?Last Saturday, in this space, we described as "extraordinary" and a speech that "marked a watershed in the life of T&T's Parliament," the 53-minute statement by Prime Minister Patrick Manning outlining the local relationship between church and state, his own adoption of born-again Christian values and his defence of the right of the "prophetess" of a tiny congregation, who he acknowledged is his spiritual adviser, to build a huge $30 million place of worship in remote Heights of Guanapo. Given the context of last week's events–which are destined to have serious political, financial and spiritual repercussions in this country for years to come and the fact that the story of the "prophetess" and the Prime Minister is still unfolding–we maintain out description of Mr Manning's speech. But how then should yesterday's events in Parliament be described? With a little more than a week of experience under her belt as the Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar is handed one of the biggest political gifts that it is possible to imagine in the current scenario.
In a surprising move given his previous denials, House Speaker Barendra Sinanan clears the way for Mrs Persad-Bissessar to lead a debate on an issue that has tortured T&T's public affairs space for more than two years: The procurement practices of Canada-born Trinidadian national, Calder Hart, at the state-owned, special purpose company Udecott. The Opposition would have come to the debate armed with what amounts to, in a local context, weapons of mass destruction: First, the still-unproven, but decidedly juicy documents which the Congress of the People allegedly received from Malaysia which claim, in effect, that Mr Hart granted a $368 million contract to relatives of his wife. Secondly, as the debate was supposed to have been held on the adjournment of the normal session of Parliament, Opposition MPs would have had sight of the seemingly balanced and certainly well-researched and thoughtful judgment of High Court judge Mira Dean-Armorer.
That judgment, which does great credit to the local judiciary and surely places Ms Dean-Armorer in line for swift promotion, came down against Udecott's accusation that the entire $120 million Uff Commission of Enquiry should have been quashed because all but one of the commissioners were biased against Mr Hart. The judgment paves the way for Prof John Uff, QC, to deliver his report to President George Maxwell Richards. Prof Uff himself did not escape unscathed, feeling the sting of the judge's lash as he was chastised, after she applied certain legal tests of bias, for several counts of "negligent authoritarianism" which were "regrettable but falling short of the attitude of mind against Mr Hart and Udecott." The motion would have been debated but for the immature antics of the former Opposition Leader, Basdeo Panday, and his new best friend (but up until recently his sworn enemy), Kelvin Ramnath, who refused to stand up when the Speaker called for a division.
T&T's Parliament has never before witnessed members of the Opposition voting against a substantive motion as opposed to a procedural one. As the weekly goings-on in Parliament take on the bizarre and unexpected plot twists and backroom intrigues of the American sitcom The Young and the Restless in its heyday, one is only left to ask, in breathless anticipation: What's next? Should we tune in next week?