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George say to former minister and current MP for Caroni Central Bhoe Tewarie, “You have three seconds to wrap up… starting now!”

Photo: Caroni MP Bhoe Tewarie. (Courtesy Planning.Gov.TT)
Photo: Caroni Central MP Bhoe Tewarie.
(Courtesy Planning.Gov.TT)

I did a double-take, wondering if I hadn’t mistakenly tuned in to the Western channel rather than Parliament, some wild-west movie in which the “fastest” gunman in town gives an impossible ultimatum to his adversary.

But the be-robed Speaker confirmed that I was indeed watching the Budget debate in Parliament,  and, sporting a Lee Van Cleef look, she repeated: three seconds!

Bhoe seemed confused, not knowing what to say or do, when Ms George again delivered her ultimatum, by which time I calculated almost three minutes had elapsed. Tewarie took his seat, muttering something about being “unable to function in this House under the PNM”, and I wondered what on earth I was witnessing.

Now, I admit I had not listened to all the proceedings before that “gun talk”, catching some of what Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had said earlier, so I have no idea what cardinal parliamentary sin Bhoe committed to warrant such treatment.

It seemed to me, though, if he had merely exceeded his allotted time, the Speaker could have simply said, “The speaking time of the Honourable Member has expired.”

Photo: New Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George. (Copyright Guardian.co.tt)
Photo: New Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George.
(Copyright Guardian.co.tt)

 

That, while on her feet, would have signalled that he remain seated and another MP be invited to make his contribution.

That showdown at high-afternoon, which came amidst a continuous cacophony that accompanied all contributions on both sides of the House, set me thinking: is Parliament bottoming out? Have we reached the nadir, a reflection of the lawlessness in wider society, a complete breakdown in discipline that even children are copying?

Have we lost all sense of civility?

I can well imagine that Speaker Bridgid (if I may take the liberty to so address the lady) must be disturbed by the street-market-type behaviour that many members of the now not-so-august Chamber display, and she wants to stamp her authority early o’clock.

But she can do that with some class that will distance her from, say, Wade Mark, who was the worst Speaker in the history of our Parliament, if not the world.

I shall not recount Mark’s many sins, his hostility towards the opposition and partiality towards those who elevated him to high office.

Photo: Former Speaker of the House and current UNC Senator Wade Mark.
Photo: Former Speaker of the House and current UNC Senator Wade Mark.

To underscore my assessment of his stewardship, I need recall only two injustices over which he presided.

He allowed Vemella Alleyne-Toppin to slander then Opposition Leader Keith Rowley in the vilest way without so much as questioning the veracity of what she said. Indeed, even if what she said had an iota of truth, Parliament, with its privileges, was not the place to do it.

Then there was the motion to suspend Rowley from the House that he entertained, a PP-injustice that came to haunt them when Rowley returned to the Chamber triumphantly as Prime Minister.

Mark did not counsel his comrades that it was an abuse of their parliamentary majority.

So the Speaker Ms Bridgid should not seek to emulate is Mark, who, I might add, will have treated a PNM member the way she treated Bhoe.

As someone who has taken a keen interest in the politics of this country for almost half a century, and who was an MP for five years when the legendary Arnold Thomasos was Speaker, I can say without fear of contradiction that the impartiality of the presiding officer, be it Speaker or President of the Senate, is a myth.

The great Thomasos was as biased as one could expect, given that he was appointed by the PNM from its ranks, and was fiercely loyal to Dr Eric Williams.

Photo: Former Speaker of the House Arnold Thomasos.
Photo: Former Speaker of the House Arnold Thomasos.

But he knew how to appear to be impartial, which is what mattered for me, and I imagine others. The one occasion on which he was patently unfair to me resulted in the only time in his career that he was roundly cussed.

But he was man enough to apologise to me, as I did to him: ask Kamaluddin Mohammed, the only other living witness to that episode.

Opposition members must feel they are being treated fairly, which is as good as it gets for them. In the end, the “ayes” will always have it.

Besides the perception of impartiality, presiding officers, in demanding respect from members, must in turn show them respect.

It is in that context I found Speaker Bridgid’s treatment of Bhoe distasteful.

All members of Parliament, in their interaction with each other, need note that the electorate is unforgiving, changing governments every five years.

