Government attempted to prevent democratic debate – Dr Godwin Friday
The events that unfolded in Parliament last Friday were an attempt by the Government to prevent parliamentary and democratic debate on a matter of significant importance to Vincentians.
This is the view expressed by opposition leader, Dr Godwin Friday, while speaking on the New Times radio programme on Monday.
The Opposition, last Friday, moved a Private Member’s motion on electoral reform in Parliament. However, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves proposed an amendment to the motion, using Standing orders 24 and 25, which allowed for his amendment to be made without providing notice to the Opposition.
The government’s amendment to the motion saw additional clauses being added, changes being made to the wording of the initial clauses and an additional resolution statement.
The Opposition responded with raucous behaviour that resulted in several suspensions of the sitting.
Since consensus could not be reached within the allocated four hours for debate, neither the motion nor the amendment to the motion were debated.
“…What happened there is that the government came and just used their majority to say well we’re going to change this motion to whatever we want it to and make sure that it’s something that you don’t like so that it don’t go nowhere,” Friday stated.
He said what was proposed could not be considered an amendment, especially since everything in the opposition’s initial motion had been changed.
The opposition leader said that Speaker of the House, Jomo Thomas also aided the Government’s attempt to obstruct parliamentary proceedings by allowing the amendment to pass.
“And so the Speaker allowed them to go ahead with it and that was it. For four hours in the morning, they basically wasted the people’s parliamentary time debating this question as to what an amendment means and whether the government can essentially take over a private member’s bill because a private member’s motion cannot be moved by a member of the Government, a member of Cabinet,” Friday said.
He continued; “the ruling was that because Ralph Gonsalves was amending the motion that I put forward to essentially change everything in it, that it was now his motion and and that he could debate it and he has the right of reply and all that”.
Friday described what happened as a misinterpretation and corruption of the rules of the House and said the opposition could not accept the amendments because they did not represent the intention of the original private member’s motion.
The opposition leader said if the Government did not like the motion, they should have critiqued the motion during a debate and voted against it so it would not pass because they have the majority.
He said at least then, there would have been a debate.
But Friday said that the debate would not die and the Opposition is adamant that they must have a discussion at some point.
“The motion is still on the order paper. They could set additional time to do it, but of course, I have no interest in that motion they have put forward. If we can go back to having the motion that we put forward or some you know friendly amendment that improves the motion…” the opposition leader said.
“They have now taken the position that their motion should supersede the one that we have and that they have the right to amend it in its entirety as they did with the motion of no confidence last year and then to come to Parliament and debate it and put us in the position where we must oppose our own motion.”
Friday reiterated that what happened was not the intention of Parliament and its rules, as they are supposed to promote debate and not stifle it.