Opposition actions violated Standing Orders of National Assembly – AG
case challenging NRF Bill deferred to December 9
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC, said the disruptive conduct of the APNU+AFC Members of Parliament during the December 29, 2021, sitting of the National Assembly violated the Standing Orders, which are the rules that govern the National Assembly.
The MPs had formed a chaotic mob that sought to derail the passage of the amendments to the Natural Resource Fund Act of 2019 as they were being presented by the Senior Minister within the Office of the President, Dr Ashni Singh.
The Standing Orders state that an MP present in the assembly “shall maintain silence while another MP is speaking and shall not interrupt, except by these standing orders”.
Subject to those standing orders, no MP is allowed to interrupt another, except by rising on a point of order, when the speaking MP resumes his or her seat and the interrupting MP brings to note a point of concern and submits it to the Speaker or Chairman for decision, or to elucidate some matter raised by the speaking MP in the course of his or her speech, granted that they are willing to resume their seat and the interrupting MP is called upon by the Speaker.
The attorney general highlighted this following the trial of the opposition’s challenge to the validity of the NRF Bill on Wednesday after the legislation was passed last year.
APNU+AFC Chief Whip, Christopher Jones, took the stand at the High Court to give his account of the events that transpired on December 29.
Under cross-examination by the attorney general, he testified that on the date in question, despite the Speaker of the House, Manzoor Nadir, instructing Dr. Singh to commence with the second reading of the amendments to the NRF Act, the majority of APNU+AFC MPs caused a commotion in direct violation of the standing orders, to prevent the bill from being read.
“[Christopher] Jones began to testify today…. He confirmed that the Speaker is in charge of the National Assembly under the standing orders, he confirmed that the Speaker is responsible for maintaining order in the assembly, and he confirmed that the Speaker’s ruling must be obeyed by members of parliament. He then agreed with me that the Speaker rejected his application for the matter of the bill to be taken to the Select Committee,” the attorney general explained, in his recap of the trial.
MP Jones had also agreed that opposition MPs stood in defiance of the speakers in their seats, debating the speaker’s ruling, and proceeded to exit their seats without the permission of the speaker and descend into the hall of the National Assembly in what he deemed a ‘protest’.
This involved shouting, marching, and blowing whistles.
Jones further confirmed that this went on for some time, despite the speaker being forced to suspend the National Assembly for some time. However, he denied recollection of the speaker citing opposition MPs for their conduct at the time.
“He said that he did that for several minutes. He said that, as Dr. Ashni Singh continued to speak, they then approached him and gathered very close to him. He agreed that during that period the speaker kept telling them to take their seats and they ignored him. He also agreed that the government members, because the opposition was getting very close to Dr. Singh, and was surrounding him, the government members then came and barricaded Dr. Singh as he was speaking,” Minister Nandlall recounted.
Jones had then confirmed, still, under cross-examination, that opposition MPs then grabbed the ceremonial mace and hauled it away from its place. He also agreed that a tug-o-war ensued between opposition MPs and parliamentary staff, to have the mace returned to its place.
The commotion continued out of the assembly, where it was alleged that a parliamentary member of staff was dragged along the floor by opposition MPs in their refusal to release the mace.
When the mace was returned, it was damaged, and as such, a replica of the mace was utilised to allow for the passage of the bill.
The opposition, however, is now contending that the passing of the bill to amend the NRF Act was illegal on several grounds, including that government did not adequately consult on the bill, that the opposition was not permitted to speak on the bill, and that the bill was passed without the proper mace being in place.
The continuation of the trial has been deferred to December 9, 2022, at 09:00 hrs.