abuse of parliamentary privilege
than limit their speech, parliamentarians should be encouraged
to police themselves as there is cogent evidence that members
public are growing increasingly disenchanted with the mud-slinging
and negative characterisation.
the Senate on Tuesday, several members of the Upper House
called for a re-examination of the issue of parliamentary
privilege which allows Members of Parliament to speak freely
within the legislature without being fettered by the laws
The issue was raised by Local Government Minister Hazel
Manning in response to accusations which had been levelled
against her by Opposition Senator Wade Mark, who is often
indiscriminate in the baseless allegations he makes against
those within and outside Parliament.
pity those who cannot defend themselves from members on
the other side and I think it is time for this Parliament
to examine the issue of parliamentary privilege, said
Also raising the issue of parliamentary privilege was Independent
Senator Ramesh Deosaran, who called on Senator Mark to either
provide proof of the allegations he made against Mrs Manning
or withdraw them and apologise.
While parliamentary privilege is an important part of T&Ts
political system, it is clear that it is open to abuse as
MPs can go to the Parliament and make damaging allegations
against their political and personal enemies without going
through the trouble of attempting to determine whether there
is any basis to the allegations. In effect, some parliamentarians
have sought to transpose the looseness of the rumshop to
the institution which is considered to be the highest court
in the land.
In a scenario where unsubstantiated allegations are being
broadcast live on both television and radio, it is clear
that MPs must be encouraged to research before they besmirch.
In calling on Parliament to re-examine the issue of privilege,
Mrs Manning was obviously suggesting that this right should
be limited by a decision of the institution. Such a call
cannot be justified given the fact that such a limitation
may be used to prevent parliamentarians from legitimately
exposing acts of corruption or poor delivery of service.
Rather than limit their speech, parliamentarians should
be encouraged to police themselves as there is cogent evidence
that members of the public are growing increasingly disenchanted
with the mud-slinging and negative characterisation.
If parliamentarians do not stop the abuse of the privilege,
they run the risk of damaging their own credibility to the
point where they are never taken seriously when they unburden
themselves of their spurious allegations.
Apart from self-policing, there is need for presiding officers
to exercise more vigilance to ensure that there is some
basis or foundation for the allegations that are made in
As the Vice-President of the Senate proved yesterday when
he forced Senator Mark to withdraw allegations he made against
rookie Senator Laurel Lezama, the threat of suspension from
Parliament is often enough to bring most MPs to their senses.
Presiding officers also have the right to order that irresponsible
statements be struck from the Hansard records.
Although presiding officers are chosen by the ruling party,
they must realise that when they put on the robes of the
Speaker or the Senate President, they must be willing to
rule without fear or favour, malice or ill will, even if
this means penalising government parliamentarians.
While being careful not to infringe on parliamentary privilege,
there is no reason why people or institutions who are attacked
by parliamentarians should not have the right to respond
to clear their names.
In this newspaper yesterday, a prominent law firm was forced
to buy an advertisement in which it set the record straight
by flatly denying an allegation which had been hurled by
Senator Mark on Monday. The law firm said it intended to
write the Senate President requesting that the rebuttal
be read into the records of the legislature.
Providing aggrieved parties with the automatic right to
respond is one way of ensuring that MPs do not get away
with abusing parliamentary privilege.