Speaker adjourns budget debate amid opposition protest for Manickchand apology

House Speaker Raphael Trotman was forced to prematurely adjourn the budget debate yesterday after APNU parliamentarians created a ruckus to prevent Minister of Education Priya Manickchand from speaking as they demanded an apology over remarks she made in reference to the father of former member Jaipaul Sharma.

Members of Parliament (MPs) of the main coalition banged on their desks as Manickchand rose to make her contribution to the debate. “Apology to Sharma! Apology to Sharma” the members chanted even as Trotman kept calling for order in the house. AFC MPs had also staged a walkout when Trotman announced it was time for the Minister to make her contribution.

Trotman was forced to suspend the sitting for close to an hour after which he returned and said that there “was no narrowing of the issue.”

“I met with the Chief Whips of the two parties and Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs to see if the issues of one side of the house can be known and if known dealt with. At the end of it, it was reported by the opposition Chief Whip and confirmed by the government Chief Whip that there has been no narrowing of the issue…This protest is as much as it is against the chair as it is against the minister,” he explained.

He invited the minister to speak twice and each time the MPs prevented her from speaking. In the end, he said that the sitting would be adjourned for Monday afternoon. “Apology for what? Sharma get charge with rape,” Attorney General Anil Nandlall shouted as the sitting was adjourned. PPP/C Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, meanwhile, also sought to move a motion that Manickchand be allowed to speak.  “Everyone stand,” Teixeira said and her government colleagues followed suit.

CN Sharma is before the court on statutory rape charges and during the debate on Tuesday, while APNU MP Volda Lawrence was explaining that more needed to be done to assist young women who were victims of sexual assault, including statutory rape, Manickchand suggested that she ask APNU member Sharma. The Speaker had banned her from participating in the debate for not apologising to the younger Sharma but he subsequently rescinded the ban after saying he found that her remarks were directed at the senior Sharma and not the member in the House. The younger Sharma has since resigned from the National Assembly over the insult.

At an emergency press conference immediately after the adjournment, Manickchand said it was rather unfortunate that things had gotten to this stage. “Heckles happen all the time in every Parliament…I could not have expected that one line with seven words would attract so much attention from anyone,” she said. “…I said that I was not speaking or referring to Jaipaul Sharma or any member of the house…If you listen to the recording you won’t even really hear me,” she added.

The younger Sharma, who ‎demanded an apology from the minister after her comment on Tuesday, told reporters after he had announced his resignation that he felt the PPP/C would use the issue involving his father to damage the main opposition coalition.

There were two speakers left to present last evening, APNU MP James Bond and PPP/C Member Manzoor Nadir. The debate is to continue on Monday.

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