Trinidad Guardian: Former House Speaker Occah Seapaul is contemplating legal action against Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for allegations made by him that she was placed under house arrest in 1995 because she had publicly declared she was going to suspend other government members of Parliament following the suspension of Diego Martin Central MP Ken Valley, thereby reducing the government’s majority in the Parliament.
Rowley told the media last Thursday “we were not going to allow Speaker Seapaul to remove the mandate of a government that we earned from an election.”
He explained that “she took it on herself to reduce the government majority so that the Government would fall. She suspended Ken Valley and said the next time the Parliament reopens, she would suspend, me (Rowley), (Wendell) Motley and (Keith) Sobion.
“We took action as a government to protect ourselves from being suspended from Parliament by a Speaker who had gone rogue,” he added.
But Seapaul is denying she ever indicated to anyone she had planned further suspensions following the suspension of Valley.
She told the GML Enterprise Desk: “Dr Rowley is going to be very hard pressed to find any evidence of such an indication or declaration because I never made any such declaration and I never intended to put anybody out of the House.”
She said it was only when Dr Rowley spoke last week that “I realised what motivated then, this untruth that I was going to move these men out.”
She laughed heartily when she reflected on Rowley saying she planned to remove Wendell Mottley. She asked: “How his name come up here? I can’t imagine how Dr Rowley came up with these names. I don’t know... somebody, somewhere concocted a story. I had absolutely no quarrel with these four people. Why would I have put them out of the House?”
Seapaul recalled that prior to the state of emergency and her house arrest Sobion and then education Minister Augustus Ramrekersingh had come to her and told her the Prime Minister wanted her to vacate the chair.
She said: “I had very good relationships with both of them. I told them I am sorry I am not stepping down because I did nothing wrong.”
Seapaul is of the view that the then prime minister Patrick Manning who went to the acting President Emmanuel Carter to declare a limited state of emergency acted on the basis of hearsay.
She said: “You don’t willy-nilly put people out of the House. It is now abundantly clear to me that whatever they went and presented to the President for the issue of the warrant were false allegations based on false premises.”
She said she had never been able to defend herself because everything that was said about her back then was under the cloak of parliamentary privilege “but 20 years later he is still perpetuating these falsehoods against me again. These are lies. A complete fabrication by person or persons for whatever means.”
Seapaul said she was now weighing her legal options because “20 years ago I could not have taken action because everything was said in Parliament and there was parliamentary privilege but 20 years later they still perpetuating these falsehoods against me. I now have to determine what to do. So I ask for legal redress or leave it to the higher universe for redress?”
Seapaul said she had been left to wonder why the then President did not ask the relevant questions before agreeing to impose a limited state or emergency.
She believes if the substantive president Noor Hassanali was there he would have informed the Prime Minister that one could not act on hearsay evidence.
“As a former judge he would have asked if there was sworn testimony. Is there any affidavit sworn by people saying yes I heard her say she is going to remove them by virtue of this,” she added.
The moves to have her removed, she believed, also stemmed from a court matter involving Victor Jattan.
She said if the then government “had lost confidence in me because of what the magistrate said then they could have moved a motion of no confidence against me. That would have been in order and appropriate,” she added.
AUGUST 11, 1995 REVISITED (HANSARD)
In August 1995 days after the state of emergency the Parliament met to debate the President’s statement on the state of emergency.
Hansard quotes then AG Keith Sobion as saying “the member for St Joseph (Ramrekersingh) and the member for Ortoire/Mayaro (Sobion) were both warned, in no uncertain terms, that the question of their contempt of the Chair was deferred for further consideration.
That was on the occasion when prepared scripts and extensive notes were used in relation to the speaker’s particular problem.
What is clear is that there was a course of action taking place in this Parliament over a period of weeks which led one to the reasonable conclusion that action was being contemplated by the presiding officer against Members of this House and particularly against members sitting on the Government benches.
Sobion said he had no doubt that the President was concerned by what was taking place in the Parliament and had by Section 8(2)(c) of the Constitution, analysed the facts and circumstances which existed and had come to a reasonable conclusion and expressed his view in clear and unambiguous language saying: “As a consequence of these events I was satisfied that the public safety was endangered to an extent that warranted the declaration of a state of public emergency.”
But there was no indication from the Prime Minister or the then AG as to what evidence would have been put to the President to proclaim the state of emergency.
Then opposition leader Basdeo Panday took issue with this, telling the Parliament:
“The President accepts that he is going to act on a possible aberration of the Prime Minister; something that he had a dream about, not evidence.
“Where is the hard, cold evidence that the Speaker intended similarly to apply contempt charges against other Government ministers? Not a shred of evidence has come out in this Parliament today."
Source: www.guardian.co.tt (Rosemarie Sant - GML Enterprise Desk)
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