Bacchanal Reigns as Parliament Opens

The President of Trinidad and Tobago George Maxwell Richard prepares to address the House
The President of Trinidad and Tobago George Maxwell Richard
prepares to address the House Reporters
Event Date: December 17, 2007
Posted: December 19, 2007

The ninth term of Parliament opened at the Red House on Monday 17th December, 2007, as the newly elected Members of Parliament took their oaths in the Lower House. Even though there were new faces on both the opposition and government side, there was little indication that this signaled a change in the politics.

With Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj in his reincarnation in the House as Chief Whip, sitting on his right was Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday and UNC financier-turned-MP Jack Warner on his left, the seating order gave some indication as to the pecking order in the ranks. Kamla Persad Bissessar, who was the Opposition Leader in the previous term, sat quietly to the left of Jack Warner. On the government side, Colm Imbert replaced former MP Ken Valley as leader of Government business. For the many new and inexperienced MPs it would be somewhat of a heated induction into their new role as Parliamentarians.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning walked over to the opposition side to shake hands with all the Opposition MPs and Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday shook his hand then quickly made a dramatic show of wiping off his hands with a white handkerchief. The House erupted in laughter at Panday's theatrics.

As expected, Barendra Sinanan was elected as House Speaker for the second term, despite loud murmurs of disapproval from the Opposition. Pennelope Beckles was also elected at the Deputy Speaker.The new Opposition Chief Whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj voiced that the Opposition had not been consulted in selecting the Speaker with the Government countering that as Barendra Sinanan had served the previous Parliamentary term, they saw no need to consult the Opposition. Before members of the Judiciary, invited guests and the media, the government MPs took their oaths of allegiance and shook hands with House Speaker Barendra Sinanan before returning to their seats. However, as the opposition MPs took their oaths, starting with Chief Whip Ramesh Maharaj and Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday, they all refused to shake the hand of the Speaker with the exception of Winston Peters and Nizam Baksh.

Also present in Parliament was the President of Trinidad and Tobago George Maxwell Richards, who addressed members of the Lower and Upper House. In his wide-ranging speech, President Richards spoke strongly about the state of the economy, crime and the need for a stronger environmental awareness. Using the Global Competitiveness Report 2007-2008 as a reference, Richards said that the report suggests that Trinidad and Tobago, which stands midway in the rankings of the Latin American and Caribbean countries assessed, is making good progress towards its goal of developed country status, but much remains to be done. President Richards also had some stern words for the Parliamentarians as he reminded them of their responsibilities to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. "True statesmanship," he remarked, "means the promotion of national character as the one thing which matters and is, therefore, the application on the grand scale of the principles of absolute morality; what falls short of this is opportunism masquerading as statesmanship."

Addressing the House, Prime Minister Manning reveled in the power of the PNM's parliamentary majority by warmly congratulating Barendra Sinanan on his re-election as Speaker. He expressed that honeymoon period or not, the Government is ready, willing and able to discharge its responsibilities. The Prime Minister emphasized that in the country proceeding towards the goal of Vision 2020, a balance would have to be struck between public consultation and the country achieving the Vision 2020 targets in a timely manner.

Chief Whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj was in a fiery mood as he responded by criticizing the lack of consultation by the Government, saying that the selection of a Speaker, who needs to have the characteristics of authority and impartiality, warranted consultation. He further slammed the Government for not making a statement on crime, saying that everyone is unsafe. Ramesh pressed the Speaker to answer why the motion to debate the crime issue, brought by the UNC, was not being addressed, with the Speaker responding that he (Ramesh) can consult him in his chambers. Ramesh retorted that he was not going to, as the house erupted in chaos. The House Speaker called for order, and with the PNM's majority in Parliament, the House was quickly adjourned.

Opening of the Ninth Parliament of Trinidad & Tobago in pictures:

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