It was not my intention to have a part 2, the discussion was after all done and dusted. in August 2018, I was moved to comment on, and applaud the Speaker of the House of Assembly of St. Lucia, Andy Daniel, whose performance in the parliament I noted was so refreshing that it was deserving of commendation. The immediate context of the article had everything to do with his management of the business of parliament and attempt to control what I then described as an often unruly parliament. What was refreshing was the very balanced manner in which he controlled the House of Assembly which I contended was a far cry from what we typically see across the Caribbean. In some parts of the Caribbean we are often exposed to Speakers who are blatantly partisan and who use every opportunity to castigate and marginalise an already powerless opposition, while giving the ‘Government members of parliament carte blanche to insult and denigrate members in what is supposed to be a venerable House.’ The Speaker I then insisted ‘really ought to be an impartial arbiter of the proceedings of the House of Assembly and ought to rise above the political fray.’
Again I must rise in admiration of the Speaker for the manner in which he handled the No-Confidence Motion against the Prime Minister and the process leading to that motion in St. Lucia in late January 2019. It was by all accounts an exercise in education. The Speaker schooled the House; really the government ministers and the Prime Minister; in parliamentary procedures and conventions in a way that I have hitherto never witnessed and hope that I do not have to in the near future. A futile hope I know, given the characters that now are charged with executing the affairs of State of St. Lucia. Schooled the Speaker did, as if they were all errant school boys and girl failing dismally at basic civics. The fact is that the Prime Minister and his band of unschooled parliamentarians behaved in a most embarrassing, fractious and self-indulgent manner in their single and tunnel vision determination to derail the opposition’s No-Confidence motion.
I wondered what was the purpose of the performance. Well, I did not wonder much for it was clear that the intention was to pervert the course of debate and the exposure that the Opposition was itself hell-bent on presenting. After all, what is parliament about if not to ventilate the issues confronting the State. The Prime Minister was equally determined that the discussion should come to an end and a vote be taken as the entire exercise was a waste of time for the end result was inevitable. What a dismissive attitude, an affront to democracy and to the people of St. Lucia!
I am not surprised by the attitude for it is indicative of an administration which is intolerant of opposition and this is what makes democracy in St. Lucia at this moment, a farce. We have a parliament in which opposition must be silenced, we have a civil society which must be shackled, we have a media which must be harassed and ultimately colonized by a government and a party which cannot countenance any criticism. So in January 2019 apparently two popular television programmes, one by former UWP Minister of government, Richard Frederick (”Can I Help You”) and the other by Christopher Hunte, whose programme “Politically incorrect”, was on a determined single focused journey to expose corruption and bad behaviour in St. Lucia, were taken off air for undisclosed reasons. Christopher Hunte is a young man who I equally admire for his fearless investigation of the facts and his equal determination to engage in exposure in pursuit of holding the government to account and the need for transparency in government. Insane I say! Perhaps not, it is really quite deliberate. The silencing must continue!
Now amidst the embarrassment, was astonishment at the ignorance of the parliamentarians. I could not believe that a member of parliament actually holds the view that in our system of government a motion of no confidence cannot be lodged against an individual minister and certainly the prime minister. Goodness gracious I thought but that is something that every first-year student at Cave Hill Campus, UWI, taking a basic course in political science appreciates by the end of the semester (once they attend classes, tutorials and read). So why on earth would an experienced member of parliament rise on such a ridiculous point of order? And the points of order were incessant, mundane, frivolous and vexatious. Has he not heard of individual ministerial responsibility and what that implies? Has he too not understood that the Prime Minister must always maintain the support of the parliament? And the Speaker, calm, relaxed, in a rather constrained manner, denied all, explaining patiently, time and time again as if to a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum that the Leader of the Opposition would be allowed to present his motion. What he tried to convey to the Government, was that there was nothing unconstitutional about a motion of no-confidence in an individual. Alas, it fell on death ear and they stupidly rose, time and time again, determined to pervert parliamentary conventions. What a mess! My mind simply recoils at the embarrassment!
