Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Harry Gill was yesterday reprimanded and referred to the National Assembly’s Privileges Committee for criticising the rulings of Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland as inconsistent.
The decision to refer the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) MP to the committee as a result of his views, which were contained in a letter published in yesterday’s edition of the Stabroek News, was subsequently dubbed by the party to be “a crude assault” on parliamentary democracy and the right to free speech of a Member of the National Assembly.
“If the Honourable Member, Mr. Gill, was dissatisfied with the rulings or decisions of the Speaker, he could have taken a course of action provided in the Standing Orders, to which all members in this House have submitted themselves when they became members of this House. He has proceeded instead on a course of action which is totally impermissible under the Standing Orders. His conduct is an affront to the office of Speaker, the person of the Speaker and to the dignity of this House,” Scotland said to the House, while apologising for the one-hour delay in the start of yesterday sitting.
For his part, he said that the delay was necessary as “a matter of urgent importance” was brought to his attention and had to be dealt with.
He said that one of the universal rules of parliamentary practice, which every member is presumed to be familiar with, is that the conduct of the Speaker “cannot be criticised except by way of a substantive notice.” This was met with grumbling by members of the opposition and he later urged the members of the House to observe the Standing Order, which says that when the Speaker is addressing the House there should be no other voice.
Scotland then proceeded to highlight the penalties that can be meted out if members do not abide by the Standing Orders.
He said that just before the sitting was set to start, his attention was drawn to a letter penned by Gill on pages 6 and 7 of the Stabroek News. This was met with sounds of laughter from the opposition benches.
The Speaker informed the House that the letter on his first reading appeared to make imputations against the Speaker in his office and, insofar as the name of the Speaker is coupled in the letter, against the Speaker in his person.
In the letter, Gill, after making it clear that he had every respect for all MPs and was not trying to bring the Speaker into disrepute, said, “someone has to have the credibility and courage to remind the Hon. Dr. Barton Scotland that he owes his loyalty to the dignity of Parliament, and that his role as Speaker of the National Assembly must remain politically impartial at all times. At the very minimum, he is expected to be fair in his rulings.”
To make his case, Gill noted that during last Friday’s debate of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2018, the Speaker’s inconsistent rulings were visible. He claimed that while the mover of the Bill, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, was allowed to make the most outrageous allegation against the PPP, the Speaker did not allow a Point of Order made by Opposition Whip Gail Teixeira which asked that the disparaging remark be withdrawn.
He pointed out several other inconsistencies in rulings in which the opposition side of the House was on the losing end. “There are inconsistencies in the Speaker’s rulings on sub judice matters, and inconsistencies in his demand for source documents. This is the double standard I’m talking about,” he noted.
“The Hon Speaker of the National Assembly will be best advised to view some of the videos posted on social media to see how biased he appears, imposing his authority to disrupt an Opposition MP on a roll during the debates, or simply to prevent bad news from reaching the press,” Gill also said in his letter.
The full letter can be found at: https://www.stabroeknews.com/2018/opinion/letters/07/30/there-are-inconsistencies-in-the-speakers-rulings-on-sub-judice-and-other-matters/
In his address to the National Assembly on the matter, the Speaker pointed out that this is the second occasion in two years that “such a disregard for the rules of this House has been displayed by Honourable members.” He said that it would appear as though the silence of the House on the previous occasions had “emboldened” Gill.
Will have to answer
Leader of government business, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, made it clear that he and his fellow government members would not condone any attack on the Speaker. This comment was met with loud laughter from the opposition benches and shouts of “read the letter!” and “Stand up and read the whole letter!”
The opposition MPs continuously heckled during Nagamootoo’s presentation and they had to be reminded by the Speaker that they needed to be courteous. “Honourable members we cannot succeed in what we have to do this afternoon if you continue to shout across at each other,” the Speaker said. They, however, ignored those pleas and continued the heckling until Nagamootoo took his seat.
Nagamootoo towards the end of his presentation asked for the matter to be referred to Committee of Privileges for its adjudication.
Teixeira then rose to respond to the Prime Minister. However, the Speaker told her to take her seat. This did not go down well with the opposition MPs. There were shouts of “Eh, eh!” and “Bias again!”
After Teixeira sat, the Speaker then announced that the Prime Minister’s Motion of Privilege was properly made and that it would be sent to the Committee of Privileges. He said that Gill will answer to Committee for his misconduct.
Teixeira, not giving up, rose again. She was reminded by the Speaker that there was no debate and was asked again to take her seat. This time she refused.
She insisted that the Privilege Motion was not properly put. “We know because we brought Privilege Motions. If they hurry to bring Mr. Gill, what has happened to the Motion of Privilege to do with Dr. (George) Norton?” she asked to shouts and loud banging of the table by her fellow members.
Teixeira shouted that the Constitution provides for freedom of expression outside of the House. “No one has showed any disrespect to you…We have a right to speak outside of this House,” she stressed as the Speaker failed in his attempt to get her to take her seat. She insisted that the motion ought not to be entertained.
The Speaker then announced that the remarks made by the opposition front bencher would be expunged from the record. “Those remarks were made without the permission of the Speaker… That rule has not changed and it will not change,” he said.
In a statement issued last night, the PPP said the referral of Gill to the committee was a vulgar case of “a clumsily staged collaboration,” while calling it “one of the most perverse decisions” of a Speaker in living memory.
“The travesty was compounded by the fact that the Speaker himself, being the subject of the alleged infraction, rather than recuse himself, boldly presided over the Motion and essentially found that a prima facie case had been made out for the matter to be considered by the Privileges Committee. That the Speaker found nothing wrong with being a Judge in his own cause, by itself, speaks volumes,” it noted.
The PPP added that the motion moved by the Prime Minister violated all the relevant Standing Orders. “The matter complained about occurred outside of the National Assembly. Nevertheless, none of this mattered to those who conspired to trample the rights and freedoms, which must abound in any Parliament, if only for the protection of its own dignity,” it said, while adding that it would challenge the decision at every available fora. “We do so not only to protect our colleague and parliamentary democracy, but we do so to protect the rights and freedoms of every citizen of this land,” the party further stated.
Prior to Gill’s letter, other PPP/C MPs, including Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, have accused Scotland of unfair and biased treatment.