KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – House Speaker Hendrick Alexander was “not in the best of situation” on Friday and that, coupled with crosstalk, almost cost opposition legislator St. Clair Leacock the opportunity to contribute to this year’s budget debate.
Leacock, Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, was making the point that there was some debate by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves about whether 2011 was a fourth consecutive year of economic decline here.
“In fact, when the Honourable Leader of the Opposition [Arnhim Eustace] mentioned that and [Gonsalves] in fact admitted that there will be no growth in 2011,” Leacock said.
“He said that [there would be growth] only to get the RCF money from the IMF (International Monetary Fund). Well that has to be a tongue in cheek statement because, you cannot, as a Prime Minister, say that you are being untruthful with your representation to an international body, to the extent that –” Leacock was saying before he was interrupted by the Speaker.
“Honourable member I am wondering –” the Speaker began to say before acknowledging government senator Julian Francis on a point of order.
“I never got that interpretation that the Prime Minister said that he was fooling the IMF,” Francis said of Gonsalves, who was not in the assembly chamber at the time.
“I think the member should withdraw that statement,” he further said.
The Speaker said that he also did not get the impression that Gonsalves was saying that he had fooled the IMF and asked Leacock to withdraw the statement.
“I am not withdrawing it, Mr. Speaker. There is a difference of interpretation,” Leacock said.
“As Speaker of the House, I am asking you to withdraw the statement because I don’t think that is what he (the Prime Minister) indicated,” the Speaker further added.
“And if you are going to disobey my advise as Speaker, then there is no way you should be able to continue your debate. I am Speaker of the House and I am saying that I do not agree with your interpretation as Speaker and I am asking you to withdraw it. And failing so to do, I will have to ask you to discontinue your speech. … I am serious on that,” he further stated.
“The honourable Prime Minister, in response to the charge that in the letter [to the IMF] he had admitted that there was four years of negative growth, indicated that his reference was solely directed toward acquiring the RCF funds. … I have restated my position,” Leacock responded.
He was referring to a letter Gonsalves wrote to the IMF saying the local economy was expected to decline in 2011, for a fourth consecutive year.
However, the government as since said that the economy would grow by 0.8 per cent.
The Speaker asked Leacock to withdraw the earlier statement about the Prime Minister fooling the IMF.
“I have restated my position and replaced the earlier position with that,” Leacock said.
“No. I want you to say that you have withdrawn your statement,” the Speaker responded.
“Which is?” Leacock asked.
“The one where you said that he said he fooled the IMF.”
“Well, he didn’t use the language he fooled them,” Leacock said as the Speaker again asked him to withdraw the statement about the Prime Minister.
“Well, I have addressed that,” Leacock told the Speaker.
“Honourable member, I am not in the best of situation today to play around,” the Speaker responded.
“Well, I am not responsible for your situation,” Leacock said.
“I know that,” the Speaker told the opposition MP. “So I am please asking for your cooperation. You withdraw or you sit down. If you don’t do it, I will call the Honourable Nigel Stephenson to debate. I am not here this morning for fooling around.”
“I am not fooling around. I remove the statement as you request,” Leacock said even as the Speaker responded, “I said what I want. I said I want an unqualified –”
“I said I have removed the statement,” Leacock said as the Speaker banged the gavel and said, “Honourable member, can you please take your seat? I said I want a total statement.”
“But that’s what I said. I said I have withdrawn the statement,” Leacock maintained.
“Please, sit down. Honourable Nigel Stephenson, I will acknowledge you at this time,” the Speaker said as he banged the gavel again. “I mean you can’t be too proud to do certain things,” he added in a voice that suggested that he was displeased.
“I said I have withdrawn the statement,” Leacock further stated even as the Speaker said, “I said what I want. It told you what I want.”
Well, that is fine,” Leacock responded.
At this point, opposition legislator and Member for West Kingstown addressed the Speaker.
“Mr. Speaker, I have listened to your ruling and I have followed the discussion. My honourable colleague has indicated categorically that he has both clarified the statement and, in accordance with your request, he has withdrawn the previous statement,” Cumming said.
“I have not heard that,” the Speaker responded as Cumming reiterated that Leacock had withdrawn the statement.
“I said I have not heard that,” the Speaker maintained.
“Mr. Speaker can you kindly ask the stenographers to get the record. I heard my college said that he has withdrawn the statement,” Cumming said.
“I told your colleague to say what I want to hear. I want him to say that ‘I have–” the Speaker was saying as Cummings again repeated that Leacock had said that he had withdrawn the statement.
The Speaker then asked to hear Minister of Tourism and Member for South Central Windward Saboto Ceasar, who wanted to address the Parliament.
“Mr. Speaker, … during the crosstalk — and all of us miss it from time to time — … I did hear him say that he withdraw. But I mean I am here and I would like to hear the honourable member. And if he would just get up and just make it clear that he withdraw the statement that he made. … He said ‘withdraw’. The word ‘withdraw’ was used,” the government legislator said.
“I have to be satisfied with the withdrawal and I am not satisfied with what he had said. That’s all I am saying,” the Speaker said in response to Caesar’s intervention.
“And the member for West Kingstown getting up and making the statement he made does not convince me. I know what I want and what I am expecting. And if he is not going to do it, then I am not going to allow him to continue the debate. And this is done without any prejudice,” the Speaker further stated.
“Minister Saboto is absolutely correct and I said so about three times. I have withdrawn the statement,” Leacock said.
“Thank you very much. Continue your debate,” the Speaker responded
“But I said that,” Leacock further stated before continuing his presentation on the budget.