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The Unity Labour Party (ULP) regime has once again denied members of New Democratic Party (NDP) their rights to debate a Private Members’ Motion in parliament. The motion on Electoral Reform was tabled by Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Godwin Friday. Undoubtedly, it is a mockery of democracy by the ULP regime. Most commentators called it the tyranny of the majority while others labeled it a creeping dictatorship.
Since 2001, the NDP has brought several Private Members’ Motion to parliament. For instance, the Spiritual Social and Redemption Charter, Integrity Legislation and recently Electoral Reform, and not one has been debated. The ULP government has blocked every effort by the NDP to get a Private Members’ Motion debated. The rules of the parliament allows for private members to bring a motion to the parliament once per year. Whenever, the NDP has brought a motion to parliament, either non-cabinet members of the ULP bring a motion also, or the government includes a number of Ministerial Statements on the Order Paper of parliament for that sitting; therefore, preventing the NDP from debating its motion.
On Friday, 17th May, 2019, the ULP government focused its attention on rules to prevent the debate; and made substantial changes to the motion on Electoral Reform, which they called amendment. But the NDP had none of it; they stayed in parliament and stood up to the dictator. They did an excellent job in presenting their argument and highlighting the dishonesty and the hypocrisy of the ULP government. Moreover, they were able to show that their interpretations of the rules were correct but the Speaker was not persuaded. It was a blatant attempt by Dr. Gonsalves to hijack the motion that was bought by the NDP.
The discussion on electoral reform is critical to our democracy taking into consideration the numerous recommendations that were made by successive supervisors of elections and local, regional and international observers following the general elections of 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015 of how to make the system more effective and efficient. It would appear that the ULP regime is not about efficiency, effectiveness, voter confidence, transparency and accountability; but about oppression, win at all cost and stifling freedom of speech.
We saw a similar occurrence when the NDP brought the NO Confidence Motion against the government last year. The No Confidence Motion was not debated after Dr. Gonsalves made significant changes to it and called it a Confidence Motion. This is what Dr, Gonsalves said during the intense exchanges that took place in the House of Assembly on Wednesday January 31, 2018.
“Mr. Speaker, with great respect …I have already said that the opposition can bring a motion of no confidence only if the government acquiesces or agrees. ….”
“Unless you have this initial step, which has to be overcome, you are going to have chaos in the Parliament……,”
These assertions were made by Prime Minister Gonsalves in addressing the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas. The Prime Minister was stridently resisting the Speaker’s indication that debate should proceed on the Motion of no Confidence in his Government that was signed by the seven elected Representatives of the Opposition (out of the total of fifteen Representatives in the House). It was the first such Motion of No Confidence to be proposed over the past seventeen years that the NDP has been the Parliamentary Opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Speaker of the House in disagreeing with this absurd contention by the Prime Minister, referred to occasions in Hansard (the official records of the House of Assembly), when the ULP was in the opposition between 1994 and 2001; during which time the Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition for the latter two years, where several motions of no confidence in the NDP government of the day were presented to the House; all of which were debated, including one that went to debate at a time when there were only three elected opposition lawmakers. Dr. Gonsalves retorted that he was then able to secure a debate, only because the Government acquiesced.
The outcome of his relentless resistance, which ensued over a period of three hours, was that the Prime Minister successfully bludgeoned the Speaker into making a ruling, that thwarted the Opposition’s motion of No Confidence via an amendment that effectively flipped the question being proposed, from the House resolving its lack of confidence to a motion by which it was asked to express Full Confidence in his Government.
In replying to criticisms of his ruling by the public, the Speaker posted comments on Facebook, agreeing with Dr Friday’s interpretation, and stated that he erred by entertaining the amendment, that there is no way a constitutionally mandated provision can be negative by an amendment and that once he ruled the motion could not be voted down before a debate the only other thing left was for the debate, the Government is persisting in their position that no vote of confidence in the government can be brought by the Opposition without the acquiescence of the Government lawmakers. We await the Speaker’s response to the ruling that he made on Friday 17th May.
The NDP reiterates, that what was done during the NO Confidence Motion and the Motion on Electoral Reform go against the Constitution of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, which many people who came before us have fought for, in order to ensure that we are able to benefit from those freedoms which it guarantees. Dr. Gonsalves has transformed our Parliament into a pantomime, by which he indulges himself in acting out narcissistic fantasies. He obeys that laws that he chooses to when it suits his purpose and ignores and tramples on those laws he chooses, when it does not suit his purpose to obey them. He functions like a veritable tin pot dictator and is viewed by many as pale imitation of the deposed Robert Mugabe, the disgraced former leader of Zimbabwe.