Within its constitutional parameters much has been said and written about the Position of Deputy Speaker and its particular relevance or obsolescence at this Juncture in our dubious political evolution. Some of our pundits have pontificated that there is no need for a Deputy Speaker and that only a Speaker suffices. Others hold that there is a qualified need for a Deputy Speaker and whose appointment or election is a matter of circumstantial necessity. From the onset what needs to be pellucidly comprehended is that the CONSTITUTION is the Supreme Law of the State. Section 120 reads:
“This Constitution is the supreme law of Saint Lucia and, subject to the provisions of Section 41 of the Constitution, if any other law is inconsistent with the Constitution it shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency is void.”
(Section 41 refers to the various modes of amendment to the Constitution.)
The Constitution is sublimely sacrosanct and absdolute in its majestic constancy. Provisions in the Election Act or any other subsidiary or enabling legislation, if inconsistent with the Constitution, is void.
It is important to note the similarity, in some measures, between Section 35(1) and Section 36(1) of the Constitution. Section 35 is titled SPEAKER and Section 36 is titled DEPUTY SPEAKER. The first 22 words of both sections are identical. They read: “ When the House first meets after an general election of members and before it proceeds to dispatch any other business ……..”
The significance of these 22 words is to establish the temporal template of expediency for what is to follow. “Time” is absolutely of the essence. The House Cannot be lackadaisical or complacent. What needs to be done must be done with dispatch. In both instances the whole of subsection (1) is time related; but in their totality there is an order of pragmatic supremacy. If during the course of a parliamentary term the Speaker becomes disabled, the solution reposes within Section 35(1) where it reads: “ The House shall as soon as practicable elect another person to that office.”
In Section 36(1) it reads: “ The House shall as soon as convenient elect another member ….”
With the disabled Speaker the House is virtually crippled; but with a disabled Deputy Speaker (however disabled) there is a certain temporal elasticity. And hence the reason why in one instance there is “as soon as practicable” and in the other “as soon as convenient”. The two terms liberally invoke the principle of “ejusdem generis” which makes the effluxion of time regnant, and does not dispense with the presence of a Deputy Speaker at any time or for an inordinate period of time. And sine the presence of a Deputy Speaker can be needed at any time during a sitting, logic parliamentary necessity, efficiency and continuity dictate that he or she (Deputy Speaker) should be at the ready.
And so “as soon as convenient” is circumscribed by the term readiness and which when operationally and pragmatically translated means at the next or subsequent sitting of the House. And thus a Deputy Speake, contextually speaking, is elected.
This element of “time” or “when” is further emphasised in Section 3(1) of the Standing Orders which was made under the CONSTITUTION and approved by the HOUSE on 14 May, 1978. In this section what is made abundantly clear, and in relation to our present and seeming predicament, the election of the Deputy Speaker is effectuated when it is necessary to so do. As I see it, whenever a Deputy Speaker becomes disabled the the election of another Deputy Speaker becomes necessary. Unlike Section 35 of the Constitution where the election of the Speaker is presided over by the Clerk, the election of the Deputy Speaker is presided over by the Speaker of the House.
What then is the House? It is the body of elected members present including the Speaker. And in conformity with the quorum of seven that is needed for government business to be legally transacted then that number must be present.
Though the Speaker presides over the election of the Speaker, it is, and according to convention and custom, the Prime Minister, the first among equals, who carries the election process forward.
As is usually the case the Leader of the Opposition merely responds in his inimitable fashion and in his own deliberate judgement. AS stated in recent times “ an appointment made by the House cannot be refused”. That is asinine. There is no appointment to be made. Section 36(1) alludes to an election in its contextual significance.
At this time the question that titillates our thinking is who will be our next Deputy Leader? Since she has resigned from that position (so I have been told) to direct in some measure a ministerial portfolio the position of Deputy Leader has to be filled. From my knowledge (limited) all elected members on the Government side have been encumbered with a ministerial assignment and so the question that comes to the fore is who will replace the Honourable Sarah Flood Beaubrun – the former Deputy Leader???
It is not incumbent on the Opposition to extricate the Government from a quandry of its own making.
Who then will be the Sacrificial Lamb?
Whatever the metamorphosis, the Law only constant is Evolution.
BY: VELON JOHN