KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Opposition legislators on Wednesday wrote to House Speaker Hendrick Alexander asking him to demit office for what they say is his lack of impartiality.
“We have become very tired of the attitude displayed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly,” Opposition Leader and President of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Arnhim Eustace told a media briefing.
The call for Alexander to go comes in response to statements he made to Searchlight newspaper about Central Kingstown representative, NDP Vice-President St. Clair Leacock after an exchange between the two men in Parliament on March 26.
Leacock repeatedly referred to the NDP’s Social, and Spiritual Redemption Charter as he debated the Interviewing of Suspects of Serious Crimes Bill 2012 in Parliament even as the Speaker repeatedly told him to stay on topic.
“I want you to get directly to the point of the Bill that is before you and if you cannot do that, I’m asking you please to discontinue, because I am not happy at all and you yourself said that you are not dealing with the matter that is before you, it doesn’t take a genius to see that,” the Speaker said.
“Mr Speaker, with all due respect, I am not a child, I’m an elected member of this House,” Leacock said.
“I’m an elected member too,” Alexander said.
“I am an elected member to this House representing a constituency. You feel you can dress me down in here?” Leacock said.
The Speaker then instructed Leacock to sit and added, “I am also an elected member of this House by almost, you can say, the whole country,” Alexander said.
“Questionably,” Leacock said, in an apparent reference to the NDP’s doubts about the legitimacy of the Speaker’s election because the Attorney General voted.
Frederick subsequently told Searchlight that Leacock is “simply a rude and out of place man who is not fit to be a parliamentarian to represent people anywhere in this country
“… Sometimes I wonder if he doesn’t suffer from some sort of complex or the other. He just simply believes that he can flaunt the rules of the House, at any and all times must be allowed to do that,” the Speaker further said, according to the publication.
Beyond parliamentary privilege
But the NDP in its letter on Wednesday noted that the Speaker’s comments to the newspaper are not protected by parliamentary privilege.
“You, Mr. Speaker must recognised that this statement was made outside the House and its privileges and therefore is subject to a lawsuit,” Eustace said, quoting the letter.
“Since there was no retraction by you, Mr. Speaker, of your statements, we conclude that they were meant for public consumption. And coming from the Speaker, this is untenable, since the Speaker is expected to be impartial and a keeper of the peace,” Eustace further said.
“The opposition Members of Parliament therefore call on you to step down from the office so that a more impartial individual can be elected as Speaker in the interest of our democracy,” Eustace said, quoting the letter.
The letter said that opposition legislators have repeatedly raised issues about the Speaker’s lack of impartiality.
They mentioned an exchange in Parliament last Thursday, May 31, when opposition legislator Daniel Cumming asked about the Speaker’s ruling on a matter in which South Leeward Representative Nigel Stephenson was made to withdraw a statement, attributed to Gonsalves, about the crime-fighting initiative Vincy Pac.
The opposition say they have given the Speaker evidence that Gonsalves in fact made the statement.
But the Speaker is yet to rule on the matter and responded hostilely to opposition legislators, including West Kingstown representative Daniel Cumming and his Northern Grenadines colleague Dr. Godwin Friday, when they inquired about it in Parliament Thursday.
“So he has the evidence that he has asked for and still has not ruled on the issue. And when asked to do so, at the last sitting of the House, he gave no assurance that it would be dealt with,” Friday, an NDP vice-president said at Wednesday’s press conference.
Friday, a lawyer, said opposition lawmakers believe the legal opinion the Speaker received and announced in Parliament about Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan’s ballot in the Speaker’s election is “wrong”.
“But the Speaker himself has essentially presented the opinion, but, in my view has not ruled on the issue as to what extent the Attorney General is entitled to vote in the House,” Friday said.
“So that is another issue that is lingering. So, there are a number of serious procedural issues and when we raise them, there is a temptation of some to trivialise them and say we are simply trying to score political points. But the Speaker is constitutionally an impartial person so we can’t score political points against the Speaker,” he said.
The NDP has copied its letter, singed by all opposition legislators, to Gonsalves, Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne, and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.