No one who follows local politics closely would have been surprised at last Tuesday’s events in the House of Assembly. We have seen it all before and we will most likely experience it again.
Let us state early that we do not condone rudeness, bad manners, unfairness, disobedience or disrespect and disregard for authority, all of which were on display in the House on Tuesday. The role of the Speaker is crystal clear: to preside over the proceedings of the chamber; to maintain order and decorum in accordance with the rules and procedures of the House. In so doing, the Speaker is expected to be fair and impartial to all in the way he enforces House rules and presides over its proceedings.
There will always be claims of bias on the part of those who preside over the chambers of parliament because we, as a country, have yet to grow up politically. No Prime Minister or winning political party, after an election, ever seeks out a truly independent or potentially-impartial Speaker or Senate President, because no Prime Minister or winning party honestly has an interest in fairplay.
The conduct of parliament is really an exercise in good manners, and this prevails only when people treat each other fairly and with respect. The slightest departure from this gets one’s dander up and a situation emerges that becomes difficult to control.
The Speaker is endowed with great power in presiding over the House and must exercise this power with both authority and restraint. The houses of parliament should be facilitating the transparency and accountability in the governance of the country that we are so often promised and frequently denied. It is there that the government must expect to face tough questions about its stewardship, and to respond honestly. The Speaker must encourage not stifle the quest for information and truth.
Tuesday’s incident really began to go off the boil when the Speaker questioned the relevance of a question posed by Mr. Joseph about persons he claimed were signatories to a contract. The Speaker informed that he would not allow the MP to impute improper motives against anyone inside or outside the House without proper evidence. The irony is that up to that point, Joseph had imputed absolutely nothing except that he had asked for information about the relationship between the alleged signatories which he claimed, carried the identical surname.
But Joseph clearly took offence at the Speaker’s chiding him about a legal interpretation of a clause in the contract, and accused Speaker Foster of joining in the debate. That was a rude and unparliamentary reaction. The Speaker wanted to know the relevance of the point Joseph was making and Joseph responded that he was developing that point. Still the Speaker asked him to indicate relevance before he could continue. That was an unfair handling of that situation.
We all live here and we know what has gone on in our parliamernt in the past. There have been many uncomplimentary remarks hurled among members, including one who was virtually called a dog, that was allowed to pass. Mr. Foster even found himself in the embarrassing situation two years ago when then Leader of the Opposition Stephenson King accused him of conflict of interest, a claim for which King was threatened with legal action if he did not apologize. On that occasion, King insisted that the issues that he had raised had to do with transparency and accountability which needed clarification in the public interest.
How many times have we witnessed the names of persons, members of the House or private citizens bandied about the House with allegations and innuendo without interruption or reprimand? Opposition members beating up on each other without censure has been another feature of the recent past. There has been a serious lack of consistency in the manner in which Mr. Foster has handled these matters.
Joseph, however, showed disrespect and disregard for the Speaker and should have been made to pay more dearly for his rude, confrontational and unacceptable behaviour. But then, he did receive some help from the Speaker, didn’t he? The incident in the House is an example of the price we pay for having square pegs in round holes all around.