Ah Section 29 (1) Essential!

Current Speaker of the House Rosemary Husbands-Mathurin is at the center of a debate over the Deputy Speaker position.

The Leader of the Opposition’s presentation in the House on Tuesday the 13th left the nation with the distinct impression that the business of the House had been illegally transacted, because of the failure of the members of the Government to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of the Deputy Speaker.
Two questions call for answers:
(i)    Was there an illegality, and if so, was the business invalidated?
(ii) Is it less the business of the Opposition than it is that of the Government to keep the organ of the House in good working order for the transaction of the nation’s business?
As to the first question:
The framers of the Constitution would have had to have been a set of very foolish framers indeed, to have debarred the House from transacting the business of the nation because of the resignation of the Deputy Speaker. Her Majesty the Queen’s very learned and experienced constitutional advisers could not have shown such a lack of knowledge of the basic rules governing the conduct of “meetings”, which can so easily be found in “The Chairman’s Handbook”, the size of the palm of my hand, and published since 1877.
Very foolish indeed they would have been, when almost every member of every football club knows that a meeting is properly constituted once there is a quorum with a chairman. The resignation or absence of a deputy chairman or deputy speaker has never affected any meeting anywhere, as long as a speaker or chairman was there to preside as a referee, which is what they are. Our Constitution has not departed from that basic time honoured rule.
Having been a member of Parliament for 15 years and presided over the Senate for four, I had to acquaint myself, in particular, with those provisions of the Constitution that were made to govern both chambers. I would not otherwise have entered the debate. I am only doing so therefore, not out of officiousness, or just out of a desire to be heard, but because I think I have something to say which has not yet been adverted to (perhaps because the political sunset is drawing so near and causing nerves to tremble.)
In the debate, there has been no examination of the provisions regarding the offices of President and Deputy President of the Senate vis à vis the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, though they are such good neighbours, sharing a common chapter in the Constitution and under the same rubric, “Parliament”.
Under section 29(1), “whenever the office of President is vacant . . . the Senate shall, not later than its second sitting after the vacancy has arisen, elect another Senator to fill that office”. As can be clearly seen by all, the phrase “not later than” is compulsive, compelling the Senate to fill that vacancy by the “second sitting”, and no later. But the vacancy need not be filled at the first sitting.
However, under section 35(1), “if the office of Speaker falls vacant…the House shall, as soon as practicable, elect another person to that office”. It goes without saying that the phrase “not later than” is more restrictive or coercive than the phrase “as soon as practicable”.
Now, in the case of the offices of Deputy President, [section 29(1)], and Deputy Speaker [section 36(1)], the vacancies are to be filled “as soon as convenient”.
So we see that the Constitution has devised three phrases to govern the filling of vacancies:
(i) in the case of the President, it is to be done, “not later than the second sitting”;
(ii) in the case of the Speaker, as soon as practicable”; and
(iii) in the case of the Deputy President or the Deputy Speaker, “as soon as convenient”.
The Constitution has not said anywhere, in respect of any of these offices that vacancies are to be filled at the next sitting after the vacancy arose. There is no such imperative. That order to fill vacancies in the Senate or the House only exists when the Senate or the House “first meets” after a General Election [sections 29(1) and(2), and 35(1) and 36(1)]. Neither has the Constitution hindered the transaction of any business in the House or the Senate when any of the offices is vacant, save that of Speaker under section 35(3) which states:
“No business shall be transacted in the House (other than the election of a Speaker) at any time when the office of Speaker is vacant”.
And since the office of Speaker was not vacant when the House met on Tuesday the 13th September, any pretence that the business transacted was invalid could only have been borne out of some ulterior political motive.
I must not be taken to be saying that vacancies arising in either chamber is to be filled at the will or pleasure of the Senate or the House. That could never be: having regard to the nature of the business being transacted there, and to the convenience of both chambers. But everyone will agree that vacancies must be filled within a reasonable time whenever they are to be filled “as soon as practicable” or, “as soon as convenient”.
The conclusion, in answer to my first question is, therefore, that as Leader of the Opposition, he, Dr. Anthony, has an obligatory duty to ensure that constitutional transgressions are attended to with despatch. Had I, as Leader of the Opposition, in my time, been as convinced as he is that an illegality had taken place in the House, no time would have been spared in seeking the court’s pronouncement. It is expected, therefore, that that “illegality” would be pursued with the same vigour that was displayed in the House.
The next question to be answered is whether the Deputy Speaker is to be chosen only from among the members who support the Government.
I am aware that at least two deputy speakers have been chosen from the ranks of the Opposition; namely, Kenneth Foster in 1974 and John Odlum in 1992. The refusal of Opposition members to hold such an office sounds in tribalism, since the primary office of every member must be to assist in the functioning of the House for the sake of the country. For how else could monies be raised and laws passed for the good and welfare of the State?
When a constituency sends a representative to Parliament while the affairs of the constituency are to be attended to conscientiously and well, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” of all the people in that country has to be of paramount importance. This means, therefore, that in certain circumstances
partisan political interests have to be shunned, and the party must embrace what is best for the country and for Parliament.
Let us now see whether the Opposition was justified in expecting the Government to draw a Minister from its ranks to fill the vacant office of Deputy Speaker.
The House is composed of 17 members, 9 Ministers and 8 in Opposition. Ministers work 8 hours a day at least. On an average, the House meets once every 60 days for 3 hours. On that basis, Ministers work 2920 hours per year while a member works 18 hours for the same period.
The Constitution deliberately excludes Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries from holding the office of Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Logically and justifiably therefore, the Deputy would have to be chosen from among all the other members (excluding the Leader of the Opposition) who work 18 hours per year.
Were I to pose that question to illiterate hewers of wood and drawers of water in the country, the answer would be flashed in my face like lightening: “Ou nee poo pwan yon parmi say sa key pah nee anyen ar fair ah!” (you must take one from among those who have nothing to do). There is never any equivocation with them. It is always straightforwardness and purity. While they cannot appeal to legal reasoning, they understand the practical convenience that would require a Deputy Speaker to be chosen from among the members of the Opposition, given the circumstances existing.
Should we all then return to the country? I certainly would welcome that.
I worship the party system as I do the rule of law. It is the root and guardian of our democracy, keeping the breath in its nostrils, as if it were God-breathed. But when it degenerates into tribalism as it did when the House last met, we then cease to be our brother’s keeper. And when the call, “Saint Lucia, where art thou”, comes we, like they in the garden, having lost all grace, will have to hide our nakedness if we can find sufficient cover, and another place.
As I was about to email this article to the newspapers, the “Ah Deputy Essential” article by Professor Antoine came to hand (appearing at page 29 of Saturday’s Voice). The lady’s brilliance shines too far and wide to contend with her. Mercifully, however, in the main, her viewpoint only reinforces mine, since section 29(1) of the Constitution is the raison d’être for my entering the debate, and her very learned discourse made no reference to that part of the section which, (as I indicated earlier), orders that “whenever the office of President is vacant
. . . the Senate shall, not later than its second sitting, after the vacancy has arisen, elect another Senator to fill that vacancy.” (emphasis mine).  Of particular interest to me therefore, is paragraph 7 of that discourse where it is asserted: “The meaning of convenience therefore can only mean at the next sitting.” when section 29(1) has introduced a time that goes beyond “the next sitting”.

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