The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Dr. Velon L. John

Within its con­sti­tu­tional pa­ram­e­ters much has been said and writ­ten about the Po­si­tion of Deputy Speaker and its par­tic­u­lar rel­e­vance or ob­so­les­cence at this Junc­ture in our du­bi­ous po­lit­i­cal evo­lu­tion.

Some of our pun­dits have pon­tif­i­cated that there is no need for a Deputy Speaker and that only a Speaker suf­fices. Others hold that there is a qual­i­fied need for a Deputy Speaker and whose ap­point­ment or elec­tion is a mat­ter of cir­cum­stan­tial ne­ces­sity.

From the onset what needs to be pel­lu­cidly com­pre­hended is that the CON­STI­TU­TION is the Supreme Law of the State. Sec­tion 120 reads:

“This Con­sti­tu­tion is the supreme law of Saint Lu­cia and, sub­ject to the pro­vi­sions of Sec­tion 41 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, if any other law is in­con­sis­tent with the Con­sti­tu­tion it shall pre­vail and the other law shall, to the ex­tent of the in­con­sis­tency is void.”

(Sec­tion 41 refers to the var­i­ous modes of amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion.)

The Con­sti­tu­tion is sub­limely sacro­sanct and ab­s­do­lute in its ma­jes­tic con­stancy. Pro­vi­sions in the Elec­tion Act or any other sub­sidiary or en­abling leg­is­la­tion, if in­con­sis­tent with the Con­sti­tu­tion, is void.

It is im­por­tant to note the sim­i­lar­ity, in some measures, be­tween Sec­tion 35(1) and Sec­tion 36(1) of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Sec­tion 35 is ti­tled SPEAKER and Sec­tion 36 is ti­tled DEPUTY SPEAKER. The first 22 words of both sec­tions are iden­ti­cal. They read: “When the House first meets af­ter an gen­eral elec­tion of mem­bers and be­fore it pro­ceeds to dispatch any other busi­ness ……..”

The sig­nif­i­cance of these 22 words is to es­tab­lish the tem­po­ral tem­plate of ex­pe­di­ency for what is to fol­low. “Time” is ab­so­lutely of the essence. The House Can­not be lack­adaisi­cal or com­pla­cent. What needs to be done must be done with dispatch. In both in­stances the whole of sub­sec­tion (1) is time re­lated; but in their to­tal­ity there is an or­der of prag­matic supremacy. If dur­ing the course of a par­lia­men­tary term the Speaker be­comes dis­abled, the so­lu­tion re­poses within Sec­tion 35(1) where it reads: “The House shall as soon as prac­ti­ca­ble elect another per­son to that of­fice.”

In Sec­tion 36(1) it reads: “The House shall as soon as con­ve­nient elect another mem­ber ….”

With the dis­abled Speaker the House is vir­tu­ally crip­pled; but with a dis­abled Deputy Speaker (how­ever dis­abled) there is a cer­tain tem­po­ral elas­tic­ity. And hence the rea­son why in one in­stance there is “as soon as prac­ti­ca­ble” and in The other “as soon as con­ve­nient”. The two terms lib­er­ally in­voke the prin­ci­ple of “ejus­dem generis” which makes the ef­flux­ion of time reg­nant, and does not dis­pense with the pres­ence of a Deputy Speaker at any time or for an in­or­di­nate pe­riod of time. And sine the pres­ence of a Deputy Speaker can be needed at any time dur­ing a sit­ting, logic par­lia­men­tary ne­ces­sity, ef­fi­ciency and con­ti­nu­ity dic­tate that he or she (Deputy Speaker) should be at the ready.

And so “as soon as con­ve­nient” is cir­cum­scribed by the term readi­ness and which when oper­a­tionally and prag­mat­i­cally trans­lated means at the next or sub­se­quent sit­ting of the House. And thus a Deputy Speake, con­tex­tu­ally speak­ing, is elected.

This el­e­ment of “time” or “when” is fur­ther em­pha­sised in Sec­tion 3(1) of the Stand­ing Or­ders which was made un­der the CON­STI­TU­TION and ap­proved by the HOUSE on 14 May, 1978. In this sec­tion what is made abun­dantly clear, and in re­la­tion to our present and seem­ing predica­ment, the elec­tion of the Deputy Speaker is ef­fec­tu­ated when it is nec­es­sary to so do. As I see it, when­ever a Deputy Speaker be­comes dis­abled the the elec­tion of another Deputy Speaker be­comes nec­es­sary. Un­like Sec­tion 35 of the Con­sti­tu­tion where the elec­tion of the Speaker is presided over by the Clerk, the elec­tion of the Deputy Speaker is presided over by the Speaker of the House.

What then is the House? It is the body of elected mem­bers present in­clud­ing the Speaker. And in con­form­ity with the quo­rum of seven that is needed for gov­ern­ment busi­ness to be legally trans­acted then that num­ber must be present. Though the Speaker pre­sides over the elec­tion of the Speaker, it is, and ac­cord­ing to con­ven­tion and cus­tom, the Prime Min­is­ter, the first among equals, who car­ries the elec­tion process for­ward. As is usu­ally the case the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion merely responds in his inim­itable fashion and in his own deliberate judge­ment. AS stated in re­cent times “an ap­point­ment made by the House can­not be re­fused”. That is asi­nine. There is no ap­point­ment to be made. Sec­tion 36(1) al­ludes to an elec­tion in its con­tex­tual sig­nif­i­cance.

At this time the ques­tion that tit­il­lates our think­ing is who will be our next Deputy Leader? Since she has re­signed from that po­si­tion (so I have been told) to di­rect in some mea­sure a min­is­te­rial port­fo­lio the po­si­tion of Deputy Leader has to be filled. From my knowl­edge (limited) all elected mem­bers on the Gov­ern­ment side have been en­cum­bered with a min­is­te­rial as­sign­ment and so the ques­tion that comes to the fore is who will re­place the Hon­ourable Sarah Flood Beaubrun – the for­mer Deputy Leader???

It is not in­cum­bent on the Op­po­si­tion to ex­tri­cate the Gov­ern­ment from a quandry of its own mak­ing.

Who then will be the Sac­ri­fi­cial Lamb?

What­ever the meta­mor­pho­sis, the Law only con­stant is Evo­lu­tion.

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