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

With the seem­ingly ob­du­rate po­si­tion taken by the Par­lia­men­tary Op­po­si­tion in re­la­tion to the elec­tion of a Deputy Speaker, the gov­ern­ment is in a predica­ment which it could have avoided, and which was un­nec­es­sary. With its 11-6 ma­jor­ity in the House, would it have vi­ti­ated its ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive po­tency and pos­si­bil­i­ties as a gov­ern­ment if it had elected one of its mem­bers as Deputy Speaker? The an­swer is a cat­e­gor­i­cal no.

For the gov­ern­ment to keep on lac­er­at­ing it­self with the point that “the House shall elect” is, from a cer­tain per­spec­tive, masochis­tic and agru­men­ta­tively spe­cious. What is the pur­pose of the House? My an­swer is: to ini­ti­ate, de­fine and ex­e­cute gov­ern­ment busi­ness which, es­sen­tially, is the peo­ple’s busi­ness. And in the House there are the two sides, con­tex­tu­ally speak­ing, who play their var­i­ous roles—or as­sume their var­i­ous thes­pian pos­tures—in the drama or some­times tragedy of gov­er­nance.

The House elects, but who is the leader of gov­ern­ment busi­ness in the House? Is it the Prime Min­is­ter or the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion? The process in the House is not a free for all. There are par­tic­u­lar re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that de­volve upon the Prime MIn­is­ter as the leader of gov­ern­ment busi­ness and upon the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion as only Leader of the Op­po­si­tion. And so in re­la­tion to the elec­tion of the Deputy Speaker there is a log­i­cal, prag­matic, bu­reau­cratic and ex­ec­u­tive rea­son for the Prime Min­is­ter to ini­ti­ate the mun­dane process of elect­ing a Deputy Speaker.

I am aware of the Speaker’s role. The po­si­tion of Leader of Gov­ern­ment Busi­ness is par­tic­u­lar­ized, per­son­al­ized and re­poses in the Prime Min­is­ter, not in the gen­eral body of the ma­jor­ity. And so, the peo­ple of this coun­try must look to the Prime MIn­is­ter to re­solve this on­go­ing is­sue as the buck, as we have heard ad nau­seum, stops at his desk.

If he as­sumes that re­spon­si­bil­ity, as he should, he can­not set about the process of elect­ing a Deputy Speaker ac­cord­ing to his whims and fan­cies. He can­not fur­ther lac­er­ate him­self on his con­ve­nient in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the term “as soon as con­ve­nient”. Sec­tion 36 (1) of our Con­sti­tu­tion reads in part: “. . . the House shall as soon as con­ve­nient elect an­other mem­ber of the House . . . “The “con­ve­nience” al­luded to can­not be con­trived, spu­ri­ous, fac­ti­tious and op­por­tunis­tic. It has to be grounded in the nat­u­ral or­der of things and has a cer­tain im­ma­nent le­git­i­macy and va­lid­ity.

When the Op­po­si­tion states that it can­not pro­vide a mem­ber for the po­si­tion of Deputy Speaker, as this would de­crease and weaken its vot­ing power in the House, that rea­son falls within this lat­ter cat­e­gory, and is in con­form­ity with the hon­or­able tra­di­tion in this Hon­or­able House; hence its peren­ni­al­ity, uni­ver­sal­ity and longevity. As I see it, the Op­po­si­tion has a choice and it is a choice that would sub­vert its vot­ing po­tency. What if there is a re­bel­lion within the ranks of the ma­jor­ity? That “one” vote of the Op­po­si­tion could de­ter­mine who will be the next Prime Min­is­ter.

“Con­ve­nience” on the Gov­ern­ment side cir­cum­scribes what? It cir­cum­scribes a de­ci­sion that could be seen as re­mark­able. It is a de­ci­sion that clothes its elected mem­bers in min­is­te­rial garb, thus cre­at­ing a sar­to­rial de­ba­cle. Nu­dity in terms of “one” must be the or­der of the day; and is the so­lu­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion trans­mit­ted, the Speaker at the last sit­ting of the House (16/8/16) stated that at the next or sub­se­quent meet­ing of the House she wants her Deputy Speaker present. If that is in­deed the case who will be the “Sac­ri­fi­cial Lamb”?

With the ob­du­racy of the Op­po­si­tion on one hand and the con­ve­nience of the gov­ern­ment we have what may be termed as the theatre of the ab­surd. The au­thor is a for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter and mag­is­trate.

Will Speaker Leone John have her wish come the next sit­ting of the House?

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