Photo: Former Tobago East MP and Minister of the People and Social Development, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin.
Photo: Former Tobago East MP and Minister of the People and Social Development, Vernella Alleyne-Toppin.

Today you are up, tomorrow you are down—as many PP overlords (and ladies) of yesterday still cannot come to terms with.

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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70 comments

  1. I did not hear the comments made to the Member of Parliament for Caroni Central but I certainly heard the comment she made to the Attorney General. At about three to five minutes to go she told him that he had that much more minutes to go inclusive of wrap up. When that time expired she interrupted him and told him his time had expired and he had three seconds to conclude. He thanked her and took his seat.

  2. I saw it as say the same thing to Faris.. I did not get any ill intent, however, when you seem to have treated the words spoken to you by the speaker with disdain, as did Mr. Bhoe Tiwarie, who didn’t even seem to think the extension given prior was meant to wrap up, well I give her all right. She rules the House, she is setting the standards high, follow instructions or feel her wrath.. look she even did the same thing to Dr. Rowley just now

  3. I don’t understand how Shah warns the Speaker when he did not look at the entire presentation. Bhoe was given his 45 mins. to speak. At the end the Speaker made way for him to use the extra ten mins alloted to him. After which he continued to contribute. The Speaker advised him that his time was up and she would give him three seconds to wrap up. During this time he continued to contribute. She rose to her feet and told him he need to wrap up and his three seconds should be to say that he was actually concluding. She told him his three seconds started now. He then ended and sat down, mutter he could not work in this house under this PNM government. What was wrong about what she did? To often Trinis, including media persons speak without sound evidence. That is just unfortunate because we often speak out of context. Get the facts then produce an artivle. The public is becoming more discerning and not to long they will not accept stories that are not supported by evidence. So let’s get it right.

    • It was done to all speakers who exhausted their time and extra time both government and opposition and when granting the extra time she notified them that they were expected to wrap up in that time.

  4. I think he needed to see the entire presentation before commenting. Normally he is objective

  5. People now find their voice. They had none when Wadey was spewing tata in the past

  6. Notice nobody saying anything about the previous holder of the said seat that blatantly lied to the house on occasions to protect his friends….

  7. He judge the woman while admitting he didn’t watch the whole thing. Yet yuh write a whole newspaper article on something that you partially saw. Better than that!

  8. I saw Tewarie’s entire on TV. And at no time did he tried to bully the Speaker. Probably John Joseph was watching a different debate. I think we should give her time to get some experience.

    • Then why didn’t he just shut up?

    • I think that the issue was not so much with Bo but with some interplay with a member on the other side once he had been advised to wrap up. This has been blown out of proportion by Raffick Shah who only turned on the TV when she was giving him the 3 seconds to close.

    • Raf Shah should look at the ending of MP Tewarie’s presentation. If he did he may not have wasted his time in writing what he did in his Express column. I am assuming that Raf Shah does know that YOU TUBE is now been used by the parliamentary channel for on demand video of the budget debate,

  9. Bhoe accustomed to talking and talking, and talking, when he should stop can’t bully this woman!

  10. Raffique where were your voice whn the former speaker was so distasteful and rude to the Parliament all of a sudden every body get their voice an strength back leave the dam woman alone you Hippocrates

  11. Steups! This speaker could do anything to me anytime!

  12. It’s not what you say but how you say it. She must be mindful of these words as Speaker.

  13. I think Bhoe “set her up”. Hum……….

  14. Still as Speaker she must show some measure of decorum. We don’t want another Wade Mark. Come on Bridgid you can do better than that.

    • I agree overall that speakers should stop coming across as schoolteachers. While it is easy to forget that it’s adults we are dealing with, respect should be given to be gotten. Remember it is not what is said, but how! Maybe in the near future a retreat can be held to remind members of the rules and protocols to be observed. And since members know their alloted times and I observe most of them reading from scripts (hope this ends soon) then they can easily do a dry run with a timer and keep their speaking time short and sweet and -dare I say-on point!

  15. You really think Bhoe, with his Parliamentary experience didn’t know what he had to say? Bhoe is a QRC scholar….Pleaze!!

  16. Shah is deceptive and unfair in that he has chastized the Speaker while admitting that he was ignorant of the context in which she made her 3 seconds ruling. Additionally Shah is duplicitous in subtly inviting readers to undermine and condemn the Speaker without us knowing the Standing Order Bhoe breached. Shah has a history behind him; one that I have not forgotten. Nothing he does can surprise me! #canaleopardchangeitsspots?

