Snatching of Speaker’s Mace: Privileges Committee recommends suspension of 8 APNU/AFC MPs

A tug-of-war between APNU+AFC MPs and Parliament Staff after the Opposition Parliamentarians stole the mace from Speaker Manzoor Nadir in December 2021

The Parliamentary Committee of Privileges has recommended the suspension of eight A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Members of Parliament who participated in the infamous Mace grab and disruptions of the National Assembly sitting on December 29, 2021.

The Committee was tasked with considering a Privilege Motion which stated that the eight Opposition Members attempted to prevent the second and third readings of the Natural Resource Fund Bill No 20 of 2021, conducted themselves in a gross disorderly, contumacious, and disrespectful manner, and repeatedly ignored the authority of the Assembly and that of the Speaker, thereby committing contempt and breaches of privileges.

The eight MPs in question are: Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones, Ganesh Mahipaul, Sherod Duncan, Natasha Singh-Lewis, Annette Ferguson, Vinceroy Jordan, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, and Maureen Philadelphia.

After seeking an extension to its one-month timeline to consider the violations committed by the members, the Committee finally completed the report and submitted it to be laid in the National Assembly for debate. The next sitting is slated for Thursday, July 21.

According to the report, the Committee’s findings were based on video recordings, statements by staff of the Parliament Office and the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, eyewitness accounts by other Members of the House, media reporters and the public, both locally and internationally.

Additionally, each Opposition Member was written to and asked to “show cause” why sanctions should not be meted out to them. Their responses were received and considered by the Committee.

With these on hand, the Committee “found that the named Members were in violation of the Standing Orders, established Customs and Practices regarding acceptable behaviour of Members in the Assembly”.

To this end, the Committee determined the appropriate sanction available for the National Assembly to impose is suspension from service in the House.

As a result, the Privileges Committee recommended that Christopher Jones, Ganesh Mahipaul, Sherod Duncan and Natasha Singh-Lewis be suspended for four consecutive sittings each for attempting to prevent the second and third readings of the NRF Bill, and for conducting themselves in a gross disorderly, contumacious, and disrespectful manner, and repeatedly ignoring the authority of the Assembly and that of the Speaker, and thereby committing contempt and breaches of privileges.

Recommendation was also made for MPs Annette Ferguson and Vinceroy Jordan to be suspended for six consecutive sittings each for a similar offence. However, their suspension was higher since the Committee concurred that they had committed “serious violations which were severe and egregious by unauthorisedly removing the Parliamentary Mace from its rightful position in a disorderly fashion, causing damage to the Mace, injuring and assaulting a staff of the Parliament Office, while attempting to remove the Mace from the Chamber”.

Meanwhile, a similar recommendation of suspension for six consecutive sittings was made against Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, whose violations were found to be “severe and egregious with regard to unauthorisedly entering the communication control room of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) and destroying several pieces of audio-visual equipment, being public property”.

In addition, MP Maureen Philadelphia is also facing a suspension recommendation for six consecutive sittings over her severe and egregious violations, whereby she “verbally assaulted a staff of the Parliament Office within the precincts of the National Assembly”.

The Privileges Committee is chaired by Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir, and its members comprise of both Government and Opposition MPs.

Representing Government are: Prime Minister, Brigadier (Ret’d) Mark Phillips; Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC; Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister, Gail Teixeira; Culture, Youth and Sports Minister, Charles Ramson; and Sanjeev J Datadin.

On the APNU/AFC Opposition’s side are: Khemraj Ramjattan; Roysdale Forde, SC; Geeta Chandan-Edmond, and David A Patterson.

It is understood that the Opposition Members did not participate in the last three of the five Committee meetings. Hence, the other members including the Chairman went ahead and concluded the report with the recommendations for suspension of the eight Opposition MPs in question.

The report is expected to the laid in the National Assembly next Thursday, however, that is it a Private Members’ Day – meaning, the day is set aside for the Opposition’s business to be dealt with. They have three motions on the agenda.

But according to Minister Teixeira, Government is hoping to start the debate on the Report afterwards on Thursday.

She noted that this is the first time, in recent years, that the Privileges Committee has managed to conclude a matter before it.

“But it’s good in a sense that this is a very serious matter and the Committee was able to rule and make a decision, of course by majority,” the Parliamentary Affairs Minister stated.