That Re­cur­rent Stu­pid­ity Sur­round­ing the Of­fice of Deputy Speaker

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Neville Cenac

Let it be noted: 1) The pow­ers and func­tions of the Speaker are well set­tled in the Stand­ing Rules and Or­ders of the House. The Speaker, whether or not elected, is a mem­ber of the House. As such, his chief qual­i­fi­ca­tion is to “be able to read and write the English lan­guage with a cer­tain de­gree of pro­fi­ciency.” There is noth­ing es­o­teric about the of­fice. The same is re­quired of a Deputy Speaker.

2) When in the Chair, the Speaker or his Deputy could never af­ford to be im­par­tial: for the rules would ex­pose any un­even­hand­ed­ness. And once mem­bers are as fa­mil­iar with the Rules as the Speaker, as they ought to be, he is as a man in a straight­jacket. And es­pe­cially as de­bates are re­ported live, no Speaker worth his salt would risk ex­pos­ing him­self to odium and ridicule. One can­not help but re­call the oc­ca­sion when the daunt­less MP Guy Joseph had Speaker Peter Fos­ter quite abashed when he un­for­get­tably spurted out col­lo­qui­ally in con­fi­dent defiance of the Speaker’s rul­ing: “Since when dat’s your role?”

3) Since, there­fore, the Rules keep the one in the Chair in bondage or “servile fear­ful­ness”, there should never be any dis­pute as to who should or should not be Deputy Speaker. Such a high hon­our, when given by the House, should never, in such a sa­cred place, be treated with con­tempt. In fact I am now go­ing to con­tend, based on the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Sec­tion 36 (1) that an ap­point­ment made by the House can­not be re­fused. And ever for­ever and ever, shall I so con­tend.

4) The only hon­est ex­cuse for de­clin­ing the nom­i­na­tion would be for the mem­ber to de­clare that he had made a fraud­u­lent dec­la­ra­tion on Nom­i­na­tion Day, in that he was, and still is, il­lit­er­ate. And of course that would au­to­mat­i­cally trig­ger off a bye-elec­tion.

5) I shall now delve once again into the bow­els of the dis­pute, which re­sides in Sec­tion 36 (1) of our Con­sti­tu­tion. The sec­tion is writ­ten in clear, un­am­bigu­ous English which none can mis­take, given that “de­gree of pro­fi­ciency” re­quired of a mem­ber. Sec­tion 36 (1) states: “When the House first 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 that of­fice of Deputy Speaker falls va­cant at any time be­fore the next dis­so­lu­tion of Par­lia­ment the House shall as soon as con­ve­nient, elect an­other mem­ber of the House to that of­fice.”

6) The im­por­tant words in the sec­tion are “the House.” That phrase “the House” is so re­ferred to six times, and once as “it”; a to­tal of seven times in a para­graph of seven and one­half lines.

7) It is the House, there­fore, mean­ing, a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of the quo­rum present that makes the ap­point­ment. The sec­tion does not re­quire that the ap­point­ment be made by and with the con­sent of the Op­po­si­tion. In this re­gard, a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of the House is in­fal­li­ble, with or with­out the con­sent of the Op­po­si­tion. The con­sti­tu­tional role af­ter the nom­i­na­tion has been made and sec­onded by the gov­ern­ment, “un­der the un­usual cir­cum­stances then ex­ist­ing,” is for the Op­po­si­tion to vote against it.

8) Any such ob­jec­tion should there­fore be treated by the Speaker as a nui­sance and an ob­struc­tion as void of any value, and as an act of vi­o­lence against the spirit of the Con­sti­tu­tion which en­joins us to do noth­ing to frus­trate the end re­sult: good gov­ern­ment.

9) I there­fore do not an­tic­i­pate any prob­lem aris­ing as a re­sult of call­ing Mrs. Sarah Flood-Beaubrun to a higher sta­tion—well de­served, all things con­sid­ered.

10) The House of As­sem­bly is no chil­dren’s play­ground. It is a place for men, not mice. It is no chess game. The duty of an Op­po­si­tion is to make the gov­ern­ment ac­count for its stew­ard­ship. This is best achieved by con­stantly bring­ing the ideas prop­a­gated in the gov­ern­ment’s man­i­festo to their con­stant at­ten­tion, in and out of the House, while at the same time keep­ing at the fore­front the al­ter­na­tive poli­cies ar­tic­u­lated in its own man­i­festo. The ideal has never been “to pro­pose noth­ing, op­pose ev­ery­thing, and throw the gov­ern­ment out.”

11) Par­tic­i­pat­ing in ob­struct­ing the work­ings of the Con­sti­tu­tion is con­duct too ab­hor­rent for English words. That’s why I revere my mother tongue.

12) In that bald, nonon­sense dra­matic lang mama nous, I there­fore say: Maysiez! Wan­jay kor zot en ch­e­lot zot! Pa fair kor zot hont! (Loose trans­la­tion: Gen­tle­men, get your­self to­gether . . . quit em­bar­rass­ing your­selves!) I am only left to say that at his first out­ing, Prime Min­is­ter Chas­tanet han­dled that del­i­cate sit­u­a­tion with con­sum­mate aplomb. Ed­i­tor’s note: The au­thor is a for­mer gov­ern­ment min­is­ter and pres­i­dent of the Saint Lu­cia Se­nate.

Open­ing of the First Ses­sion of the Eleventh Par­lia­ment of Saint Lu­cia on July 12, 2016 when the Hon. Leonne Theodore-John was elected Speaker of the House and the Hon. Sarah Flood-Beaubrun as Deputy Speaker.

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