THE opposition United Workers Party (UWP) has taken umbrage to what they deem as the apparent suppression of parliamentary transparency in Saint Lucia.
This retort comes amid the latest ‘spat’ between Opposition Leader Allen Chastanet and Speaker of the House Claudius Francis, during a parliamentary sitting on Tuesday.
Legislators had convened to debate on the motion to allow government to borrow a sum of about USD 6 million towards the renovation of schools on the island.
During the debate, on numerous occasions, Francis called on the opposition leader to ‘stick to the matter at hand’ when he (Chastanet) rose ‘on a point of order’ to voice his objection to specific pronouncements in the house. This resulted, in Francis, at one point, warning that he (the speaker) could be forced to use his authority “to potentially cease live coverage of the sessions of Parliament.”
According to the UWP’s release, “In this modern age, live coverage gives the public the opportunity to engage in the democratic process and to hear robust debate on the issues and the thinking behind decisions made on their behalf. This regressive move by the Speaker is a blatant attack on transparency and democracy.”
The statement continued, “Such a decision raises serious concerns about the government’s commitment to an open and accountable democratic process.
“Live coverage of parliamentary proceedings, a standard practice throughout the democracies of the Commonwealth and other legislative bodies around the world, serves as a vital channel for citizens to hear and understand the complexities of the issues and the rationale behind the legislative decisions that shape our nation.”
The opposition’s statement further declares: “Speaker Francis’ attempt to restrict this access undermines the very principles upon which our democracy stands. This move is perceived by many as an effort to shield government members and to stifle the voice of the Opposition Leader whose duty it is to raise questions and offer opinions on the legislation at hand.
“Transparency is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy and any attempt to manipulate or control the flow of information compromises the public’s right to know.”
The release adds, “We, as advocates for a robust and transparent democracy, strongly condemn Speaker Claudius Francis’ proposed restriction on live coverage of Parliament sessions. The citizens of Saint Lucia deserve an open and accountable government that respects the democratic values we hold dear.
“Furthermore, the loud, disturbing, cross- talk emanating from the government side and clearly heard throughout the sessions is cause for concern. The government members are clearly heard shouting across the Parliamentary divide with little admonition from the Speaker.”
To stress its point, the UWP statement contends: “It leaves the public to wonder whether the Speaker is able to effectively control the House.
“Rather than contemplating the curtailment of Parliamentary broadcast, the Speaker should instead focus on his duty of maintaining order in the House.”