You are here
Making the Speaker accountable
Why should a Speaker of the House of Representatives be allowed to dismiss without rational explanation why he has denied a citizen (and potentially every other citizen) the right to put on the parliamentary record his response to the treasonous allegations that he was plotting with others to destabilise the country?
As this column has been seeking to highlight in this period of talk of constitutional reform, here is another inadequacy of our parliamentary system thrown up by the times. In the first instance, it is a violation of the basic democratic principle of the right to respond. The denial is compounded by the fact that the historical record of Hansard will show only that Vernon De Lima and his alleged associates were exposed by the Minister of National Security for attempting to plot illegal activity against the State.
And here it must be remembered that the Minister is informed of such illegal activity by the national security apparatus. That situation is aggravated by the fact that up until the time of writing, Mr Jack Warner has produced no substantiating evidence to support his claim. Neither has the minister indicated that he will hand over his information for police investigations of what is a very serious allegation. That Warner has ignored his Prime Minister’s suggestion that he apologise is an issue for the Prime Minister.
Recently the courts ruled that the President of the Republic had every responsibility to give a hearing to then chairman of the Police Service Commission, Nizam Mohammed. The Prime Minister, ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, all MPs, ministers/pundits/imams of all religions have to routinely answer for their actions. The Pope of the Catholic Church has already had to respond about alleged political activities in his previous life.
Why then should a sitting Speaker possess the power, first, to deny a group of citizens the right to respond and second, the entire population a rational explanation for his decisions?
The absurdity of the powers of the Speaker is even more disconcerting when one considers the partisan nature of the political culture which puts the individual, whoever the person is, in the Speaker’s chair. The history of the T&T House of Representatives (from Arnold Thomasos to Wade Mark) has been that the Speaker is the creature of the political party in control of the HoR.
And this is unlike in the United Kingdom where the Speaker resigns from the party that has elected him and is expected to be non-partisan. The Speaker in T&T functions much like his counterpart in the US. By shielding the Speaker of the House from having to give an explanation, the rules governing the HoR protect the Speaker from scrutiny by the people.
But here is another myth: that MPs represent in totality the views of their constituents. This needs to be exploded by new constitutional arrangements. The 1986 general election resulted in perhaps the most popularly elected government in modern times—the NAR swamping the PNM 33-3.
In the Tobago East constituency the victor, ANR Robinson, who was made Prime Minister, won 6,520 votes of a total eligible electorate of 14,513. However, 2,665 electors voted against him. Fifty ballots were rejected and 5,328 people did not vote. Therefore, the majority (7,943) did not vote for MP Robinson.
Beyond the straight arithmetic, when an elected MP takes a decision on any matter in the Parliament, the question could be asked: what level of consultation did the MP engage his constituents in? Open displeasure with the performance of MPs through constituency protests and a high turnover of MPs in modern times further whittle away at the myth that MPs speak on behalf of their constituents.
Indeed, in many instances, MPs are selected to contest against the wishes of the constituency they are seeking to represent. Add to that the occasions when MPs completely violate the political position of their constituents by taking their votes across the floor. However, the myth persists. Now this is not an argument against the principle of allowing the majority to control. However, it must not be majority tyranny over the minority, more so that it has been illustrated that a “minority” may not in fact be a minority.
What a constitution should do is remove the power of tyranny of the elected “majority”—who may in fact be a minority—over the minority, the real majority. The ideal would be to elect a Speaker through a process which does not make him/her a creature of the Government.
But whether or not that is achieved, the power of censure must be placed in the hands of the electorate to watch over the person who sits in the chair of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and he/she must therefore be made to account to the majority.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.