  17. He is an “speaking ambler”….he would start off in Charlotteville reach to Icarcos…then crawl back to Maracas where he was destined to meet some friends for a lime…..have you ever sat through on of his feature addresses…I have…..it never stays on the topic….he would have to wakeup and realize “whose in charge” and STICK TO THE POINT and take your seat…..

  18. my point IS that bhoe should stick to standards that vernella didnt
    u have x mins
    talk for x mins

  19. Have to say so far i am disappointed with her performance as Speaker especially coming from a legal background. Better than that Bridgid.

  20. With all that was said and done, this article still doesnt tell us what Bhoe infraction was. It is thus impossible to make any conclusions! Without that vital information what is the point of this article?

  21. Not even if she tried very hard. She can never be worse than Wade.

  22. As of September 8th Kyon, standards and expectations have been elevated!

  23. Melville Foster your thoughts…..

  24. This is the same forum where a man was called a rapist and his father was called a rapist?

  25. A lot of damage can be done in two minutes eh. Lol. He might have gotten this one wrong.
    But if he is just interested in the decorum of Parliament then I am willing to say his heart is in the right place.
    Isn’t Raffique as non-partisan as they come?
    We can give someone like that a bit of slack I think. ?

  26. I think the incident came about because of a lack of experience and familiarity with the role of speaker. To be fair, there is no role that I am aware of, that prepares a person to be speaker except extensive parliamentary experience. I don’t think that Annisette-George has much experience in parliament, hence why she seems to miss key moments when she has to say something or perform certain conventions, (like inviting the next MP to speak). I don’t think her slight at Boe was intentional but hopefully she learns to be a better speaker as she goes along.

  27. Place everything in context, Lasana, it took us longer to read his article than it took for that incident to happen. And he still didn’t lay out the full story. Isn’t it important also to speak to the Speaker’s performance in Parliament so far as it relates to this issue? Hes raising concern about the Speaker for something that happened in less than 2 mins? Nope, not on this Sunday…lol

  28. Lol. So why can’t the man make an early point of asking the House Speaker to lift the behaviour of Parliament?
    Nobody wants a return to what transpired before. I see nothing wrong in tackling it early if you feel there is a problem.
    Other columnists can handle some of the other issues this week.

    • Lasana Liburd, the problem is creating a problem where there was none. The problem is in using incomplete information to not just form a judgment, but to impute improper conduct on someone thereby undermining the woman’s professionalism. I seriously object! I too, expected better from Raff.

    • Well, Raffique might have been wrong. We all make mistakes. But you can look at what he was trying to do.
      So he might have misread the situation with honourable intentions.
      I can quicker forgive that than a debater or columnist making a good point with dishonourable intentions.

  29. And seriously, with everything that transpired in Parliament in this budget debate so far, THAT’S the issue that bothers Raffique Shah??? After 2 days of debate that’s the burning national issue??? Come on man, we deserve better than that from him.

    • My sentiments exactly, the wanton corruption, is that what he choose to speak about, when the said Bhoe Teewarie STOOD on his legs whilst the Speaker was on her legs, THAT’S GROSS DISRESPECT, it should have been Wade Mark….. just saying, Im disappointed in Raffique Shah, since his parliamentary life insulting Dr, WILLIAMS was less than exemplary..

  30. I don’t know if I am wrong or if I misunderstand the purpose of the debate but from the contributions I heard members took an opportunity to justify past spending etc. I thought the focus should have been on this budget?

  31. Take it down Shah like you said you didn’t watch the presentation so let the lady do her job….

  32. She did in fact allot the Minister additional time to speak but he instead of doing so was picking fights with the Government side of the bench, at which point she along with the rest of us onlooking public had had ENOUGH. I in fact was hoping she would yell out “sit yoh arse down now!!!” Alas, my dream was shattered by her inane politeness. (Sigh)

  33. Well..I think we all agree that worse than Wade is not really possible!

  34. As I said at the start, Rhona, I didn’t see, so hadn’t enough context – my response begins, “if this WAS what happened….”

