Order In The House!

TUESDAY’S walk-out of Parliament by the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party’s Members of Parliament was just another example of how deeper down the spiral of anarchy this country seems to be gravitating towards. The old adage “The more things change, the more they remain the same” has now become “The more things change, the worse off we are for it”.

The protest action stemmed from the Opposition’s displeasure at feeling sidelined and disrespected by the government’s side on a matter that has serious – if not deleterious – consequences on not only political careers but the country as a whole.

Earlier this year, the Opposition put forward a motion to debate the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) legislation in Parliament. The premise was that certain key changes had been made to the legislation which give investors a clear advantage but pose several disadvantages to the country in the long run.

The Opposition contended that while enough time had been given for the motion to be debated and it was on the Order Paper as of last Thursday, by Tuesday, however, the motion was no longer on the Order Paper.

After Leader of the Opposition, Philip J. Pierre, asked the House Speaker, Leonne Theodore-John, to clarify the motion not being on the Order Paper, she responded by saying that the Prime Minister had asked that the matter be deferred to a later date.

That new development led to Castries South MP, Dr. Ernest Hilaire, voicing his displeasure in Parliament, to which the House Speaker responded by saying, in effect, that the matter was over and done with, ergo, the walk-out that ensued.

Leader of the Opposition, Philip J. Pierre, described the development as “a rape of democracy”, adding that the government’s side was being vindictive and attempting to stifle the Opposition. As crucial a motion as it was, he believes some level of debate should have transpired on the matter.

Over the years, the excuse given especially by those in opposition is that they were not being given enough time to prepare for debates due to the lateness in which parliamentary papers are delivered to them. Members often complain that they receive such documents merely two to three days prior to the House meeting. Ironically, however, it seems that the Opposition was all too ready to debate the CIP matter this time around and not the government’s side.

Given the serious nature of the CIP legislation – and the possible fallout that can ensue – it would stand to reason that every opportunity for discussing such should be pursued, especially in Parliament. So, too, should have been the Grynberg matter and other unsavoury acts by public officials that have cost us more than just money. However, it seems that whomever hold the chips control the game.

Unfortunately, the country is in too deep a stretch of dire straits to be playing counter-productive games of one-up-man-ship. Generally, these tactless manouevres displayed in the House can send the wrong signal to especially foreign investors who might think that important matters and procedures can be deferred conveniently.

Both sides of the House are already erring by failing to even elect a Deputy Speaker, instead opting to go the legal route to seek clarification of the Standing Orders that deal with such an appointment. As such, every sitting of the House for the past few months starts off on an acrimonious note and usually ends that way – or worse.

The most unfortunate dimension to Tuesday’s debacle was that both sides were not in the House to debate the Crown Proceedings (Amendment) which went through all its stages that day. In effect, that bill sought to hold politicians accountable for their (mis)deeds. In the same manner both sides of the House denounced the findings of the Constitution Reform Committee’s report, it would have been only fair that that bill had bipartisanship support for its enactment.

Within days, Saint Lucians will find out just what plans and policies the government has in place for the next four years. In the Throne Speech, Budget Presentations and Budget Debates, they would be looking forward to find some level of comfort and confidence as to the direction their country hopes to wrest itself from the current socio-economic malaise. What they are not hoping for, however, is to see politicians playing egotistical games with their lives and future.

It’s past due for some honour and decency to become the natural order in the House of Assembly.

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