Some people seem not to understand the exact purpose of the Deputy Speaker and continue to try to conveniently use the clause, which speaks about when it is convenient to elect one. The Deputy Speaker is elected to serve in the place of the Speaker if he/she becomes indisposed or for some reason cannot preside, and this is the exact reason why it was put into law.
You must first remember how we got to this point. The UWP had two backbenchers of the eleven they won in 2006, and they both left the party, leaving the UWP with no backbenchers, which means all its elected parliamentarians are in fact ministers and can’t hold the post of Deputy Speaker in that capacity. It would mean that one would have to resign. Don’t forget even at their present nine to the opposition’s six and two independents, which is in effect a 9-8 majority, they still hold the reigns of power.
So the UWP has much to lose by electing a Deputy Speaker because if the Speaker is indisposed, they would only have eight votes in the House as the Deputy Speaker in the Speaker’s chair cannot vote. See the quandary?
Some people actually expected that just before an election the SLP would assist the UWP by accepting the Deputy Speaker’s position or any of the independents for that matter, who left their party in the first place. Come on! No one in this government wants to put their government in jeopardy by resigning only to make it lose its vote. So why some think that the SLP should fill the post.
The precedence has already been set, when in January 2007 the late John Compton, a lawyer by profession being put in the same situation had to make one of his cabinet members resign, in order to take up that post. It is this very person who vacated the post of Deputy Speaker in the first place. If no one opposite (which includes opposition majority and independents) accepted a nomination, then the onus is on the government to elect a Deputy Speaker, since it is the government’s motions and bills which are being heard.
So you need a Deputy Speaker and the law ensured that it shall be in place and this is the reason the law specifies that if the post of Deputy Speaker is vacated, one shall be elected (the important word is shall) when the House next seat after prayers and before business begins, as it says in Section 36 of the Constitution: “When the House first meets after any general election of members and before it proceeds to the despatch 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 House shall, as soon as convenient, elect another.
Whichever way one wants to interpret convenient, no-one can escape the fact that the clause said shall, and not may. In retrospect since the Deputy Speaker shall be elected before the business is handled in the house, it is obvious that it is needed, as he/she will have to deputize if something happens to the speaker, or else this would not have been put in the law. The fact remains that the law was trying to ensure there is a deputy speaker at all times during proceedings to ensure the business of the house continues if, God forbid, anything was to happen to the speaker.
I heard Richard Frederick on Tim Poleon’s Hot Button Issue on Choice TV, in response to a caller’s question as to what would happen if the Speaker for instance had to use the bathroom without the Deputy Speaker there to take over, and he responded by saying the House would have to be adjourned. But my question is why do you have to adjourn the House because the Speaker had to use the bathroom? This becomes even more complicated if the Speaker collapses, then there would be no-one there with rights to take the chair and continue the proceedings. As it stands only someone elected to be Speaker or Deputy Speaker can lawfully take up the chair. So we would have had the House in limbo had the Speaker collapsed on Tuesday of this week.
What is even more disturbing is that some people are making this out to be an attack by the opposition on a woman. So ludicrous! It does not matter whether it is a man or woman; none is above the law, and the Speaker had the chance to make this right by requesting the adjournment of the House meeting, since as it seemed no nomination was forthcoming. Instead she went along with the business of the House without someone to deputize for her only looking at section 35 which gives her the authority, but she failed to realise that had something happened to her, there would be no-one to handled her chair as no-one else in the chamber has that authority.
It is even more disturbing that former Speaker Matthew Roberts could have been seen on many occasions prompting the Speaker on in the House, when at that time she knew very little about the proceedings and on many occasions made blunders in delivering her directions in the house.
Constitutional lawyer and member of the Constitutional Reform Commission David Cox put quite succinctly, when he said that the election of deputy speaker isn’t an option but a legal necessity before the house can conduct business.
As it stands what happened in the House, is by far minuet to what has occurred in the House of Commons and else where. What St Lucians saw was MPs standing up against the continued illegalities of this government, by saying they are going to have no part in that kind of governance. It was a protest against the trampling of the Constitution. We must at all times stand up for our constitution because it is the life blood on which our governance structure stands, and in this case the speaker was wrong.
Here’s what should happen next—someone should challenge this decision in court for a clearer definition of the word Convenient, in the standing orders. However this would have consequences for the government because their motions passed in the perceived illegal way, would hang in the balance pending a ruling. Further would the banks being sought to borrow money participate in a perceived illegality without confirmation from the courts? Let’s see!