  35. Much ado about nothing, IMO… Bhoe’s 10 min extension had already expired, he was warned by the Speaker, but he continued.. That’s when the ‘instruction’ came. She explained later that she simply wanted him to say, ‘that’s the end of my contribution’ or something to that effect. So far this Speaker has been doing a good job in trying to enforce some order, on both sides, in this Parliament. It was a little different to see the Speaker law down the law on Bhoe as she did, but Shah did not fully lay out the context and she has been consistent.

  36. I saw the entire thing. For once I do not agree with Raffique Shah. Bhoe deserved what he got. He was cautioned politely that he had exceeded his time, repeatedly, but he insisted on rambling on. He has treated University staff and students worse. She certainly did not cuss him. No sympathy from me there at all. I find it passing strange that no one commented on the Couva North MP’s repeated slander that Jack Warner is a criminal. Regardless of what we all feel about him, he has not been found guilty in the appropriate jurisdiction of a court of law. Once again, the UNC mouth-pieces are using the cover of parliamentary privilege to malign citizens, unchecked.

    • There are two issues here. The one you cite is relevant, of course; Warner, CRIMINAL THOUGH HE INDISPUTABLY IS (which few know that better than his former parliamentary and FIFA colleagues, with Wired868 among the few!) has not YET been convicted in a court of law and should therefore not be deemed a “white-collar criminal” in the nation’s parliament.
      But the second issue is more germane to Shah’s theme: How is a discussion of Warner’s addressing the TTUTA assembly relevant to a budget debate? Why did Speaker Annisette-George allow Ramona to make this lengthy contribution which, despite my best efforts subsequently I have yet been unable to see on television)?

  37. Didn’t see it but i realise from looking on Saturday the opposition about pushing everyone’s buttons but however if she was indeed unfair she will have to clean up her act and set a better example

  38. The Parliament Channel replays the contribution of members. It might be fair to witness the full exchange.

  39. I actually caught a glimpse of it but missed what happened prior. I can only suggest she over exerted her authority as she had to warn members about noise on more than one occassion. It truly was disrespectful the conduct as when one speaker was on their feet, you saw two others in the back passing a phone back and forth. Wonder why there is so little discipline in our schools? Can you imagine a school field trip to see our members in action?

    • Rubbish! IMO, the Parliament does not in any way set the tone for what happens in our schools. Let’s not delude ourselves. That’s not to condone a lot of the unacceptable behavior in the parliamentary chamber but to give it context. And all around the world parliaments
      are hardly examples of behaviour we want our children to emulate.

  40. That seems to put her on equal footing with PuhDArat, #noRodney, #noRoodi and the gang, if true, though – ent?

  41. No. I didn’t see it either, so I have no context to shape a comment. But if this WAS what happened, then……hmmmmm! I cling to the ideal of a civilized parliament, and this doesn’t sound too healthy!

  42. I didn’t see the incident. Like Arsene Wenger. Lol. Any thoughts Patricia Worrell?

    • Lasana, Mr. Tewarie had completed his 45 minutes and asked for an extension – 10 minutes was allowed. He completed his 10 minutes and the Speaker asked that he wrap up his address. He continued – but showed no signs of wrapping up, so he was asked to kindly ‘wrap up’. He continued and she then stood and said – you have three minutes in which to wrap up – he again continued addressing and that is when she said that he had 3 seconds in which to ‘wrap up’ his address. 3 Seconds is really a very short time – but he had already exceeded his allotted time plus his extra 10 minutes and some!

  43. The real point to be made is how woefully under prepared are these new MPs and Ramona Ramdial. These people are not only poor debaters but they give you the impression they wioll never improve.

  44. Didn’t see what happened. Admits that. Still admonishes based on what he thinks may have happened, rather than getting the facts (which would be quite easy to ascertain). I’m disappointed. Shah is usually much better than this.

  45. Sorry, Raf, you got it wrong this time. By your own admission, you “switched on my television (…) just in time to see and hear a stern-looking House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George say (…) to (…) Bhoe Tewarie, “You have three seconds to wrap up… starting now!”” You should either have used the rewind button on your set or waited for a replay before passing the judgement you have passed here. Bhoe had been duly informed twice before that his time had expired.
    I ‘m not sure I agree with your “stern-faced” description but I’m sure that in my opinion, the current Speaker – I opt to leave your “Ms Bridgid” severely alone-tends to err on the side of tolerance and leniency rather than authoritarianism.
    So let us not rush to judgement. But I confidently assert that she can NEVER turn out to be worse than her predecessor.