NOT A SIN­GLE RED LIGHT IN SIGHT!

The House op­po­si­tion de­cided to take a walk long be­fore Tues­day’s bud­get was over, cast­ing Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet in the role of Monarch Of All He Sur­veyed!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kayra Wil­liams

Once more the House op­po­si­tion chose to stage a pre­dictable walk-out in the course of de­bate rather than duke it out with the gov­ern­ment. Their show of de­fi­ance on Tues­day came shortly af­ter the MP for La­borie Alva Bap­tiste’s pre­sen­ta­tion in the 2017 bud­get de­bate. The prime min­is­ter and MP for Mi­coud South had just stood up to de­liver his clos­ing re­marks when one by one the op­po­si­tion leader and Cas­tries East MP Philip J. Pierre and his team filed out in protest. Later, at the press con­fer­ence that usu­ally fol­lows SLP walk-outs from the House, Pierre of­fered the rea­sons for his party’s most re­cent protest. In short, that the prime min­is­ter had pre­vented gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion MPs from say­ing their piece on the bud­get.

Fol­low­ing the PM’s ad­journ­ment of the House this week, Pierre told re­porters: “Such an im­por­tant bud­get. The gov­ern­ment’s first for this year and the prime min­is­ter saw it fit­ting to ad­journ it for 40 days. This has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the coun­try. There could be no cap­i­tal ex­penses, there could be no new ini­tia­tives, be­cause the bud­get had not yet been passed. The prime min­is­ter did not care.”

He of­fered ra­tio­nale be­hind his party’s de­ci­sion to pre­ma­turely eject them­selves from the pro­ceed­ings: “It is con­ven­tional and nor­mal that af­ter a mem­ber of the op­po­si­tion has spo­ken, a mem­ber on the gov­ern­ment side re­sponds. Again we came, will­ing and able, to speak to the is­sues of the bud­get. But the prime min­is­ter, in his nor­mal vin­dic­tive and spite­ful man­ner, be­cause he has the power of re­but­tal, re­fuses to al­low four se­nior mem­bers of his gov­ern­ment to speak.”

Mean­while at least one me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tive was left won­der­ing whether Pierre & Co had been out-strate­gized by Chas­tanet and his merry men. Pierre said he and his fel­low op­po­si­tion MPs had been look­ing for­ward to the pre­sen­ta­tions of MPs Stephen­son King, Ezekiel Joseph and Ed­mund Estaphane. Coin­ci­dently, the gov­ern­ment MPs also were look­ing for­ward to the “bomb­shells” that op­po­si­tion mem­bers claimed ready to drop at Tues­day’s House meet­ing.

As is usu­ally the case, there was much to be read on Face­book about the walk-out by ex­perts in their own mind, whether what they of­fered was coloured red or yel­low. There was the ex­pected con­sen­sus on one side that the prime min­is­ter had pre­vented MPs on both sides of the House from say­ing their all-im­por­tant pieces on the day’s topic. Hardly sur­pris­ing, there were few ref­er­ences to the Speaker who alone is au­tho­rized to say when an MP may or may not speak – and, for that mat­ter, what he or she may say!

When this reporter con­tacted Speaker Leone Theodore-John for her take on what had tran­spired on Tues­day and the pos­si­ble trig­ger, this is what she said: “There is no stated or­der re­lat­ing to when MPs get to de­liver their con­tri­bu­tions. The Speaker rec­og­nizes the mic right of MPs in ac­cor­dance with the House Stand­ing Or­ders that state it all de­pends on who catches the at­ten­tion of the Speaker by turn­ing on the light on his or her mi­cro­phone. The av­er­age time - and we’ve ac­tu­ally checked - be­tween con­tri­bu­tions is five to six sec­onds. Af­ter MP Alva Bap­tiste had de­liv­ered his ad­dress and taken his seat, there was an un­usu­ally long lull. I slowly looked at both sides of the aisle, but saw no light. Af­ter a time the prime min­is­ter’s light came on and was duly ac­knowl­edged. His was the only light that came on at any time af­ter the Hon­ourable Alva Bap­tiste had spo­ken.”

Ad­di­tion­ally: “The prime min­is­ter was the one who pre­sented the Bill. By turn­ing on his light he in­di­cated to me he was ready to start his re­but­tal, dur­ing which no other MP is au­tho­rized to speak on the Bill.”

The op­po­si­tion hav­ing left the build­ing, the prime min­is­ter re­vis­ited his pre­de­ces­sor’s 1997-98 bud­get ad­dress, with par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ences to the Mar­ket­ing Board, Ra­dio St. Lu­cia, and the Fish Mar­ket­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, quot­ing An­thony as hav­ing said, “Re­lat­ing to the state of statu­tory bod­ies, Mr. Speaker, dur­ing my pre­sen­ta­tion of the sup­ple­men­tary bud­get to this hon­ourable House I spoke of the se­ri­ous eco­nomic chal­lenges con­fronting our statu­tory cor­po­ra­tions. Per­mit me to ex­plain the ex­tent to which this fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment and ac­count­abil­ity has spread . . .”

The prime min­is­ter con­tin­ued, “The former prime min­is­ter Kenny An­thony in his pre­sen­ta­tion high­lighted the Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Au­thor­ity which at the time had out­stand­ing li­a­bil­i­ties of $110 mil­lion. The NDC had an an­nual short­fall of $5 mil­lion and a long-term debt of over $40 mil­lion. Ac­cord­ing to PM An­thony: ‘Due to the NDC’s in­abil­ity to meet its fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions the gov­ern­ment has in the past eight months paid in ex­cess of $4 mil­lion to the Caribbean De­vel­op­ment Bank on be­half of NDC.’

“The Broad­cast­ing Au­thor­ity, in An­thony’s words, was ‘a vic­tim of in­ter­fer­ence by the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion and had an out­stand­ing li­a­bil­ity of $1.16 mil­lion . . .’ ” The story was the same for all of the named statu­tory bod­ies; in debt be­yond their re­cov­ery. “That is why one of our ca­lyp­so­ni­ans had rea­son to sing We Have Two Lead­ers Lead­ing We Coun­try: Kenny and Toni,” the PM ob­served.

“I can ei­ther just talk,” said the prime min­is­ter on Tues­day, “or I can walk.” Was that a pun? Af­ter all, that’s pre­cisely what Pierre and his team had cho­sen that day to do: they had walked, not talked!

Said the prime min­is­ter, ref­er­enc­ing his bud­get: “Yes, we have a deficit this year. But our in­ten­tion is to grow the econ­omy. And un­like what the MP for La­borie said ear­lier, that we are tak­ing a big risk, we on this side don’t think so.” Need­less to say the bill passed un­op­posed. At any rate, un­op­posed in par­lia­ment!

Op­po­si­tion staged an­other house walk-out on Tues­day. From left: MP for Vieux Fort South Kenny An­thony, and MP for Den­nery North Shawn Ed­ward. MP for La­borie Alva Bap­tiste (front cen­tre) fol­lowed suit.

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