Thanks to constant repetition by the host of a certain local TV show, there can hardly be a serial viewer in our midst incapable of correctly reciting George Santayana’s too often garbled aphorism that actually referenced imbeciles and babies. In any event a gentle reminder won’t hurt: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” It may also prove especially beneficial to other sons and daughters of Saint Lucia—who proudly profess to love with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds the land that gave us birth; where the more things change the more they remain the same—to journey back to the reconvening of parliament following the people’s decision that the so-called “father of the nation,” Sir John Compton, should die as he had lived for most of his adult life; that is to say, in defense of Helen, not in cobwebbed retirement. The following recollection is lifted from my book Lapses & Infelicities:
“Following its prorogation shortly before the 2006 general elections, parliament reconvened on 9 January 2007 under a confetti shower of firsts. The nation’s first female Speaker was no stranger to the House. She had sat on both the government and opposition benches: Sarah Flood-Beaubrun. Then there was Rose Mary Husbands-Mathurin, the first female president of the Senate; and the governor general Dame Pearlette Louisy. ‘Saint Lucians can proudly demonstrate to the world that our women have emerged from the shadows to take center stage in our country’s affairs,’ said the nation’s first female governor general in her Throne Speech. ‘The three most prestigious offices of this land are filled by ladies who have earned distinctions in their separate fields. Our women can now demand the respect and dignity that was always theirs but for too long denied them.’ So what if she sounded a tad undignified? What she said was indisputable.
“Conceivably, the new Leader of the Opposition concurred. But that did not mean the freshly decorated ladies could look forward to his cooperation any more than could his male House colleagues. While supporting the motion that made Sarah Flood-Beaubrun Speaker had given him ‘great pleasure,’ it was altogether something else when it came to electing her deputy.
“The prime minister explained the problem: ‘I would’ve preferred that the Speaker come from the government side and her deputy from the other side. But the Leader of the Opposition declined my invitation to nominate an MP.’
“Marcus Nicholas saved the day; he resigned as Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to fill the vacancy. The Constitution prevented the deputy Speaker from holding ministerial office. Lest they be misled, Kenny Anthony later proclaimed to querying reporters that there had been nothing generous about the prime minister’s invitation: ‘It was the only way he could extricate himself from his situation. As I’ve already noted, his government is too large. The prime minister had no choice but to sack one of his ministers to allow him to assume the position of deputy Speaker.’ As for Nicholas himself, he said his resignation was no sacrifice. ‘I did what needed to be done. I always put country before self.’ ”
It remains conjectural what Nicholas was thinking when, shortly before the 2011 general elections, the deputy Speaker parted contumeliously with his party, in the process leaving the government in a quandary. The remedy would require the resignation of a minister or a demonstration of atypical opposition generosity. Alas, reminiscent of his earlier attitude that had resulted in the agriculture minister putting “country before self,” Kenny Anthony still was not in a mood to be accommodating. He stubbornly insisted on the immediate election of a new deputy, as he put it, in accordance with the Constitution that states at Section 36:
When the House meets after any general election of members and before it proceeds to the dispatch of any other business except the election of the Speaker, the House shall elect a member of the House, who is not a member of the Cabinet or a Parliamentary Secretary, to be Deputy Speaker of the House and if the office of Deputy Speaker falls vacant at any time before the next dissolution of Parliament [the situation at hand!], the House shall, as soon as convenient, elect another member of the House to that office.
There can hardly be a Saint Lucian above, say, 25, who cannot easily recall the reaction of the House opposition after the Speaker had declared her non-concurrence with the Opposition Leader’s interpretation of the words “as soon as convenient.” While he had insisted on the election of a new deputy Speaker at the first sitting following a resignation, the Speaker cited the Interpretation Act that leaned toward the ordinary meaning of words. Clearly there was nothing arcane about “as soon as convenient,” she rightly observed—at which point the opposition exploded.
At least one fulminating honorable member blatantly refused to comply when the chair directed him to take his seat. After what seemed an eternity of egregious mudslinging the collective opposition angrily picked up their papers and strode noisily out of the chamber to join the gathered vultures with TV cameras and other digital recorders in Constitution Park, all save the former prime minister and current Leader of the Opposition.
He would hook up with his querulous colleagues outside the House but only after contemptuously dismissing the Speaker’s several appeals for order and parliamentary decorum. At full throttle and in the presence of recording House cameras, he spat out a slew of epithets and denunciations reminiscent of rum-shop bellicosity and public-toilet graffiti including, unforgettably: “Renegades! Criminals!”
And so we arrive at the present that anticipates the past and reminds of George Santayana’s legendary admonition. When the House reconvenes next week it is to be expected that the divisions and their far-reaching consequences that have for too long afflicted this nation will at the worst of times be exacerbated.
The election of Speaker will proceed without a hitch. But unless the new opposition leader chooses to adopt a more constructive attitude, the government’s invitation to the opposition to nominate a deputy speaker will predictably be turned down. A government MP will consequently be named and sworn in, who will be required to sacrifice the opportunity to head a ministry—if only until he or she resigns as deputy Speaker a few hours after the conclusion of the first House sitting. The resulting vacancy, as earlier noted, will be filled “as soon as convenient.” (As I write, I am informed that the new LOO has determined that to accept the prime minister’s invitation to nominate an opposition MP for deputy Speaker “will not be in the SLP’s best interests.” Mais naturellement! As it has been, so must it always be . . . The more things change . . .)
Subterfuge you say? Maybe, but it’s the law. Remember Section 36 of the Constitution, earlier cited? Now pray tell, dear reader, mindful of our legendary propensity for producing Nobel Laureates two at a time, could we not by this time have enacted a law so clearly worded as to be beyond misinterpretation, a law that makes it mandatory that the deputy Speaker comes from the ranks of the opposition, unless of course there is no opposition—in which case either an MP or a qualified civilian can be called upon to serve?
Which brings me to the question: Why (other than that the Constitution so directs) can’t a senator be minister of finance when senators are without comment given responsibility for national security with all its centipede limbs? Tradition associated with English history is the best answer I’ve yet been given. And since we claim to have severed the dehumanizing shackles of colonialism, why can’t we enact a more appropriate law that would permit acknowledged talents in the field finance the opportunity to serve their country in office?
I could cite many other laws and regulations that appear only to retard progress, while permitting politicians their often corrupt way with impunity. Laws that may have delivered colonial aspirations may not necessarily be in tune with current times and native aspirations. That a thing was fine in primordial times does not automatically mean it has any place in our current circumstances. May we remember that problems are seldom resolved by the same thinking that led to their creation and their perpetuation.