Certainly, from the Opposition’s point of view, it was a week to celebrate victory of sorts. Government will undoubtedly disagree with that, although it may concede if it hoists itself into a fly on the wall position and observe the absurdity of 12 MPs in all, passing its own Bill into law without Opposition. Never since 2002, when I first entered Parliament have I seen a massive walk out by the Opposition; and how vehement were they with their protest?
In what was expected to be a fiery day went beyond and over and above your normal tug of war. When business proper began just after 1 pm on Monday March 31, the last day of the month, Government thorough a buoyant and boisterous Minister of Education sought to cancel question time, a prized opportunity for the Opposition to grill Government. I, as Leader of the Opposition along with my fellow Opposition MP’s protested vigorously. The Government won the day with a vote of 11 to 10. So close but it got its way despite the ruckuses’ debate. Normal voting is usually by calling out “aye” or “no” but I called for a division, which means MPs must stand to indicate which way are they inclined.
Then came the bombshell close to 3.30 pm. Government moved unnervingly for debate on the Amendment Value Added Tax Bill to be “guillotined” by 4.30 pm in order for that Bill to be passed by 5.00 pm. I led the protest against the motion and Opposition MPs also vocalised their astonishment at this sudden move. The move amounted to an ambush on the Opposition who just received the Bill at 1 pm that day and who were prevented by Parliamentary process between 1 and 3.30 pm from reading and discussing it, albeit in great haste. In total, the Opposition had one hour to digest the Bill and speak on it. It was an impossible task. At best only two Opposition MPs may get to speak with the given 20 – 30 minutes of speaking time. The Opposition then learned that Government only had one designated speaker on the Bill, being the Minister of Finance. I can only guess they expected the Opposition to put forward one speaker as well. When put to vote, Government won and the Opposition retaliated by storming out.
The point is that Government had badly managed time for Parliament to sit because the Bill must be passed by before April 1. And it was a Bill calling for comprehensive debate and that fundamental right of the Opposition was shafted. The Government plainly acted in bad faith and, worse of all, those Government MPs (several of them) that made noises of voting against the Bill were caught out as gutless cowards. The Bill now an Act, whatever its virtues are, is an example of unscrupulous lawmaking that we need not turn into a standard practice.