Foster: July 7 Incident Fell Short Of Public’s Expectations.
SPEAKER of the House of Assembly, Peter Foster Tuesday apologized to Saint Lucians for his part in a verbal confrontation with MP for Castries South East, Guy Joseph at a meeting of the chamber earlier this month.
Foster said that while he did not profess to be always right, and whether he is right or not, no member of the House had the right to argue with the Speaker or to behave in a manner that was not fit and proper.
“When this happens, there are sanctions that can be imposed, with which I am sure all members are well versed,” Foster said.
Foster’s apology came at the commencement of a meeting of the House on Tuesday.
He and Joseph had had verbal spats before in the House. The two are presently opponents in the High Court where Joseph is challenging the Electoral and Boundaries Commission, of which Foster is Chairman, over its recommendation to increase the number of electoral seats from 17 to 21.
Part of the July 7 House of Assembly clash between Foster and Joseph has gone viral, especially the part where Joseph was questioning Foster as to his role as Speaker.
Foster, in his apology told parliamentarians that it was vital that they carried out their functions with respect for themselves, other members of the House, for the Chair and the people they represent.
“This is the only way we maintain order in this House. Otherwise the order expected in debates would quickly descend into chaos,” he said, adding that the House was no ordinary place and that what went on there was not ordinary business, neither is it casual business but rather very serious business with parliamentarians having 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 to consistently remind everyone, the Members of Parliament and the public that this place is an honourable place, where we treat each other fairly with respect and dignity,” Foster said.
He said that in debate the Speaker is to observe Standing Order 35 (1) which 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 therefor to determine what is the relevance of the member’s observations to the motion or bill and that determination or relevance to the subject matter before the House by the Speaker is final and not subject to issue, argument or objection,” Foster said.
According to Foster the Speaker can 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.
“At all times, a Member present in the House during debate shall otherwise conduct himself in a fit and proper manner,” Foster said, adding that the Standing Orders of the House are designed to allow for vigorous debate and representation but in an honourable manner “always measured by respect for each of us to the other.”
He said that the authority is invested in the Speaker to enforce the rules of the Standing orders to maintain the honour and dignity that the House is to preserve.
He added: “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 apologize for allowing this to happen.”