The view of the Opposition that a Member of the National Assembly can be prevented from speaking is nothing but weird. This battle was fought in England hundreds of years ago and was settled in 1689. Guyana must be the first country which inherited the British Parliamentary system in which this issue had to be fought all over again after more than three hundred years.
Despite all of this, the ruling of the Speaker that Minister Clement Rohee is entitled to speak has not found favour with the Opposition. APNU expressed its displeasure but the AFC, quite properly, said that they will accept the Speaker’s ruling. APNU appears to be interested in tabling a motion to challenge the ruling with a view to having it reversed. Whether it will persist with this course in the certainty that the motion will be defeated, having regard to the AFC’s position, is not now clear.
The Speaker initially erred because it appears that with his ruling he had hoped to please his erstwhile colleagues in the Opposition without offending the members of the Government. As time passes and as the Speaker meets with other Commonwealth Speakers at conferences, he will realize that he cannot ride two horses at the same time. The type of pressures he faces are the same everywhere. Both government and opposition eventually become dissatisfied with the Speaker. Many Speakers complain that their erstwhile colleagues accuse them of being too sympathetic to the opposition. In the charged atmosphere in Guyana, where the Speaker was elected with opposition votes, his job has to be one of the most difficult. The only answer is to do what is right and let the chips fall where they may.
The Speaker further erred in allowing himself to be drawn into legal and constitutional argument about whether Minister Rohee has the right to speak or not. Lawyers, legal consultants, constitutional experts and such other distinguished personages, whatever wisdom, learning and experience they may possess, have no place in advising on parliamentary procedure. The Standing Orders, on which the Clerk is the official adviser to the Speaker, and such texts as may assist in their interpretation, contain all that is required to guide. If further guidance is needed there is former clerk, Frank Narine, and former Deputy Clerk, Maurice Henry, who have expertise in the Standing Orders that surpass most in the Caribbean, if not further afield. The current Clerk, Sherlock Isaacs, is following in their footsteps. The Speaker has these resources available.
There were two distinguished Speakers who were not lawyers, namely, R. B. Gajraj, a businessman, and the little known A. P. Alleyne, a headmaster. The more I learn about Speaker Alleyne the more I am impressed. He once took offence at a statement made by Burnham in Parliament. He suspended the Sitting and invited Burnham into his Chambers. When the Sitting was resumed, Burnham apologized. That is not something one would ever see today. On one occasion he ruled in favour of Cheddi Jagan, then the Opposition Leader, who had objected that the requisite number of days had not elapsed since the first reading of a Bill to enable the second reading to proceed. Faced with the same issue, I took the same view as Speaker Alleyne’s despite being strongly urged by Government Members that both Speaker Alleyne and Cheddi Jagan were wrong. Speaker Alleyne’s acumen, independence and fearlessness, derived no doubt from the authority he developed as an old time headmaster, are worthy of emulation. There is no evidence that these Speakers consulted lawyers.
The Standing Orders contain no provision to prevent or disallow a Member from speaking. A one sentence ruling should have been the end of the matter. The Speaker has no business writing dissertations on law and the constitution to justify his ruling, learned and enlightening though his effort in the Rohee matter is. That is for the courtroom. A short, succinct and decisive decision based on the Standing Orders is enough and once it is made it must be accepted by Members. They may disagree with it. But if they do they should have the courage of their convictions and table a motion to challenge the ruling rather than sniping at it outside of Parliament where they are not answerable for unparliamentary behavior.
The Speaker’s decision is final. It cannot be reversed, set aside, overruled or overturned by any known means or procedure, except where he violates a law; and all this talk about the Speaker not being bound by Court decisions should cease before we become more of a laughing stock. A motion which expresses disagreement with the Speaker’s decision is quite proper. However, if it is passed, it does not have the effect of changing the decision. Only the Speaker can reverse himself. If the motion seeks or intends to seek a reversal of the Speaker’s decision, it should not leave his desk.