Speaker Annisette-George should follow the very principled example of Justices Wilson and Lambert-Peterson for setting lofty standards and respecting the impartiality of their office. By refusing to recuse herself from parliamentary debates and decisions which directly or indirectly involve her husband Newman George, she has failed to be fair and impartial and continues to fail the House of Representatives as its Speaker.
Last week, High Court Judge Betsy Ann Lambert-Peterson was forced to recuse herself from hearing the challenge of the constitutionality of the T&T Revenue Authority Act when it was revealed that her husband Gilbert Peterson SC, is the personal lawyer, close friend and golfing partner of Prime Minister Keith Rowley and has represented Dr. Rowley in several court matters. He is also chairman of the Legal Aid Advisory Authority and the Telecommunications Authority.
As well as Judge Lambert-Peterson, Court of Appeal Justice Maria Wilson was forced to recuse herself hearing a matter filed in 2017 by the Estate Management and Business Development Company Limited (EMBD) against several individuals and entities including former Housing Minister and Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal. Justice Wilson revealed that it had just come to her attention that her brother, Attorney Fulton Wilson, was a member of the EMBD’s board of directors from 2015 to 2021.
House Speaker Brigid Annisette-George should follow the very principled example of these two Judges both for setting lofty standards and respecting the impartiality of their office.
Annisette-George, a former PNM Attorney General has refused to recuse herself from parliamentary debates and decisions which directly or indirectly involve her husband Newman George.
Annisette-George must adopt a position consistent with the highest moral principles of integrity and impartiality set by Justices Wilson and Lambert-Peterson.
Her husband Newman George is a significant beneficiary of patronage from the Executive by virtue of his positions as Chairman or Director on numerous State Boards including:
1. Chairman, Guaracara Refining Company, (Monthly remuneration: $6,500 + $1,000 travelling)
2. Chairman, Paria Fuel Trading Company (Monthly remuneration: $6,500 + $1,000 travelling)
3. Chairman, East Pos Development Company (Monthly remuneration: $8,000 + $1,000 travelling)
4. Director, Trinidad Petroleum Holdings (TPHL) (Monthly remuneration: $5,000 + $500 travelling)
5. Director, Heritage Petroleum Company (Monthly remuneration: $3,200 + $500 travelling)
6. Director, Housing Development Corporation (Monthly remuneration: $5,000 + $500 travelling)
(SOURCE: RESPONSE TO WRITTEN QUESTION NO 18 IN THE HoR TO THE MINISTER OF FINANCE, NOV 10, 2021)
How then can Speaker Annisette-George not recuse herself from all debates or decisions in Parliament which involve her husband, directly or indirectly. This despite the Opposition raising this glaring conflict of interest earlier this year and citing a number of authorities on parliamentary procedures to support their position.
Annisette-George just flippantly indicated that she “noted” their objections but took no further action.
According to Standing Order 2, the Speaker’s word is final in certain cases. Nevertheless, it is important that Parliament operates and manifestly seems to operate on the highest standards of impartiality, accountability and integrity.
As a learned Attorney, Annisette-George must be cognisance of some of the following authorities on this subject matter:
1. UK Parliament: “House of Commons Staff Handbook, Honesty and Avoidance of Conflict of Interest: “A conflict of interest is a situation that has the potential to undermine your impartiality as an employee of the House of Commons Service, due to a clash between your professional interest or the public interest and your own self-interest.”
2. Erskine May’s treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament 25th edition, 2019: “Where a member of the committee, particularly the Chair, has a financial interest which is directly affected by a particular inquiry, or considers that a personal interest may reflect upon the work of the committee or its subsequent report, they should stand aside from the committee proceedings relating to it.”
3. Robert’s Rules of Order (i.e. parliamentary procedure) state: “It is a general rule that no one can vote on a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest.”
Recusal normally occurs when a Minister, Director or someone in a decision-making process has a conflict of interest or prejudice concerning a particular matter. A conflict of interest is any situation in which financial or other personal considerations may unduly influence his/her director’s judgment.
The Judiciary, as a co-equal branch of Governance, has commendably set a very high bar in terms of recusals.
It is incumbent on the legislative branch to operate on the same high and lofty principles.
Annisette-George has continued to fail the House of Representatives as its Speaker; she has failed to be fair and impartial, enforcing the same rules for the Prime Minister as for any member of the Opposition. Under her Chairmanship, the House of Representatives has lost the impartiality required to sustain its trust and goodwill.
By Capil Bissoon