For the new op­po­si­tion leader, will it still be

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Wayne

Philip J. Pierre: The MP for Cas­tries East re­cently re­placed Kenny An­thony as SLP leader and leader of the House op­po­si­tion.

Thanks to con­stant rep­e­ti­tion by the host of a cer­tain lo­cal TV show, there can hardly be a se­rial viewer in our midst in­ca­pable of cor­rectly recit­ing Ge­orge San­tayana’s too of­ten gar­bled apho­rism that ac­tu­ally ref­er­enced im­be­ciles and ba­bies. In any event a gen­tle re­minder won’t hurt: “Those who can­not re­mem­ber the past are doomed to re­peat it.”

It may also prove es­pe­cially ben­e­fi­cial to other sons and daugh­ters of Saint Lu­cia—who proudly pro­fess to love with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds the land that gave us birth; where the more things change the more they re­main the same—to jour­ney back to the re­con­ven­ing of par­lia­ment fol­low­ing the peo­ple’s de­ci­sion that the so-called “father of the na­tion,” Sir John Comp­ton, should die as he had lived for most of his adult life; that is to say, in de­fense of He­len, not in cob­webbed re­tire­ment. The fol­low­ing rec­ol­lec­tion is lifted from my book Lapses & In­fe­lic­i­ties:

“Fol­low­ing its pro­ro­ga­tion shortly be­fore the 2006 gen­eral elec­tions, par­lia­ment re­con­vened on 9 Jan­uary 2007 un­der a con­fetti shower of firsts. The na­tion’s first fe­male Speaker was no stranger to the House. She had sat on both the gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion benches: Sarah Flood-Beaubrun. Then there was Rose Mary Hus­bands-Mathurin, the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the Se­nate; and the gov­er­nor gen­eral Dame Pear­lette Louisy. ‘Saint Lu­cians can proudly demon­strate to the world that our women have emerged from the shad­ows to take cen­ter stage in our coun­try’s af­fairs,’ said the na­tion’s first fe­male gov­er­nor gen­eral in her Throne Speech. ‘The three most pres­ti­gious of­fices of this land are filled by ladies who have earned dis­tinc­tions in their sep­a­rate fields. Our women can now de­mand the re­spect and dig­nity that was al­ways theirs but for too long de­nied them.’ So what if she sounded a tad undig­ni­fied? What she said was in­dis­putable.

“Con­ceiv­ably, the new Leader of the Op­po­si­tion con­curred. But that did not mean the freshly dec­o­rated ladies could look for­ward to his co­op­er­a­tion any more than could his male House col­leagues. While sup­port­ing the mo­tion that made Sarah Flood-Beaubrun Speaker had given him ‘great plea­sure,’ it was al­to­gether some­thing else when it came to elect­ing her deputy.

“The prime min­is­ter ex­plained the prob­lem: ‘I would’ve pre­ferred that the Speaker come from the gov­ern­ment side and her deputy from the other side. But the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion de­clined my in­vi­ta­tion to nom­i­nate an MP.’

“Mar­cus Ni­cholas saved the day; he re­signed as Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries to fill the va­cancy. The Con­sti­tu­tion pre­vented the deputy Speaker from hold­ing min­is­te­rial of­fice. Lest they be mis­led, Kenny An­thony later pro­claimed to query­ing re­porters that there had been noth­ing gen­er­ous about the prime min­is­ter’s in­vi­ta­tion: ‘It was the only way he could ex­tri­cate him­self from his sit­u­a­tion. As I’ve al­ready noted, his gov­ern­ment is too large. The prime min­is­ter had no choice but to sack one of his min­is­ters to al­low him to as­sume the po­si­tion of deputy Speaker.’ As for Ni­cholas him­self, he said his res­ig­na­tion was no sac­ri­fice. ‘I did what needed to be done. I al­ways put coun­try be­fore self.’ ”

It re­mains con­jec­tural what Ni­cholas was think­ing when, shortly be­fore the 2011 gen­eral elec­tions, the deputy Speaker parted con­tu­me­liously with his party, in the process leav­ing the gov­ern­ment in a quandary. The rem­edy would re­quire the res­ig­na­tion of a min­is­ter or a demon­stra­tion of atyp­i­cal op­po­si­tion gen­eros­ity. Alas, rem­i­nis­cent of his ear­lier at­ti­tude that had re­sulted in the agri­cul­ture min­is­ter putting “coun­try be­fore self,” Kenny An­thony still was not in a mood to be ac­com­mo­dat­ing. He stub­bornly in­sisted on the im­me­di­ate elec­tion of a new deputy, as he put it, in ac­cor­dance with the Con­sti­tu­tion that states at Sec­tion 36:

When the House meets af­ter any gen­eral elec­tion of mem­bers and be­fore it pro­ceeds to the dis­patch of any other busi­ness ex­cept the elec­tion of the Speaker, the House shall elect a mem­ber of the House, who is not a mem­ber of the Cabi­net or a Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary, to be Deputy Speaker of the House and if the of­fice of Deputy Speaker falls va­cant at any time be­fore the next dis­so­lu­tion of

Par­lia­ment [the sit­u­a­tion at hand!], the House shall, as soon as con­ve­nient, elect an­other mem­ber of the House to that of­fice.

