The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is preparing to move motions seeking the referral of the Alliance for Change (AFC) parliamentarians Khemraj Ramjattan and Catherine Hughes to the Privileges Committee.
The sudden move comes in wake of Speaker of the House Raphael Trotman’s ruling to have Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh sent to the committee, based on a motion by APNU member Carl Greenidge and seconded by Ramjattan, over the minister’s spending of $4.5 billion without the approval of the National Assembly.
At the PPP’s weekly press briefing yesterday, General Secretary Clement Rohee said the party was awaiting a response from the Speaker in relation to a letter sent indicating its intention to bring the two motions via the party’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira.
In an invited comment, Trotman said, “Last week I saw for the first time two letters that were styled as Motions [both are in the name of Teixeira] seeking to have the Honourable Members Khemraj Ramjattan and Catherine Hughes referred to the Privileges Committee. The accusation against both is that they committed unethical violations as both have/had conflict of interest issues which influenced their decisions with respect to the Amaila Falls project, the Marriott Hotel project and the Specialty Hospital project.”
He added, “As is the case with all motions that are received, I handed them to the Clerk for his input and advice regarding the decision I have to make as to whether or not to refer the matters to the Privileges Committee… When I have received the advice of the Clerk on both matters I will consider it in totality and make my decision accordingly.”
Rohee stated that Ramjattan had voted in favour of the Specialty Hospital in 2012, at which point he was the legal representative for one of the companies bidding, Fedders Lloyd. However, in 2013, when that company was no longer affiliated with the project, Ramjattan voted down the budget.
“Ramjattan did not publicly declare his pecuniary interest at either time… in Violation of Standing Order 107,” Rohee said.
He quoted the Standing Order: “No member shall appear before the Assembly or Committee thereof as Counsel or Solicitor for any party in a capacity for which he or she is to receive a fee or reward.”
He also said Ramjattan was obligated to disclose of his party’s “pecuniary interest” in stopping the Marriot project, while noting that a chief financier of the AFC is Robert Badal, the owner of the Pegasus Hotel, which would face direct competition as a result of the new hotel project.
In relation to Hughes, Rohee noted that her company was hired to handle the public relations for Sithe Global, one of the companies working with the government on the Amaila Falls Hydropower project. “Her husband Mr Nigel Hughes was the Company Secretary of the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project,” he further pointed out.
He argued that given her involvement, Cathy Hughes should have recused herself when two matters related to the project, the Hydro Electric Power (Amendment) Bill and a motion to raise the country’s debt ceiling, were considered by the National Assembly.
Rohee avoided questions as to why, given that Hughes involvement in Sithe Global had long been made public and considering the government would have been privy to that information from the inception, the PPP was only now moving forward with a motion to send her to the Privileges Committee.
He suggested that the government would not have known of the Hughes’ involvement because of the confidentiality of the bids. However, with both Hughes’ involvement with Sithe Global made public almost a year ago, he could not explain why the party has chosen now to move against the parliamentarian.
President Donald Ramotar on Saturday called Trotman’s actions unprofessional in sending Singh to the Privileges Committee. “I found the ruling rather strange,” Ramotar said, during a news conference at State House.
He also said that he had not heard the Speaker say anything about the PPP’s request to have Ramjattan and Hughes referred to the Privileges Committee, alluding to the letters sent by Teixeira earlier in the week.
Asked to comment, Trotman told Stabroek News that he found the President’s remarks “to be reckless and unprofessional in themselves as it is a dangerous precedent for the head of one branch of the state, the Executive, to openly criticise the head of another, the Legislature. It’s just not done.”
Troman noted, “Imagine what would happen if the President, Chancellor of the Judiciary and Speaker of the National Assembly openly began to criticise each other’s work.
The credibility and legitimacy of the state would be eroded and anarchy would result in short order.”