Several days before forget-your-troubles-and-dance, more or less organized bibulous revelers took to the city’s streets in their transparent skimpiest, our predictable MPs somehow got into the carnival mood while sinking the country even deeper into irreversible debt. In the process they unwittingly delivered to the carnival season its most memorable moments, not to say the Question of the Year: “Since when dat’s your role, to tell me what’s a contract?”—this from a seemingly befuddled MP to a no-nonsense Speaker in no mood on the occasion to be generous.At Tuesday’s House session, with YouTube variations on the “Since when . . .” theme daily springing up, some side-splittingly funny, some underscoring their producers’ lack of imagination, the House Speaker decided it was time to restore order to his House. Following, his announcement immediately after the opening prayer:
“Honorable Members, the democracy we enjoy, the freedoms we have, are guaranteed by the system of government we now have mandated by our Supreme Law, the Saint Lucia Constitution Order. The Legislature is one of the three arms of Government the other two being the Judiciary and the Executive.
“In Parliament and the House of Assembly you sit here to represent and serve the people of our beloved island State having obtained that privilege after your individual and collective success at the Polls in the last general elections. This Chamber within which you sit and over which I preside, having been elected by you, Honorable Members, is our Supreme law-making body. We pass laws and motions and carry out other legislative functions to effectively govern. It is an honor and a privilege to be here. I am also privileged to be here as the Presiding Officer.
“In carrying out our functions, it is important, indeed vital, that we do so with respect for ourselves, other members of the House, for the Chair and for the people you represent. This is the only way we maintain order in this House. Otherwise, the order expected in debates would quickly descend into chaos.
“The sittings of this Honorable House and the procedures we adopt are steeped in pomp and ceremony. Some may not agree with this but this is what we have until it is changed. This pomp and ceremony is to ensure, preserve and recognize the importance of the work we have been entrusted to carry out. This is no ordinary place. It is not ordinary business. It is not casual business. It is very serious business—and we all have serious and important responsibilities to carry out.
“It is for these reasons that we engage in the rituals, procedures and formalities at every sitting. And so, the role of the Speaker, as the head of this Chamber, is to enforce and preserve the Standing Orders; to maintain the solemnity of this place and consistently to remind everyone—Members of Parliament and the public—that this place is an honorable place where we treat one another fairly with respect and dignity.
“The Standing Orders of this House of Assembly sets out very clearly how the Speaker will maintain order during House sittings.
“Standing Order 41 provides that: The Speaker in the House and Chairman of any Committee shall be responsible for the observance of the rules of order in the House and Committee respectively and their decision upon any point of order shall not be open to appeal and shall not be reviewed by the House except upon a substantive motion made after a notice.
“Standing Order 88 provides under the heading General Authority of the Speaker, as follows: 1) The Speaker shall have the power to regulate the conduct of the business in all matters not provided for in these Standing Orders. 2) The decision in all cases for which these Standing Orders do not provide, shall lie within the discretion of the Speaker and shall not be open to challenge.
“The rationale for these rules, which speak to the authority of the Speaker, is to allow for order in the House conducted by men and women of honor. That is why we are referred to as Honorable Members of the House. In debate the Speaker is to observe Standing Order 35 (1) which provides: Subject to the provisions of Standing Order 10 (Adjournment of the House) debate upon any motion, bill or amendment shall be relevant to such motion, bill or amendment and a member shall confine his observations to the subject under discussion.
“This Standing Order clearly means that a Member is not at liberty to speak to matters that are not relevant to the motion or bill before the House or to use his or her opportunity in debate to segue into attacks against other members of the House or individuals not present in the House, or individuals who do not have a sufficient or relevant connection to the motion or bill in debate.
“It is the role of the Speaker, therefore, to determine what is the relevance of the Member’s observations to the motion or bill. And that determination of relevance to the subject matter before the House by the Speaker is final and not subject to issue, argument or objection.
“In order to observe the Speaker’s authority in this Honorable House, when he is speaking or about to speak (and this is observed by the Speaker activating on his microphone) all other members of the House are to remain silent. This is provided for in Standing Order 42, which states: Whenever the Speaker or the Chairman rises during a debate, any member then speaking or offering to speak shall sit down, and the House or Committee shall be silent so that the Speaker may be heard without interruption.
“The Speaker can, therefore, interrupt any member of the House during that Member’s speech in a debate. However, a Member of the House cannot interrupt another Member while that Member has the floor, unless that Member rises on a point of order, or rises to elucidate some matter raised by that Member in the course of his speech. Subject to some other occasions, which are not relevant at this time, these are the only two opportunities a Member has to interrupt another Member.
“At all times, a Member present in the House during debate shall otherwise conduct himself in a fit and proper manner. (Standing Order 40 (b)). The Standing Orders of this House are designed to allow for vigorous debate and representation but in an honorable manner, always measured by respect for each of us to the other. The authority is vested in the Speaker to enforce these rules, to maintain the honor and dignity that this House is to preserve.
“Recent events fell far short of these rules and my expectations and I would daresay the expectations of the People. To the People of Saint Lucia, I apologise for allowing this to happen. I do not profess always to be right. However, whether I am right or not, no Member has the right to argue with the Speaker or to behave in a manner that is not fit and proper. When this happens, there are sanctions that can be imposed, with which I am sure all Members are well versed.
“Honorable Members, I thank you for your indulgence but I felt it was necessary at this time to remind Honorable Members of the role of the Speaker in this Honorable House during debate.”