THE verbal clash between Guy Joseph, the parliamentary representative for the Castries South East Constituency and Speaker of the House of Assembly, Peter Foster at last Tuesday’s Sitting of the House was not new.
Saint Lucia’s history is chock-full of encounters like that one in that very chamber dating all the way back to the eighties and beyond. And it has always been between the Speaker and an opposition member, never between the Speaker and a member on the government side of the House.
The reason for that is clear: the Speaker is someone who is a member of or favoured by the ruling party and staunchly supports its ideals and positions.
Never will a ruling political party select to be Speaker someone whom it considers to be a supporter of another political party.
Having said that, it must be noted that once someone is selected as Speaker of the House the position he/she holds demands fairness. In other words, the Speaker must dispense even-handedness in equal proportions whenever the House meets to discuss the affairs of the country.
It is this fairness or rather perceived unfairness that is always under attack by opposition members because they feel that at times it is not distributed equally on their side by the Speaker. One cannot ignore that argument because of the vividness of its portrayal over the years.
We all must have seen the debacle in the House between John Compton and Julian Hunte during the reign of Speaker Wilfred St. Clair Daniel. Was St.Clair Daniel heavily in Compton’s favour during House Sittings? Yes, he was.
We know his successors and their biases so there’s no need to outline them all.
However, while it is expected by many that the Speaker of the House will support the members on the government side of the House, after all one can safely say that they all considered him as one of their own, and therefore gave him the nod for the post, it is expected of him to show a level of impartiality even at times when the points in a debate being made by opposition members are image damaging to the government.
In my many years covering House I have seen it all, meaning times when fairness was handed down by the Speaker to parliamentarians on both sides of the House.
I have seen Speakers scold members on both sides of the House and I have also seen Speakers take the side of the government when the “ayse” and the “nays” are in deadlock. In cases like that it is expected of the Speaker to show his/her political affiliation.
So should we make a big deal about the verbal exchanges that took place between Joseph and Foster?
We should if Foster was preventing Joseph from introducing information necessary and relevant to the subject being debated at the time, information that would further enlighten the public about that subject matter.
But what if Joseph was just grand standing, showing that he could take on Prime Minister Dr.Kenny Anthony or the government by trying to make a name for himself as a tough, fearless politician?
Is that the reason why the majority of the people in Castries South East voted him to be their representative in parliament?
Before judgement is passed on either Foster or Joseph, it would be fitting for those who want to play judge and jury to examine the debacle closely. At the same time it would be good if parliamentarians learn the English language. Too many times have I seen some of them butt heads with the Speaker over matters that if presented more succinctly or pithily would have eliminated the embarrassing and confrontational posture like we witnessed on Tuesday.