Speaker, Friday in heated face off
A face-off between the Speaker of the House, Rochelle Forde and Leader of the Opposition, Dr Godwin Friday, over a government senator’s presence in the House of Assembly this Tuesday ultimately led to Friday having to leave the Chamber.
The senator in question, Ashelle Morgan, also holds the office of Deputy Speaker of the House and was recently alleged to have been involved in a matter in which a resident of Diamond was shot in the leg.
“It is also a general principal Madam Speaker in matters involving public interest and public figures that when you have allegations of the gravity that we heard, … that the Commissioner of Police has indicated, are under investigation, involving the senator, that in those circumstances, the person involved – in this case the senator – withdraws from the public role or is made to withdraw until the investigation is complete,” Friday said in the House on Tuesday, echoing the sentiments of many Vincentians – some of whom picketed outside the House of Assembly during this week’s sitting.
He continued: “that is what we on this side of the House expect and that is what we are asking you as the person who is in charge of the conduct of the business in this House and is charged with the responsibility of maintaining the appearance of decorum and dignity in the House and at the same time Madam Speaker, to permit, when matters arise for them to be dealt with in an expeditious way.”
The opposition leader rose during the ‘Question for Oral Answers’ session of Parliament to make his point, which he indicated was pursuant to Standing Order 81, which speaks to the Speaker’s general powers to control the procedure of the House.
“This is the first instance that we have had an opportunity to address the matter and we do not agree and will not agree that the senator should take her place in this house and conduct the business as though it is a matter of the normal practice,” Friday said.
By this time, the Speaker of the House could be seen shaking her head and attempting to interject, as she said “honourable member, honourable member, I think I’ve heard you sufficiently”.
Forde said that the way Friday was attempting his request to have the Deputy Speaker withdraw from her role was not permitted under the Standing Orders of the House.
And after outlining several sections of the Standing Orders, the Speaker ruled that she would not accede to Friday’s request.
“…Whereas I have a wide discretion, if you read carefully Standing Order 41 in conjunction with Standing Order 81, you will see that that discretion is exercised in instances where the rules are silent. If I turn your attention to Standing Orders 20 and Standing Orders 36(8), they deal with matters, it appears – because I’m still not sure why you’re rising, but they deal with a particular type of matter that must follow a particular type of procedure that I cannot usurp when the rules are clear. So, I have heard your request. I cannot accede to your request; I will not accede to your request and I ask therefore that we continue with the questions,” she said.
Clearly dissatisfied with the Speaker’s ruling, the parliamentarian again attempted to make a case for Morgan to be made to step down from her role as Senator and Deputy Speaker of the House until investigations into the matter are complete.
Friday revealed that he had written to the Governor General on the matter, which he said is of grave public importance.
It is at this point that the exchange between the Speaker of the House and the Opposition Leader became heated. The exchange in Parliament saw Forde rising to her feet multiple times in an effort to seat Friday and bring order to the proceedings.
“Let me make myself clear. I have made my ruling on this matter, there may be matters that we all get passionate about from time to time. Every time somebody stands on a position, I’m quite sure it is ok for you to want to advocate and have your position be the ruling of the House,” Forde said after the first occasion of rising to her feet.
“It cannot be, and I say this generally for all members of the House sitting here that after a decision has been made, that some form of trying to interfere and disturb the proper proceedings of the House, will be embarked upon by that level of conduct. My decision has been made and we will continue accordingly with the question session”.
When Friday continuously refused to abide by her ruling, Forde said she was left with “no choice but to ask, given that your conduct is grossly disorderly, to ask that you withdraw immediately from the House for the remainder of the day’s sitting”.
“I have no intention of withdrawing from this honourable House. I am not the person who should be withdrawing from this Honourable House,” Friday responded as he rose to his feet once again. “Senator Morgan is the person under criminal investigation! That is the person who should be withdrawing from this Honourable House.
The Speaker subsequently ordered a suspension of the sitting.
When they returned, Major St Clair Leacock, the parliamentary representative for Central Kingstown seemingly attempted to diffuse the situation in the House, but the resumption lasted just over 13 minutes before Forde ultimately insisted that the Opposition Leader withdraw from Tuesday’s sitting.
Additional Police presence was visible in the Chamber, similar to when Opposition members were thrown out of Parliament in 2011.
“Well, it’s my indication Madam Speaker, that I am also leaving, but I say this Madam Speaker, as I said before, ask that these guys, not one of them put their hand on me,” Leacock said, pointing in the direction of officers dressed in black.
All other Opposition parliamentarians who were sitting in the House, including Terrence Ollivierre, Nigel Stevenson and Fitz Bramble, parliamentary representatives for the Southern Grenadines, South Leeward and East Kingstown respectively and Senators Shevern John and Israel Bruce rose and followed their leader out of the Chamber, bringing an abrupt end to the ‘Question for Oral Answers’ session.
After making his exit, the Leader of the Opposition gave a brief comment to journalists who were waiting outside.
Friday then greeted protesters through the chained, locked and heavily guarded front gate of the yard of the House of Assembly.
“Stand up! You have to stand up for your rights in this country, not just me and the members of Parliament, everybody gotta do it,” the opposition leader said behind the bars of the gate.
He also made his way to the second exit on the left of the compound to join the waiting crowd who embraced him while loudly voicing their dissatisfaction with what happened, during which one protester attempted to strike up the chorus, “We shall overcome”.
Protesters eventually dispersed sometime in the late afternoon, while parliamentarians on the government side of the House continued on to pass a supplementary bill to address volcano relief efforts.