Whatever tensions there might be between Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and Speaker of the House of Assembly Jomo Thomas came to the fore in parliament this month.
The drama played out when the speaker reprimanded the PM for abusing the rules shortly after the speaker had issued a similarly stern rebuke to an opposition lawmaker.
“If you want to pick on me on for other reasons, pick on me for those reasons. Alright? If something is in your craw, Mr. Speaker, speak it,” the PM told the speaker in a loud, angry outburst.
It might not have been lost on members of the public that the Oct. 10 outburst had come less than a week after Thomas, in his weekly media commentary, contrasted his own treatment by the Gonsalves headed Unity Labour Party, to that of the PM’s son, Camillo Gonsalves.
Thomas said that while he and Camillo had similar training and background, no effort was spared in ensuring the PM’s son was elected MP for East St. George in 2015.
“Camillo was placed on a fast track to political stardom, rising as he did from Senior Crown Counsel in the Attorney General’s chambers, to United Nations Ambassador, to Foreign Affairs Minister, to election in one of the safest ULP seats in the country, then to Finance Minister with the PM chair beckoning,” Thomas said in his Oct. 4 “Plain Talk” column.
Thomas said that at the same time, the party ensured that he was not elected MP for South Leeward and has neglected the constituency since the last vote.
The PM’s outburst in the national assembly came during an exchange that began when MP for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, asked what he went on to admit was not a supplementary question about the geothermal project.
The PM also indicated that Leacock’s comments were not a supplementary.
Thomas was apparently beginning to say that even Leacock himself acknowledged this, when Leacock said that that is what the parliament was for.
Thomas, however, told him that was not the case, and Leacock retorted, “You may say otherwise.”
The PM then began to address the speaker, who told him to hold on.
Thomas told Leacock that he (Leacock) had admitted that what he had presented was not a supplementary question.
“And I don’t know why you continually play fast and loose with the rules,” Thomas said.
At this point, the opposition lawmaker attempted to speak and Thomas told him to sit.
Thomas went on to say that there is a multiplicity of places in parliament where Leacock has an opportunity to speak extensively on whatever topic he wants to.
“But you can’t take the opportunity whenever there is a question, to do what you want to do,” he told the Central Kingstown MP, who again offered to withdraw his comments that he had presented as a supplementary question.
“I know you do it often because you are not playing to the rules, you are playing to the rogue and it is unbecoming, quite frankly, because you have been here for so long and you have a radio station on which you can do so many of these things that you want to do.”
Leacock said he did not have a radio station, and Thomas said that the opposition lawmaker has an ear.
“The minister said this morning they are the only ones to have a radio station.”
He was speaking of Senator Julian Francis who had spoken about the ruling Unity Labour Party, of which he is general secretary, being one of the only political parties in the Caribbean to own a radio station.
“So you don’t believe him?” Leacock said.
Thomas called for the next question but the PM rose and made further comments on the geothermal project.
During the PM’s comment, Leacock made some interjections, but said he was done when the PM noted that he had listened to the opposition lawmaker in silence.
The PM, however, went on to comment about “the wider question” that the speaker had raised about Leacock abusing the rule.
“His leader is now following him,” the PM said, adding that after he (Gonsalves) had given a thorough answer to another question on the order paper about Buccament Bay Resort, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday “got up to make a throw-away comment.
“Now, if that is how we are conducting the rules, it’s not going to make for an orderly, Mr. Speaker, proceeding,” Gonsalves said.
“I understand what you have indicated—” Gonsalves was saying when the speaker told him to proceed to the next question.
“Mr. Speaker, I craved your indulgence,” the PM said.
“Yes,” responded the speaker, adding:
“I think the honourable parliamentary representative from West Kingstown is making an important point. If the honourable parliamentary representative for Central Kingstown cannot go on and on and on, it is in the same spirit I think you have to accept that you cannot go on and on.”
Gonsalves said that he accepted that.
“All I was doing, Mr. Speaker, is to outline, as leader of the house here, what is a trend—” the PM added.
“Yes, but it can’t happen in question time,” the speaker said.
“Well, I was seeking your leave, Mr. Speaker, which I obtained. If you now wish to withdraw the leave—”Gonsalves said.
“I am not withdrawing it,” the speaker said. “You are abusing it.”
The PM said he was not abusing the speaker’s leave and then went on to make the comments about the geothermal project.”
The speaker called for the next question on the order paper — question eight — and Leacock rose and said:
“It is being anticipated that I am going back to [question] seven, but I am not doing that. If I did that it would say that I am reminding you that electricity will not go down. And I’m not doing that. So I proceed to question eight.”
The PM, speaking from across the aisle, said: “That’s why alyo always lose election ah nuh.”
He then broke out into his characteristic raucous laugh.
Leacock, however, told him not to worry about him and the election.
“Leave that alone Mr. Prime minister. The people waiting,” Leacock said.
“Question eight, please.” The speaker said, bringing the cross-aisle banter to an end.
Leacock rose and said twice that he had done so to ask question eight
However, there was some talk from across the aisle.
The speaker then said, “Question number eight. Prime minister, please allow the question to be … asked.”
However, the PM rose and said, his voice rising:
“Mr. Speaker, if you are going to reprimand me, pull me up, you have to do the same with members on the other side. I just told you that if you do not control the house properly, you are going to have difficulties.”
Thomas responded: “Well, I don’t know why you are raising your voice, that the first—”
“I am at liberty to raise my voice because you appear not to have heard what I said the first time,” Gonsalves interjected.
“Prime minister, I heard you clearly, Thomas said. “But all — we have to be equal opportunity in here. If we are saying that the opposition cannot do a particular thing and we all agree that they shouldn’t do a particular thing—”
The PM interjected, “I gone past that.”
Thomas continued: “But then while the Honourable parliamentary representative for Central Kingstown is about to ask the next question, you proceed to speak down the hall”
Gonsalves, however, said that Leacock had said, “I am not going to refer to question seven “but I will tell you and I am not going to say it again’. You missed that part.
“That is what I was telling him about, whereas other members on the opposition were shouting at that and you pick on me and leave them.
“If you want to pick on me for other reasons, pick on me for other reasons,” Gonsalves said.
“Prime minister, please,” Thomas responded.
“If you want to pick on me on for other reasons, pick on me for those reasons. Alright? If something is in your craw, Mr. Speaker, speak it,” the prime minister said.
“Oh my goodness! No! No! No!” Leacock commented.
Thomas told the PM that his comment was “beyond the pale”.
“I haven’t picked on you in anyway. I don’t need to pick on you in any way,” the speaker added.
“But you did it just now,” the PM said.
The speaker denied that this was the case and told the PM:
“And I think it is inappropriate for you to get up and do what you are doing.”
“And he is getting angry,” said Daniel Cummings, MP for West Kingstown.
Gonsalves, however, denied that was the case.
“Very angry,” Cummings maintained.
Leacock then rose and said, “May I be of help to you, Mr. Speaker, by asking my question number eight?”
No. No. No,” said the speaker and called for question number 8.
“We will entertain question number 8,” Thomas said.
“If the honourable members on the other side would be quiet, I’d be able to speak softly and politely so that the honourable speaker would hear my question,” Leacock said.