Opposition unable, for yet another year, to debate Private Member’s Motion in House
It has been at least 19 years since the Opposition has been able to successfully move and debate a Private Member’s Motion in this country’s House of Assembly.
This was expressed by several Members of the Opposition on Monday, June 22, as they were unable, for yet another year, to debate a motion they had brought to Parliament.
“In this Parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the only time that the Opposition is permitted to bring a motion is one time in an entire year. Once. That meeting is set aside clearly to give the Opposition an opportunity to bring a motion. Once,” Daniel Cummings, the representative for West Kingstown said.
Cummings said also, that “through all kinds of shenanigans, this government has steam rolled the intent of that, and not allowed us, once in 19, now 20 years, to move a motion”.
The parliamentarian noted that members in Parliaments in other Caribbean jurisdictions are allowed to move motions and debate them on a regular basis.
According to the Standing Orders of Parliament, no Private Member’s motion should be considered after 5 pm at any ordinary sitting of the House.
Monday’s sitting began sometime after 10 am and members from both sides of the House engaged in the Obituaries portion for at least two hours.
The Opposition had submitted for oral answer, 12 questions, most with sub sections.
But before the question and answer period could begin, lengthy ministerial statements, giving updates on the management of the COVID-19 situation, were made by finance minister, Camillo Gonsalves; health minister, Luke Browne; and agriculture minister, Saboto Caesar. Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves also rose to address Parliament.
And members of the Opposition side believe this to be a tactic to exhaust the time allocated for the Private Member’s Motion to be heard in Parliament.
“We are seven members elected Mr Speaker, seven members elected. There is one more on the other side. We have to make the voice of our people heard here and that is one mechanism and you continue to deny it,” Cummings said on Monday evening, raising his voice in Parliament as the Speaker, Carlos James attempted to get him to take his seat. “And history will not serve you or any member on that side well because you’re breaking the laws, you’re breaking the rules and you’re stomping on the rights of the people…”
The West Kingstown representative told the Speaker that he had one chance before facing another “speaker”, that is, the people, sometime soon.
And he urged James to “stand up and allow the people of this country’s voice to be heard through that of seven members on this side. Stand up, you have a chance”.
St Clair Leacock, the representative for Central Kingstown walked out of the Chamber during the earlier portion of the sitting, but expressed his dissatisfaction with the proceedings before he did so.
When the finance minister rose to deliver his ministerial statement, Leacock interrupted to ask whether the minister’s statement could not be incorporated in the debate of the motion.
“…Or alternatively, whether the contributions can be held post discussion of the motion…as we’ve been struggling for the last 20 years to have our business be given priority. For once; to have an opportunity to see the light of day,” Leacock said.
His request was denied. The representative for Central Kingstown could be heard later in the proceedings saying that the ministers were wasting time and shortly after, he was seen picking up his briefcase and leaving the Chamber.
This year’s Private Member’s Motion was expected to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the management of the economic and social consequences of the pandemic.
The Motion, which was to be moved by Leader of the Opposition, asserted in its ‘Whereas’ clauses, that “the quality of life in SVG has deteriorated over the last two decades”; that “employment for young people coming out of school is seldom available”; that “business activity and the economy have suffered from the arbitrary rule of the present government”; that “economic activity has further suffered severely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”; and that “this government has a practice of distributing aid and government resources on a partisan political basis”.
The Motion also stated that in the interest of transparency and effective use of funds, it was essential that all international aid and funds be approved by Parliament and managed by a permanent select committee of Parliament.
The Motion’s two Resolutions involved that establishment of such a permanent select committee of Parliament and the establishment of a task force with persons from various sectors of the economy and civil society to bring insight and expertise that will help government to fashion policies and measures to aid in the overall recovery process.
“The way the rules have been interpreted in this House has been to terminate debate or consideration of private member’s business at 5 o’ clock. I have always had my differences of opinion on that interpretation because it makes no sense. You never get to private members business,” Opposition leader, Dr Godwin Friday said on Monday evening.
Friday noted that according to the standing orders, any business as it relates to the Private Member’s Motion not reached, shall stand over to the next sitting.
He questioned what would happen to the Motion, which he believed to be an important matter that needed to be debated in the House.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves countered that the standing orders specifically state that “any business not reached shall stand over to the next sitting. Private Member’s business entered upon, but not disposed of at that time shall be deferred until such time as the Speaker may determine”.
And he said no business relating to the Motion had been entered upon.
The Prime Minister however expressed belief that the Opposition did not actually want the Motion to be debated as a significant amount of time was spent answering the questions they had tabled.
“They want to have a point that we did not allow them to debate their motion,” Gonsalves said.
“Part of any sensible parliamentary work is to plan your time properly if you know you have up to five o clock — we had a question and answer just now for three hours. If even there were no ministerial statements, when we had finished this morning with obituaries and the like, it was almost 12 o clock and three hours, Mr Speaker of question and answers would have taken you to three o clock, and two hours for lunch would take you to five o clock.”
Carlos James, the Speaker of the House also commented on the time spent on Obituaries during the sitting.
James said the Private Member’s Motion was not an “opposition motion” as there are private members on the Government side as well.
The Speaker said that it was not that the Opposition was being denied from having a Motion but that the time had already passed for such a debate.