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Opposition to be penalized for boycotting Parliament?

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“The public is expecting that we will do something about persons who don’t want to come to Parliament, but want to draw money… We will do it because, we have been looking at laws in other countries where you have similar and such provisions.”

This was the warning issued by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves last Friday, during his closing statement of the 2016 Budget Estimates, following the notable absence of Opposition Members of Parliament.{{more}}

Gonsalves said that although he hopes it does not have to reach that extent, he plans to put forward a Bill during the next parliamentary session that will see House of Assembly members penalized in monetary terms for not attending Parliament without a valid reason.

Minister of Economic Planning, Sustainable Development, Industry, Information and Labour Camillo Gonsalves also weighed in on the issue during his address – heavily criticizing the New Democratic Party (NDP) representatives for their boycott.

“They can go to frivolities… they can celebrate the victory of desperation and self-delusion over common sense… and they can celebrate the victory of fantasy over reality,” chided the younger Gonsalves.

“But if your celebration of delusion gets to the point where it is interfering with your real work, then you have to consider whether or not you are fit for the job that you applied for.”

He added: “I believe… that it is high time that if this particular mode of protest continues, that we test the strength of their commitment by forfeiting all, or a portion of their salary, because they must come to work to get paid.”

The Minister of Economic Planning emphatically asserted that attending Parliament is “an essential part of the job”, and described the boycotting of Parliament by the Opposition as a “travesty” and “obstructionist behaviour”

“We need to consider the outer limits of the Speaker’s authority if people continue to abuse the good will of this Government and the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

Referencing the Prime Minister’s call for “value for money” across all facets of budget expenditure, the younger Gonsalves pointed out that over $7 million of taxpayers’ money goes toward paying members of the House of Assembly; which includes $98,000 for the Leader of the Opposition, over $200,000 budgeted for parliamentary members, $90,000 for senators, and over $275,000 for office allowance – among other costs.

“It is striking… that when we are making a call for value for money, members of this house are conspicuous by their absence. And I wonder if they are also absent from the bank queue when it is time for them to collect their salary.”

He pointed out that in many countries around the world (including Commonwealth countries), the various Parliaments will forfeit members’ salaries if they are absent without valid reason. Additionally, he reminded Speaker of the House Jomo Thomas that speakers of the house have the authority to “enforce discipline” in such matters where necessary.

The Prime Minister said that although he is not displeased that the Opposition have chosen not to attend Parliament, it is their mandate to represent the people they serve.

“For these matters, I can’t just look at my personal self – I have to look at the country.”

Referring to NDP supporters, Prime Minister Gonsalves added: “Their voices are not being

heard here, where their voices are required to be heard!

“You can have whatever protest you want, but come here and do the people’s business!”

Lamenting that the Opposition members seem to have lost their way, he urged: “Let’s settle down and build this country. That’s what we have to do.” (JSV)

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