The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) says that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration used ministerial statements to ensure that its motion did not come up for debate before 5 p.m. during Monday’s meeting of Parliament.
The motion, tabled by Opposition Leader, Godwin Friday, was asking that Parliament establish a broad-based task force to help the government develop policies in response to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monday’s was the third meeting of Parliament for the year, when private members’ business is supposed to take precedent.
However, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves, Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar and Minister of Health Senator Luke Browne, and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, gave lengthy ministerial statements, which saw lawmakers breaking for lunch at 2:15 p.m.
Parliament reconvened at 4:15 p.m., with questions for oral answers being the next agenda items.
The ministerial statements had been preceded by about 90 minutes spent on congratulatory remarks and obituaries.
Speaking on his party’s radio programme on Tuesday, Cummings said the ministers gave “what was supposed to be ministerial statements, to say nothing new, except for one or two points that the finance minister made with respect to the number of persons who have gotten the allowances and with respect to the number of persons who have registered to collect and who have collected and who have not collected…”
He said there was nothing in the ministerial statements “that required the minister to take parliamentary time to lecture on things that everybody knew well in advance”.
Cummings, who is chair of the NDP, said that it was an old page out of the government’s playbook on a day when opposition business should take precedence.
“In this the 19th year, not once was the opposition allowed to debate the motion on this day,” he said.
“They have said on so many occasions that they needed time for this and time for that. On more than one occasion we decided, look we will not ask any questions on this sitting to make sure we have enough time. What they do, as they did yesterday, all of the ministers got up and spoke and were supposed to do ministerial statements and took up all the time and come 5 o’clock, the regulations require that you can’t go on.”
Cummings said the government, which he described as “rogue elements” could have varied the rules to allow debate of the opposition motion.
“But you know, like how the devil ‘fraid holy water, so it is they’re afraid of the motion that Dr. Friday brought before parliament on our behalf.”
He said that the motion was calling on the government to look at “how it is using the state resources in this relief, so-called relief, trying to get them to account for the monies that have been allocated to various things, trying to get them to put the money where the pain is.”
Cummings said that the government, however, does not want to hear about those issues.
“Because as far as they’re concerned, COVID is an opportunity to use state resources, including those coming from overseas as grants and as loans, and our tax money to pick out whom they want to give assistance as a political favour for which they expect a vote.
“In other words, using COVID to campaign openly, blatantly, boldly with no accountability. They have thus far refused … even as we supported the supplementary appropriation bill, to assist people” Cummings said.
He said that the opposition had asked the government to set up a bipartisan committee of the house to oversee the implementation of the EC$69 million COVID-19 stimulus package.
“In other Caribbean countries, notably Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, the mechanism for people accessing this relief is very clear; extremely clear. Everybody knows what are the conditions, how you can apply and the process is open and very transparent, the NDP chairman said.