The Speaker was certainly razor sharp and confident in his abilities, his understanding of parliamentary procedures and his familiarity with judicial rulings on the issue throughout the Commonwealth. Now the Speaker is a man who clearly takes little chances and obviously must have already been clued that there would have been an orchestrated (poorly unfortunately for it was founded on base ignorance) attempt to imprison the opposition with frivolous points of order. So the Speaker armed himself with all the judgments and was in fine form citing case after case after case drawn from St. Christopher- (St. Kitts) Nevis, Dominica, Guyana, New Zealand and South Africa. What a performance! There has not been much to celebrate coming from St. Lucia, so forgive me if I am now in what I call “seventh heaven” given that stellar performance. He made St. Lucia proud, he made the Caribbean proud. Never shaken, but clearly with controlled frustration, the Speaker was sometimes biting as he scoffed and delivered lecture after lecture which were increasingly laced with controlled anger, disdain and contempt, to the members of government and the House of Assembly and to interested St. Lucians, including his son who sat in the gallery. At the end of the day, what will forever remain indelibly etched on my consciousness, is the well-deserved scorn directed at the government from an educated, informed and impartial Speaker.
The Speaker was clear. There may have been some issues with the Opposition Motion, but the Opposition had to be heard. He has not only clearly understood the importance of the No-Confidence Motion and the constitutional conventions of parliamentarianism and indeed the Westminster version of parliamentarianism, but he appreciates the essence of democracy. St. Lucia is after all, a liberal democratic constitutional monarchy (tongue in cheek) and one would have hoped that most of the elements of authoritarianism would have dissipated. But no! So the Speaker’s retort to the vexatious rebuts by the Government was “I have to balance the rights of the Minority”. Kudos to you Mr. Speaker! He could not countenance the infringement of the rights of the minority, an infringement of the rights of the 6 (against the demands of the 11, that the opposition be silenced).
What did the government hope to achieve? Were they attempting to filibuster? Well, that is impossible in our system and not even the opposition could achieve this. For the filibuster means that there are rules which say that one can speak and speak and speak and speak which of course in the absence of a sensible Speaker could not have occurred anyway. But we have the very definition of what a Speaker ought to represent in St. Lucia. Can I be more effusive in my praises of the Speaker? I guess not! I am so jaded by the performance of parliamentarians that I suppose that I cling to what I consider to be a natural Speaker, one that has been so lacking in so many of our jurisdictions.
Was the government looking for the cloture? No, and the Speaker was clear, the opposition had a right to bring the motion, the opposition had a right to defend their motion and explain their motion. In the US, the cloture could be triggered with a two-thirds majority, but that is not a convention in the Caribbean. So I had to listen and watch what looked like court jesters in the Shakespearian plays.
Let me endorse the Speaker’s suggestion that training of parliamentarians in parliamentary procedures and conventions in our system is urgently required. We cannot continue to operate in a manner which suggests that St. Lucia is located under a rock and that the world is not attuned to what is taking place. We cannot continue to be victims of the ignorance that is routinely portrayed on national television. Please call in the Commonwealth Secretariat. The Secretariat routinely engages in training on demand for parliamentarians. Call in the constitutional lawyers, call in the experienced, knowledgeable parliamentarians across the region. Please! No more of that performance! In the meantime read on parliamentary procedures. Goodness gracious stop that embarrassing performance.
Mr. Speaker, keep up the phenomenal work. Stand firm, after all expecting a base level of competence as a prerequisite for an MP is not asking too much. And I sincerely hope that when the SLP wins an election (whenever that is), that they take note of what a natural Speaker is. And in closing can someone please alert the Prime Minister to the fact that it is EXCISE TAX AND NOT EXERCISE. ONCE, MAYBE TWICE IS AN ERROR, BUT CONSISTENTLY, IT IS NOT. Highest regards to the Office of the Prime Minister.
(Cynthia Barrow Giles is a senior lecturer in political science at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.)