THIS issue in its holistic perception bothers us since we are of the firm opinion and belief that the position we have taken in the matter of the Deputy Speaker is the correct one. We are bothered because of the bland and ubiquitous acceptance of the status quo. Why hasn’t the former Prime Minister as a constitutional expert submit a paper on the matter to the House/Speaker? Considering the patent impasse why hasn’t the Prime Minister as Leader of Government Business sought the resolution of this parliamentary farce. The present situation is constitutionally, commonsensically untenable, and everyone is mired in a morass of self-righteous, self-serving posturing.
There is a certain responsibility that devolves on the Speaker: there is a certain responsibility that devolves upon the Prime Minister as the Leader of Government Business.
The implications of the status quo are indeed alarming and necessitate in short order the intervention of the Court. One of the many questions that needs to be answered is this: are the sittings of the Court so far held null and void or irregular? If so what are the implications and what needs to be done?
Section 36(1) of the Constitution and Section (8) of the Standing Orders establish two “time frames” within which the issue/matter of the Deputy Speaker come to the fore. The first is at the first sitting of the House immediately after a General Election. The second is during the currency of a parliamentary term and when the Deputy Speaker becomes disabled for whatever the reason.
In Section 36(1) of the Constitiution the term”as soon as convenient” refers to the second time frame: the situation of disability. It is to be noted that in Section 35(1) that deals with the election of the Speaker there are also two time frames; and it is in relation to the second that the term “as soon as practicable” applies. Logically, functionally and pragmatically it could not refer to the first time frame. It further is to be noted that in that section (35) there is a colon(:) that divides the two frames.
In Section 36(1) it states in part “ House shall elect a Deputy Speaker” and thus making the election of the Deputy Speaker mandatory. In short there must be a Deputy Speaker. In our present situation this parliamentary term could continue without a Deputy Speaker until the next dissolution of the House of Assembly. That as we see it would be a flagrant breach of our Constitution. Would all the bills, motions etc. brought before this House at this time be null and void? Would the House of Assembly be properly constituted?
To reinforce our position we now refer to the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly; and there no allusion is made to the term “as soon as convenient” but the two “time frames” are there as indicated by the word “or” and by the term “by reason of a vacancy in the office occurring otherwise.”
At each sitting of the House the presence of the Deputy Speaker is a categorical and constitutive imperative.
Now this brings us to the title of this article: Why is the Speaker allowing herself to be ignored?
We have been in attendance at several sittings of the House of Assembly since the last General Election; and on each occasion the first order of business besides Prayers, was the election of the Deputy Speaker. The question would be put to the House and on each of these occasions the Speaker would be ignored. A deafening, palpable, embarrassing and disrespectful silence would prevail and members would look at and across each other with arrogance. And the Speaker having been unceremoniously silenced by the collective and noisome silence of the House would in pathetic helplessness proceed to other matters on the Order Paper.
Something smells in the State of Denmark.
As we see it the handing of this issue by the Speaker indicates weakness or ignorance or both. The Speaker is in control of the House of Assembly: its Rules, Orders, Processes and Practices. And it is incumbent on her to see that those Rules, Orders, etc. are obeyed and executed. She has the inherent, actual and circumstantial power and authority. (See in part Section 88 of the Standing Orders.) In short she has the POWER.
But then a condition precedent to the exercise of that power and authority, is knowledge of the power and authority and the intestinal fortitude to exercise that power and authority. Should there be a cognitive and characterological lacuna she should seek the advice of the Chief Justice in private.
The three arms of government are separate but they are not at war with each other. There is no conflict. For that matter they are supportive of each other; it is a support that is crucial and indispensable. For without it our democracy flounders and founders.
The present impasse cannot be allowed to continue and our Constitution allowed to be raped on a bed of blind and self-serving passion. What if in the not too distant future it is officially determined that the Sittings we have had so far in the House of Assembly are NULL and VOID?
(Dr. John is an attorney, former parliamentarian and Minister in a St Lucia Labour Party government.)