There can hardly be a Saint Lu­cian above, say, 25, who can­not eas­ily re­call the re­ac­tion of the House op­po­si­tion af­ter the Speaker had de­clared her non-con­cur­rence with the Op­po­si­tion Leader’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the words “as soon as con­ve­nient.” While he had in­sisted on the elec­tion of a new deputy Speaker at the first sit­ting fol­low­ing a res­ig­na­tion, the Speaker cited the In­ter­pre­ta­tion Act that leaned to­ward the or­di­nary mean­ing of words. Clearly there was noth­ing ar­cane about “as soon as con­ve­nient,” she rightly ob­served—at which point the op­po­si­tion ex­ploded.

At least one ful­mi­nat­ing hon­or­able mem­ber bla­tantly re­fused to com­ply when the chair di­rected him to take his seat. Af­ter what seemed an eter­nity of egre­gious mud­sling­ing the col­lec­tive op­po­si­tion an­grily picked up their pa­pers and strode nois­ily out of the cham­ber to join the gath­ered vul­tures with TV cam­eras and other dig­i­tal recorders in Con­sti­tu­tion Park, all save the for­mer prime min­is­ter and cur­rent Leader of the Op­po­si­tion.

He would hook up with his queru­lous col­leagues out­side the House but only af­ter con­temp­tu­ously dis­miss­ing the Speaker’s sev­eral ap­peals for or­der and par­lia­men­tary deco­rum. At full throt­tle and in the pres­ence of record­ing House cam­eras, he spat out a slew of ep­i­thets and de­nun­ci­a­tions rem­i­nis­cent of rum-shop bel­li­cos­ity and pub­lic-toi­let graf­fiti in­clud­ing, un­for­get­tably: “Rene­gades! Crim­i­nals!”

And so we ar­rive at the present that an­tic­i­pates the past and re­minds of Ge­orge San­tayana’s leg­endary ad­mo­ni­tion. When the House re­con­venes next week it is to be ex­pected that the di­vi­sions and their far-reach­ing con­se­quences that have for too long af­flicted this na­tion will at the worst of times be ex­ac­er­bated.

The elec­tion of Speaker will pro­ceed with­out a hitch. But un­less the new op­po­si­tion leader chooses to adopt a more con­struc­tive at­ti­tude, the gov­ern­ment’s in­vi­ta­tion to the op­po­si­tion to nom­i­nate a deputy speaker will pre­dictably be turned down. A gov­ern­ment MP

will con­se­quently be named and sworn in, who will be re­quired to sac­ri­fice the op­por­tu­nity to head a min­istry—if only un­til he or she re­signs as deputy Speaker a few hours af­ter the con­clu­sion of the first House sit­ting. The re­sult­ing va­cancy, as ear­lier noted, will be filled “as soon as con­ve­nient.” (As I write, I am in­formed that the new LOO has de­ter­mined that to ac­cept the prime min­is­ter’s in­vi­ta­tion to nom­i­nate an op­po­si­tion MP for deputy Speaker “will not be in the SLP’s best in­ter­ests.” Mais na­turelle­ment! As it has been, so must it al­ways be . . . The more things change . . .)

Sub­terfuge you say? Maybe, but it’s the law. Re­mem­ber Sec­tion 36 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, ear­lier cited? Now pray tell, dear reader, mind­ful of our leg­endary propen­sity for pro­duc­ing No­bel Lau­re­ates two at a time, could we not by this time have en­acted a law so clearly worded as to be be­yond mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion, a law that makes it manda­tory that the deputy Speaker comes from the ranks of the op­po­si­tion, un­less of course there is no op­po­si­tion—in which case ei­ther an MP or a qual­i­fied civil­ian can be called upon to serve?

Which brings me to the ques­tion: Why (other than that the Con­sti­tu­tion so di­rects) can’t a sen­a­tor be min­is­ter of fi­nance when se­na­tors are with­out com­ment given re­spon­si­bil­ity for na­tional se­cu­rity with all its cen­tipede limbs? Tra­di­tion as­so­ci­ated with English his­tory is the best an­swer I’ve yet been given. And since we claim to have sev­ered the de­hu­man­iz­ing shack­les of colo­nial­ism, why can’t we en­act a more ap­pro­pri­ate law that would per­mit ac­knowl­edged tal­ents in the field fi­nance the op­por­tu­nity to serve their coun­try in of­fice?

I could cite many other laws and reg­u­la­tions that ap­pear only to re­tard progress, while per­mit­ting politi­cians their of­ten cor­rupt way with im­punity. Laws that may have de­liv­ered colo­nial as­pi­ra­tions may not nec­es­sar­ily be in tune with cur­rent times and na­tive as­pi­ra­tions. That a thing was fine in pri­mor­dial times does not au­to­mat­i­cally mean it has any place in our cur­rent cir­cum­stances. May we re­mem­ber that prob­lems are sel­dom re­solved by the same think­ing that led to their cre­ation and their per­pet­u­a­tion.

Will Tues­day’s House sit­ting fur­ther pro­mote divi­sion and strife or will all par­ties, for a change, place the busi­ness of the peo­ple ahead of par­ti­san con­sid­er­a­tions?

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