KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – What yesterday began as a question in Parliament about whether road repairs is prioritised based on support for the ruling party, ended in a lesson on the rules of the House of Assembly for an opposition MP.
Member of Parliament for South Leeward Nigel Stephenson, in one of the few questions without a preamble, asked Minister of Works Sen. Julian Francis to “… state whether strong support for the ULP is a prerequisite for repairing roads in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
“Mr. Speaker, now this question deserves a long answer. I can keep you here until 2:00 this afternoon; but I know how you feel on it,” Francis said in his response around 1:40 p.m.
“Mr. Speaker, the answer to this question is straight and simply ‘No’. That’s the answer,” Francis said.
But Stephenson, in what was intended to be a supplementary question, asked Francis to explain a statement made at a recent Unity Labour Party (ULP) rally in Vermont.
“The Honourable Minister was the chairman of that meeting. And he actually made that statement that if Ralph Gonsalves is going to do repair work in his constituency, Park Hill and South Rivers will be done first because that is where they have strongest support. Likewise, in South Leeward, if repairs [are] going to be done, it has to be done in Vermont …” Stephenson said.
“So, is there an order of priority with respect to support for the Unity Labour Party?” he asked.
“Aren’t you asking the same question again?” the speaker said and instructed Francis not to respond to Stephenson, ending his comments with what sounded like a steups.
At that point, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves called to the attention of the House, Standing Order 20(f), which says a question, should not contain arguments, inferences, opinions, imputations, epithets, ironical expressions or hypothetical cases.
“There are several limbs of this rule that will cover questions of this kind. While we are on it, let me say this, I heard what Minister Francis said [at the meeting in Vermont] and I will say that that is not an accurate representation of what Minister Francis said,” Gonsalves told Parliament.
The Prime Minister, however, said he “will not say what Minister Francis said” but added that the first piece of road done in his constituency was outside Park Hill.
Francis has said at the Oct. 23 meeting that his ministry already had a contractor to repair road in the constituency.
“Vermont road was number one. Because comrade, if Ralph Gonsalves going to patch road in his constituency, Park Hill and South Rivers road get fix first. Inside of South Leeward, when you patching road, Vermont road get fix first. That ain’t mean we not going to fix the rest, you know,” Francis had said at the meeting.
Question no longer vetted
The Speaker further said that he had stopped vetting questions because he was “maligned” for having some questions adjusted in the past, to meet the rules of Parliament.
“One time, I discussed with one person [and] the matter was explained and I said ‘Okay. Fine. Let the question come’ and I saw we gain a victory and all that kind of situation developed,” the Speaker explained.
“So, I say let the questions flow; we will deal with them when they come to Parliament. We will apply the rules if the rules have to be applied. If a member sees a question that is not in accordance with the rules and raise the objection, we will deal with it accordingly,” the speaker said.
Also in yesterday’s sitting, Minister of Education Giryln Miguel responded to a question from MP for the Southern Grenadines Terrance Ollivierre regarding the introduction of secondary education on Canouan by saying: “Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, during this session, on Tuesday 24th May, 2011, this question was already answered. I am obliged.”
The speaker noted that the question, in the circumstances, contravened rule 20G(i).