Opposition Lawmaker St. Clair Leacock has put House Speaker Rochelle Forde on notice that she should prepare to preside over a motion of no confidence in Parliament.
“Madam Speaker, the Honourable Leader of the Opposition spoke about the fact that we have disgraced ourselves by being the only Caribbean country in which you could not move a vote of no confidence,” Leacock said on Thursday.
He was speaking as the national assembly gathered specially to mark the final sitting in a building that was built some 200 years ago to be the home of the legislature.
“And you’re going to be tested… because we’re coming again. We’re coming again with another vote of no confidence,” Leacock said.
“And I want to see because I believe you would not have to do like Jomo Thomas and take a walk to come to your senses and you will do the right thing. I have that confidence in you; you will do the right thing.”
On Jan. 31, 2018, then Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas allowed the government to amend the opposition’s motion of no confidence.
In a subsequent Facebook comment on the matter, Thomas, a lawyer and former senator, said he “erred” when he made that decision.
“A similar motion will meet a much more enlightened Jomo, if I am the speaker. I do not think we arrived at the right decision yesterday,” Thomas said in comments on Facebook.
Thomas had initially ruled against a submission by government lawmakers that majority support is needed in the house before lawmakers could debate a motion of no confidence.
He, however, allowed an amendment to the motion, which turned the opposition’s no confidence into a motion of confidence, which the government debated and passed when opposition lawmakers did not return to Parliament for the post-luncheon sitting.
Thomas’ decision came after three hours of debate over whether the no confidence motion should be debated.
He had grilled Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves over his argument and at one point asked the leader of the house if he was suggesting that the only way a motion of no confidence could be debated was with majority support.
However, based on his comments on Facebook, Thomas was clear one day later on how he should have ruled, saying in another comment:
“There is no way a constitutionally mandated provision can be negatived by an amendment. Once I ruled that the motion could not be voted down before a debate the only other thing left was for the debate.
“I erred by entertaining the amendment. It was a new area and both the standing orders and the ‘bible’ on Parliamentary practice spoke to amendments,” he said, referring to the book, “Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice”.
“However, since the constitution is supreme and it speaks to a procedure for a motion of no confidence. [Nothing] parliament does could have negatived the constitution,” Thomas said, adding that he came to the realisation while running the day after he made the decision.
Section 47(2), of the Constitution, which speaks to a vote of no confidence, says:
(2) a. If notice in writing is given to the Speaker signed by not less than three Representatives, of a motion of no confidence in the Government the Speaker shall) if the House is then sitting or has been summoned to meet within five days, cause the motion to be considered by the House within seven days of the notice; or
1. ii) if the House is not then sitting and has not been so summoned (and notwithstanding that Parliament may be prorogued) summon the House to meet within fourteen days of the notice and cause the motion to be considered at that meeting:
Provided that if the House does not, within twenty-one days of the notice, meet and dispose of the motion the Clerk of the House shall summon a special meeting of the House at such time and place as he may specify for the purpose of debating and disposing of the motion.
Forde has been House Speaker since November 2020, becoming the first woman to fill the post.
Parliament will now meet at a purpose-built building in Calliaqua until a permanent building is constructed in Richmond Hill.