Opposition Leader Godwin Friday has restated his call for the revocation of Deborah Charles’ appointment as Clerk of the House of Assembly.
He strengthened his case, saying Charles has not ceased her partisan political activism on behalf of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) on social media.
Charles, a former candidate and senator for the ULP and who is the party’s caretaker for West Kingstown, was in June appointed Clerk of the House of Assembly, which the Constitution says is a public office.
The opposition New Democratic Party, of which Friday is leader, as well as the Public Service Union has criticised the appointment, with the union saying it has seen no evidence that the post was not advertised, as required by law.
“I wouldn’t apply for that position. I wouldn’t encourage anybody to put yourself in that position, because I mean, the website is still there. You’re campaigning on behalf of the ULP and you’re coming to the clerk of the house … If you want to be that, to be a partisan activist, on behalf of your party, choose that,” Friday said at a press conference in Kingstown on Wednesday.
“But then you put on a robe and suddenly become something different and you’re asking a member of the opposition, who you’re campaigning against on your website, to come to you for assistance, as we have done in the past with the Clerk of the House without any question as to whether the propriety of the response would be questionable? Now, we can’t do that. I mean, it’s just not reasonable to expect persons to do that.”
Friday suggested that Charles’ appointment was political patronage, but suggested that she should not have accepted that post.
“So, surely, there’re some things that you can as well say, ‘Listen, people want to encourage me to apply to this position, or to help me to get this position in terms of recommendations or whatever they want to do, then let’s go for something else.’ You know, there are other ways in which you can award party loyals,” the opposition leader said.
At the time of publication of this article on Sunday, a Facebook page still existed in Charles’ name and with her photo, describing her as a “politician” and “the ULP Candidate for the West Kingstown”.
The last post on the page was made on July 20, a week after the opposition raised in Parliament its objection to her appointment.
Daniel Cummings, who is chair of the NDP, defeated Charles in West Kingstown in the 2015 and 2020 general elections.
Charles was appointed a senator and parliamentary secretary after the 2015 vote and disappeared for some time from the public eyes after the 2020 vote before reappearing as House Clerk.
“She currently operates a Facebook page under the banner of the ULP and continues to post as recently as last week under the banner of the ULP on this page. This is simply unacceptable,” Friday said at the press conference.
“This is shameful to see that more than a month ago this appointment was made, I raised the objection in the house, others have raised the objection publicly and yet she continued to operate as normal as a partisan political activist for the ULP.
“Her appointment and her conduct in that regard is rubbing salt into the wound in a sense. It’s a flagrant disregard for what is proper and how the office of clerk ought to be regarded and how it behaves.
“It brings the office of clerk into disrepute and undermines the integrity of the House of Assembly. Her appointment as Clerk and continued activism for her party, the ULP, has the potential to undermine how the House functions and thus weaken our democratic processes.”
The opposition leader questioned how members of the opposition could go to Charles for assistance as clerk “when she continues to campaign for the ULP on her Facebook page and in other activities and only recently was on the other side of the house essentially combatting members of the opposition on our side”.
He said Charles’ appointment is in blatant disregard of the established practice and the constitutional requirement of the position.
Friday noted that he wrote to the chair of the Public Service Commission on July 13 expressing his concerns but said he was yet to receive a response.
The opposition leader said that contrary to what the prime minister suggested in Parliament on July 13, the objection to Charles’ appointment is not a personal attack on her.
“It is a matter of public concern, public interest in ensuring that democratic institutions are protected and that they function effectively for all of us.”
He noted that constitutionally, the clerk has a role to play in ensuring that a motion of no confidence is debated in Parliament.
“We all in the country, in the Parliament, especially in the opposition, need to know that that sacred constitutional duty would be respected and would be carried out without fear or doubt as to how the clerk might perform in those circumstances,” Friday said.
He noted that the ULP has shown how it can “misinterpret and disregard the Constitution and the Standing Orders so as to prevent a motion of no confidence from being debated in Parliament.
“… The clerk, however, when it comes to here, she has a role to play. In such an important matter we cannot have doubts about the impartiality and professionalism of the clerk; we cannot fear that political loyalty to the ruling party may impair her judgment and prevent her from doing his duty,” the opposition leader said.