High drama unfolded in the House of Assembly today as the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) walked out of Parliament on at least three occasions in strong objection to House Speaker Michael Carrington’s refusal to recuse himself.
And BLP MPs have vowed not to take part in any other sitting presided over by Carrington.
Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley said the action would continue for as long as he remained in the chair, or until the controversy surrounding him had been properly addressed.
Carrington, an attorney and the Member of Parliament for St Michael West, recused himself from last week’s sitting after Leader of Opposition Business in the House Santia Bradshaw raised objection to him remaining in his seat, in light of a publicized legal dispute with a former client to whom he had failed to hand over $210,000 from the sale of land.
But today, Carrington refused to budge.
He had been presiding over the sitting for just over half hour before Mottley stood up on a point of privilege as Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy introduced the Barbados Port Inc. Transfer of Management and Vesting of Assets Bill, 2015.
She informed the House that Bradshaw had sought a suspension to hold a discussion with the Leader of the Government Business, the Speaker and the Clerk of Parliament about that fact that Carrington had taken the chair again despite his matter being before the Committee of Privileges.
However, Carrington interrupted Mottley.
“You said you’re dealing with a matter of your privilege. Tell me what is the matter so I may rule on it and let’s move on,” he stated.
“I believe that this House’s dignity has been offended,” Mottley replied.
The Speaker again interrupted. “You believe it has been offended?”
Mottley responded by questioning Carrington remaining in the chair in circumstances where a matter involving him was before the Committee of Privileges.
“ . . . Because a matter involving you, Sir, which relates to a fiduciary duty in your professional capacity as a lawyer, cannot be divorced from the manner in which the public sees you in the holding of this chair as Speaker of this House,” she insisted, adding that Carrington was behaving as though it was business as usual.
“The people of Barbados cannot accept that the Parliament can operate with business as usual. When a public servant is charged, Sir, and interdicted, the public servant has to leave his office and remains, worse still, on half pay. There cannot be one set of rules for us and one set of rules for the rest of the country,” she contended.
Stating that she was appealing to his “sense of dignity and morals of understanding”, Mottley insisted that “justice must not only be done, but must appear to be done”.
As Mottley was making her argument, members on the Government side were objecting.
This prompted the Speaker to state, “Man, let her talk nuh. The lady has the floor, let her talk.”
Mottley was not pleased, again raising objection to the Speaker’s manner and response.
She went on to press for the Speaker to recuse himself, though the Opposition Leader said Carrington should lead by example since she did not believe that the issue was one that should be dealt with by the Committee of Privileges.
At that point, the Speaker called on Sealy who made an attempt to resume his presentation.
But, once again, Mottley objected. She insisted that the Speaker should rule on the matter she raised and not show her contempt.
The Speaker responded, however, that he had not asked the minister to continue his speech but was merely calling on him after he indicated he wanted to speak.
The Speaker and the Opposition Leader were then engaged in back and forth discussions, with the Speaker ordering that he not be interrupted.
Carrington then said: “A matter was raised by a member. I recused myself so that the Deputy Speaker could deal with that. Nobody has informed me subsequently, but I learnt that a matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges. I have not been charged with anything like any public officer who should be suspended, contrary to what you’re saying. If you think I have been charged, bring the charge and let me see it. I don’t know of any resolution that was passed by this House saying that I cannot take this chair. I don’t know that any procedure under these Standing Orders were gone through to say that Michael Carrington as Speaker can’t take the chair. Until that is done, I am entitled to preside. Good.”
Mottley again stood up, at which point the Speaker informed her the only way to challenge his ruling was to bring a substantive motion.
“Outside of that I am not going to permit you to delay the people’s business in this way any longer,” he said firmly.
Not deterred, Mottley stood yet again, and despite the Speaker interjecting and informing her she did not have the floor, told the House that the Opposition could not sit in the chamber while he was in the chair.
At this point, Sealy attempted to speak but Mottley ignored him and continued making her point.
She was then told by Carrington: “You don’t need any excuse to leave the House, you have done it before.”
It was at that point that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart took the floor to weigh in on the matter.
Speaking at a media conference held outside her office in the Parliament buildings later in the afternoon, Mottley made a pledge, as nine BLP MPs and a senior party member stood by her, that they would not participate in any House of Assembly meetings presided over by Carrington.
“The Opposition will turn up for work every time Parliament is called. We will be in the precincts, but we will not sit in the chamber as long at the Speaker is there, until this matter is resolved . . . If we have to walk the steps 10 times a day, we will walk the steps 10 times a day and get the exercise,” she vowed.
Also present at the Press conference was former Member of Parliament Reverend Joseph Atherley who lost to Carrington in the St Michael West constituency in the last general election.
The Opposition members had taken onlookers off guard when they walked out of the chamber on at least three occasions, only returning at points during the sitting when Carrington was not in the chair.
While addressing the media, Mottley sought to explain the MPs’ actions.
“When we left the chamber, the Deputy Speaker took the chair for a period of time. We went back in. Every time the Deputy Speaker is in the chair, we will be there. Every time the chairman of committees is in the chair, we will be there,” she said.
In the likelihood that they are unable to get sufficient time to highlight issues of concern in the House, the Opposition MPs said they would deal directly with the residents of Barbados.
“A number of people have already called today asking to meet with us over the next few days for us to clarify our position. We will be meeting with them,” Mottley explained.
“Similarly, we will be holding a public meeting on Sunday night in St Michael West, not to get into what the Committee of Privileges will deal with, but to address this whole issue of the downgrading and decimation of institutions and, at some point, people of Barbados have to stand up for what is right.”
Absent from the media conference were Opposition members Dale Marshall, George Payne and Kerrie Symmonds.