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Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. (iWN file photo)
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. (iWN file photo)
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Speaker of the House of Assembly Jomo Thomas, last Friday, questioned the insistence of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and Sir Louis Straker to break with decades of parliamentary practice in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Thomas’s question came as the prime minister and his deputy insisted that the rules of the house should be interpreted to mean that a private member’s motion can be amended to the point that it essentially becomes a totally different motion.

Opposition Leader Godwin Friday, who had brought the motion on electoral reform, along with other members on his side of the house, had urged the use of common sense.

Sir Louis, however, rejected this suggestion, saying that the rules, rather than common sense, governs what takes place in the national assembly.

Addressing Gonsalves, the speaker said:

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“Prime Minister, the issue that is very alive in my mind is the two longest serving members of this house, yourself and Sir Louis, are articulating most strongly for the amended motion. And in terms of history, aren’t you concerned that you are essentially upending post-independence parliamentary practice?”

“No, Mr. Speaker,” Gonsalves said.

Thomas added:

“The old labour party between ‘79 and ’84 didn’t do this. The NDP in its 17 years didn’t do this, and we have had a change under this administration. There were times when I saw Sir Louis debating crime, under a private members’ motion;  I think in ’97, in ’98, Sir Vincent debated crisis in the national commercial bank and there were no amendments to those. They were just allowed to be debated. As someone who serves this parliament, that doesn’t hound your mind at all?”

Gonsalves responded: “Mr. Speaker, if any one decides to, if a government decides to — and I made this point hitherto — acquiesce to a motion coming forward, or supports it, then the motion proceeds. But if a member of the government decides to, in the circumstances, decides to table an amendment, the amendment has to be considered within the four walls of the rules.”

Gonsalves was restating a point that he also made when he amended a motion of no confidence against his government in January 2019, turning it into a motion of no confidence.

The prime minister has argued that government lawmakers can use their majority to block debate on or take over a motion brought by the government.

Gonsalves said that during the presentation by Opposition Senator Kay Bacchus-Baptiste on whether the amendment was permitted the “clear politics effect and what is intended” became apparent.

The prime minister said that government lawmakers would vote against the motion proceeding but chose to bring an amendment instead, adding that this was proper under the rules.

The Speaker then asked the prime minister what violence he thinks would be done to the parliamentary practice or the debate if the house were to allow debate on the opposition’s motion.

“What you would do, Mr. Speaker, is take away my right as a representative of the people of North Central Windward to bring an amendment,” Gonsalves said.

The speaker has earlier asked the prime minister for his response to the opposition leader’s point that the opposition was being denied their one chance annually to bring a motion to the house.

Gonsalves said:

“Mr. Speaker, they can debate, with great respect, what is in their motion when we put forward the amendment.”

But the Speaker told the prime minister that he could do the same.

The prime minister responded:

“No. No. But, Mr. Speaker, I can’t be denied the right to make an amendment… because the rules are very clear. I do not have to give notice of the amendment; if the honourable leader of the opposition wishes to amend his own motion, he has to give a notice.”

12 replies on “PM has no grouse upending parliamentary tradition”

  1. I am glad that Jomo Thomas brought this up. In his capacity as Speaker, with the one exception I know of, he really is doing a good job.
    Wow! Can you say “Dictatorship”? I think someone has become over-confident after the motion of No Confidence became a motion of Confidence. Now they believe that are all-powerful and can control everything that happens in the House and rid it of all traces of Democracy by being able to amend anything to his favour and gaining the ability to weaken and destroy anything the opposition brings to the table…Wow!
    Gonsalves talks about his “right” to represent those that elected him in his district. What about all the people in the country in other districts? What about those that brought the motion? They have no right to represent thier people and indeed represent the entire population of this nation? Is that the best argument he can come up with? Sounds like he is slipping. Sounds like he is ripe for the picking. Good job Jomo! Great courage, now you are looking like a true leader.

  2. Though Gonsalves is legally correct re: interpretation of the rules, I am wondering why doesnt the government just allow the motions to be debated?

    I do believe that there is a dire need for electoral reform and it should be done before the next elections. This may limit the almost 4 year mockery that occurred after the 2015.

    Let the debate be had and get it over with!!!

    1. C. ben-David says:

      Read Parnel Campbell’s Campbell’s cogent reply in today Searchlight newspaper to see why on both legal and party-politics grounds.

      Also, allowing unchallenged debate on this issue by NOT introducing an amendment would have given superficial legitimacy to the motion that it did not deserve.

      For example, allowing a motion that reads, “BE IT RESOLVED that this Honourable House Support a motion to bring about necessary and desirable changes to the elections process in our country by amending The Representation Of the People Act and by adopting other practical and effective measures to ensure free and fair elections and restore public confidence in our electoral system” clearly states that the current legislation does not ensure free and fair elections which is both party-political rhetoric big time, on the one hand, and patently false, on the other, given all the free and fair elections we have have since the Act was passed including the present one which three independent observer groups and a Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal all said was free and fair.

