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Speaker says he erred in allowing amendment to ‘No Confidence’ motion

Speaker says he erred in allowing amendment to ‘No Confidence’ motion

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Speaker of the House Jomo Thomas says he was wrong when he allowed the Government to amend a ‘No Confidence’ motion tabled by the Opposition last week.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, February 1, Thomas said he did not think the correct decision was arrived at in Parliament the previous day.

“A similar motion will meet a much more enlightened Jomo, if I am the Speaker. I do not think we arrived at the right decision yesterday,” he said.

On Wednesday, January 31, after Thomas ruled that the motion of No Confidence should be debated, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves drew the attention of the Speaker to Standing Order 25 (a) and submitted an amendment to the motion of No Confidence.

“You have ruled that we should proceed, so I am amending the motion that is before the House,” said Gonsalves.

The amendment by the Government turned the motion of No Confidence into a motion of Confidence by removing the negatives in the original motion.

Thomas accepted the amendment, which led to the Opposition not returning after the lunch break, although the Speaker said then that the amendment does not stop the Opposition from arguing the same points they would have made with their original No Confidence motion.

However, after sleeping on his decision, Thomas said he realized that he had made a mistake.

“There is no way a constitutionally mandated provision can be negatived by an amendment. Once I ruled that the motion could not be voted down before a debate, the only other thing left was for the debate.

“I erred by entertaining the amendment. It was a new area and both the Standing Orders and the bible on Parliamentary practice spoke to amendments.

“However, since the Constitution is supreme and it speaks to a procedure for a motion of no confidence. [Nothing] that Parliament does could have negatived the Constitution,” Thomas said in his Facebook post.

“All of this came to me as I was running into Rillan Hill this morning,” he said.

But last Wednesday, even before the Government side sought to amend the NDP’s motion, Prime Minister Dr Gonsalves and several other parliamentarians argued with Thomas that based on a unique provision in the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the ULP majority in the House allowed them to vote down the motion of No Confidence even before it was debated.

Quoting section 47 (2) (a) of the Constitution, the Prime Minister said, “If notice in writing is given to the Speaker signed by not less than three representatives, of a motion of no confidence in the Government the Speaker shall – (i) if the House is then sitting or has been summoned to meet within five days, cause the motion to be considered by the House within seven days of the notice ….”

Gonsalves opined that the use of the verb “considered” made his argument valid, in that “consider” does not mean the same thing as “debate” and that the motion should not be heard because the majority voted against it.

“Find support for your proposition in the entire Commonwealth where the Opposition brings a motion and the Government can vote it down before discussing it,” repeated Thomas before ruling that he would allow the debate.

Regional constitutional scholar Dr Francis Alexis QC, in an opinion published in SEARCHLIGHT today, on pages 10 to 12, disagrees with Thomas’s decision to allow the debate.

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