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Mr Speaker! On a Point of Order…!

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Mr. Speaker, I rise to join the growing call for your resignation as Speaker of our House of Parliament. Actually, as I write this, I am standing in deference to you and the rules of the House. Really, I first wanted to stand on a point of order, but was not sure what that point of order was. But does it really matter? You cannot have a point of order in a situation of disorder. We cannot get out of this state of disorder by listening to you reminding us of your authority and the power you have.{{more}} The chaos that continues to prevail following the sad and unparalleled events of last Thursday could only be remedied by your resignation. You have indeed made a mockery of an institution that is presumed to be peopled by persons whom we refer to as honourable. The institution we regard, therefore, as an honourable one. A Speaker is put there to maintain order and to be a referee of the debates in the House. Your rulings instead have led to disorder and to the manhandling of politicians, male and females, on the Opposition side of the House, persons, by and large, elected by Vincentians to represent them in the House. The fact that the indication given to the Sergeant at Arms and the other law enforcement officers was that they could carry out the order given to them forcibly, if necessary, gave the cue to the rough hands that appeared too ready to carry out such orders. The Sergeant at Arms at one point appeared quite perplexed, facing a situation that he probably never bargained for.

I am quite pleased that Mr. Monty Maule chose to comment on the activities that took place in the House of Parliament last Thursday, and in particular, to give his views on the role of the Speaker and on what is expected of a Speaker. Mr Maule is ‘arguably’ the best Speaker this country has had since Independence. The way he handled the House during his tenure of Office as Speaker demonstrated that he took his responsibilities seriously and operated with tact and finesse, seeing his role as not only confined to how he handled matters in the House but intervening even outside the House to create the kind of atmosphere that would facilitate the smooth operation of the House. He was selected during the administration of James Mitchell, but no one dared say that he was a lackey of that administration. He was able to maintain calm and order and never allowed parliament to descend to the level where it lost the respect of Vincentians.

I said the latter to say that our Parliament in recent times has been allowed to lose the esteem by which it should have been and was held. The degeneration, in my view, is to a large extent attributed to the performance of the Speaker. Our Speaker might indeed be a Christian and a Gentleman, but his performance in the House of Parliament has been atrocious. It beats me why an individual would allow himself to act in a way that causes him to lose the respect not only of members of the House, but of a large percentage of the Vincentian public. The fact that he has to keep reminding members of Parliament of the power and authority he wields is testimony to his poor performance for his presence, and the manner in which he handles the debates in Parliament should convey that. Individuals in positions of authority have to realise that there is life beyond the positions that they hold and that the public is not going to draw a fine distinction between the man dressed in the Speakers’ garb and the individual they see outside, at Church or wherever.

The position of Speaker is one that dates back to the 13th Century and is a feature of the Westminster System of Government that we inherited from our colonial past. The hallmarks of a good Speaker under this system wherever it operates are impartiality and the ability to control the debates in Parliament. Our Speaker makes no pretence about being impartial and his performance last Thursday raises questions about his ability to control the House, short of calling for the use of force to enforce his authority.

I share Mr. Maule’s view that it will be difficult now for members of the House who were treated in the brutal manner that they were to be able to sit again under the direction of that Speaker. How could they ever respect him again? Who knows what next is in store for them if they ever again see it fit to challenge the Speaker and the direction in which the House is moving? For the House to regain the kind of status and decorum one expects of its operations, the Speaker will have to be removed. Failure to do that would lead to more chaos and further decline in the respect that our people should have for our House of Parliament and its deliberations. What we witnessed last Thursday was authority gone mad. In situations, as happened then, the answer is not for the Speaker to try to demonstrate the power he has but to use tact and plain commonsense to ensure calm and order.

Let us hope that we can have civility in the House. The members of parliament are persons we sent there, directly or indirectly, to conduct the affairs of State. If there cannot be order in the House with a Speaker put there to control and ensure the smooth operation of proceedings, where else can we expect order? There are times when Parliament will be stormy. There are times when the temperature on the floor would rise, but at such times you want to have someone in control of the proceedings who has the respect of the other members and who no one would be able to accuse of partiality. We need to strive to achieve this. The Ball is now in the court of the Speaker and the Prime Minister. How they act now would send powerful signals and determine the state of things to come.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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