    2. Another Lawyer says:

      This time you are absolutely right Vincy Lawyer!

      I remember my first day in Law School when we were told there were two types of lawyers:
      1) those that see the law as written boundaries that should not be crossed
      2) those that see the law as a tool to be manipulated for your own gain

      It is clear what type of lawyer our PM is!
      Consider this, and C. Ben David and Jomo should turn thier brains to the “on” position and read this as well:

      Yes it is allowed to amend a motion, BUT THERE IS ANOTHER RULE THAT ALLOWS THE PRIVATE MEMBERS TO BRING MOTIONS ONE DAY OF THE YEAR. When Ralph Gonsalves amends thier motions he is clearly disobeying the rules that he portends to obey making the rule of private motions (that clearly has precedence) null and void. does anyone, PARTICULARLY JOMO THOMAS believe that the INTENT AND PURPOSE of the private motions rule (law) is to be allowed to become innocuous? Which would not only make the law worthless because a minor procedure is allowed to “over-rule” the entire intent and purpose of a law? Clearly the allowance of private Motions has precedence over a minor procedural rule. That is why the law exists. Why would government have taken the time to craft the law in the first place?

      C. Ben, who is not a lawyer clearly does not understand the intent and purpose of why a law comes into existence. He should caste aside his bias for the ULP and hatred of the NDP and instead notice thier is a forest in spite of all the trees that block his view.

      Some have called you a fake lawyer but your instincts in this matter demonstrate that you understand that laws get made with an intent. C. Ben obviously believes that laws are made just because the lawmakers do not have anything to do and just want to pass the time so they make laws with no intent and purpose. Vincy Lawyer, In spite of your bias for the ULP, you demonstrate you know the important purpose of the law.

      Clearly we have become a Dictatorship when one man is allowed to do anything he wishes by construing all the laws, and ignoring others, to fit his purpose. It is easy to do anything one wishes when there are minor rules to be used to negate entire laws in order to control a “Democracy”. making it not a Democracy at all!
      No respect for the law means no respect for the people!

  3. Amos Greaves. says:

    Jomo I understand you plight of being between a rock and a hard place. When you have the option to choose between the two you will find you have no option at all.

    1. Amos, the law clearly states that Private Members are allowed to bring motions on the one day. What Ralph Gonsalves did was block that entire law with a minor rule. The Motions Law negates his ability to do that. Therefore Gonsalves is in defiance of the law. Jomo did not have a difficult decision at all he should have allowed the debate AS THE LAW STATES! Unfortunately Jomo is a man of WEAK character and will always be beaten down by his boss even though he tries to appear independent. He let a minor procedure rule override the entire law in order to please his master.
      Even if Jomo were ever able to rid himself of his slave mentality he is still in a ULP position and would have to do whatever Ralph wishes.
      The intent and purpose of the law is to allow a debate of Private Members Motions. CLEARLY RALPH GONSALVES IS IN VIOLATION OF THAT LAW.
      They both are weak and insecure men. That is obvious

  4. Elma Gabriel says:

    Correctly so, “government lawmakers can use their majority to block debates on; or take over a motion brought by the government.” However, with that understanding; why then has the PM exhibited such fear in giving a little consideration in allowing the debate? The Comrade has to be more confident in his skin, having the assurance that the majority will vote against Opposition Friday’s motion.
    Was Camillo’s pledge as a voice of reason during the disruption in the house last Friday just a games-man-ship or an olive branch to voters? As what should have been a debate on the opposition’s motion was swayed by mere fear into a survival tactic by our SVG PM and deputy Straker. You see, the opposition was prepared for a debate but the timing is too close to election; as the Government’s focus is on covering their tracts in the minds of a people who supposedly show signs of collective amnesia, a 9 days span to be more specific.

  5. Jolly Green says:

    What a disgusting man and a disgusting government, each and every one of them is a disgrace to Vincentian society.

    This is a mirrored image of what is happening in Venezuela with Maduru, making up new and nasty rules.

    This is Marxist-Leninist policy at its worst.

  6. The NDP head hard, boy. Having asserted – again – droit de seigneur in Parliament by ambushing the NDP’s motion, is how much more of them Ralph moves it go take for all of them to wrap them head around a practical – and practiced – verity: Ralph Gonsalves owns St. Vincent and the Grenadines and everything therein.

    And thereinafter cause he is organizing a carpetbagger (of sorts) to be we nex prime minister. Watch and see.

    Quick study Trump used his stint in SVG in Canouan well. He learn good from Ralph. Osmosis from a distance.

    1. Patrick Ferrari always sees things for what they are. You are right. We undeniably are living under a dictatorship. It looks like the ULP are going to be in power for all eternity, baring a really big slip-up they cannot hide, lie about, deceive or make “go away.” Unless the Election Reform happens the ruling party will be allowed to stay as long as they wish by heavily influencing the outcome along with building supplies and other influences it is a difficult road for the opposition.

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