Guyana joins Trinidad and Tobago where Members of Parliament are confronting (some say disrespecting) the Speaker of the House. And this is not the first time for either country where the Speaker has crossed swords with members of the House. In Guyana, the government MPs are up in arms whereas in Trinidad, the opposition MPs are up in arms against the Speaker.
I am no scholar of parliamentary debates but from my readings on the authority of a House Speaker, MPs cannot defy his or her rulings. They do so at their own peril and face serious consequences. They can challenge (appeal to the Speaker for reconsideration) a ruling but not defy him or make snide comments about the Speaker. And the Speaker has the power to discipline those who defy his rulings with sanctions or expulsion, etc. Generally, MPs are respectful to the Speaker in mature democracies.
In Trinidad last Friday, Leader of the Opposition, Basdeo Panday, defied an instruction by Speaker Barry Sinanan to put away his laptop computer which was given to MPs for usage in parliament if it will be used in relation to a debate.
When Panday was asked if the computer will be used for any contribution to the debate, he did not answer clearly and specifically. The Speaker became enraged and asked the majority side for a motion to suspend Panday in which the government duly acquiesced. Sinanan ordered Panday to leave the Chamber. But Panday remained defiant. Sinanan called in the police and Panday remained seated. Sinanan adjourned the House. Panday eventually left on his own.
Panday and Sinanan had previous confrontations.
Sinanan should have used due caution before suspending Panday given their historically tense relations. He could have adjourned the House and sent for Panday and/or the Whip to address his concern.
With regard to Guyana, the Speaker Ralph Ramkarran is on record for apologising to two opposition MPs for a flawed ruling. That is unprecedented in the Commonwealth and shows the fairness and professionalism of the Speaker.
He also ruled against his own party. That is historic and precedent setting. I think a Speaker must be fair, balanced and objective and be above the political fray. He is the arbiter of fairness in the House and must not take sides but rule according to established norms and principles that govern legislatures.
If a MP feels the Speaker made an error, he or she has a right to appeal the ruling with substantive evidence on how and why the Speaker erred on the issue being debated. The Speaker’s ruling has nothing to do with the substantive issue under debate but on the parliamentary procedures.
As in Trinidad, the conflict between the Speaker and brilliant economist, Dr Ashni Singh, would have been avoided had the leader of the House requested an adjournment and then approached the Speaker in his private Chamber about their “procedural concern”. You simply cannot defy the Speaker but the Speaker must also be “fair”.