It was certainly messy

Hon Speaker, Shirley Osborne, with clerk in Legislative Assembly session
Seating in opposition Hons. Easton Farrell, Dr. Sammy Joseph, Dr. Ingrid Buffonge and Gregory Willock

Aware that TMR (The Montserrat Reporter) had not given full coverage under the headlined “…Assembly mess,” in the March 29, 2019 issue, we had prepared coverage for publication under caption “It was certainly messy” following full investigation. Time went by, but as of last weekend the time came for an answer following postponement of earlier sittings, when the matter(s) was dealt with in the Assembly held on April 25, 2019.

The result – apologies, and suspensions from sittings.

In last week’s TMR issue we headlined the week’s share of mess both in the UK and in Montserrat, both in different proportions. Montserrat being much less, affecting only the territory but coming nevertheless from the highest level possible in parliament, the Legislative Assembly (LegAss).

We addressed the matter briefly in the Editorial where we suggested from the brief information available last Friday immediately following the poor conduct of the Legislative member Dr. Ingrid Buffonge, in her fifth year after being elected in the last 2014 General Elections, supported by the Hon Gregory Willock, a fact he constantly seeks to deny.

Dr. Buffonge has reportedly said that her remarks were not directed to the Speaker, and was unaware that her microphone was still turned on. But irrespective Hon Speaker Shirley Osborne has explained that she, “… used language that is just absolutely not acceptable here. And upon being asked to apologize to the house choose instead to leave.”

With Dr. Buffonge’s supporter of her failed motion against the PDM government last year, Hon Willock was seemingly in support and joined Dr. Buffonge who rather than, or refusing to apologise as Speaker Osborne said she was asked to do, walked out.

Earlier in the sitting the Speaker had admonished members from both sides that they should be mindful of how they interrupt a speaker., This is usually done by a member drawing attention by saying, “On a point of order…”

This time the speaker had interrupted Dr. Buffonge who was speaking to a Supplementary bill to approve additional funds for health care, for relevance. She was stating her repeated continue d dissatisfaction with the way the Ministry of Health had been functioning. But the Honourable Speaker told Buffonge, “I find what you are saying very interesting, however, I’m having great difficulty making the connection, the relevance of what you are saying to the bill on hand. —would you in maybe twenty words or so explain the connection before you go on?” she asked of the member.

Dr. Buffonge responded by saying, “Madam Speaker, I’m really struggling to have a voice in parliament with you being super controlling. I find that nobody else gets the treatment that I get.”

At some point soon after Dr. Buffonge among other words uttered the offending words, and after being asked to apologise, reportedly said goodbye to the House and walked out. She was followed by Willock leaving the Hon opposition leader with Hon. Dr Sammy Joseph.

A stunned public wait for the next move on the issue. Meanwhile the Hon Speaker is reported to have said, ‘The standing orders allows the House to name and suspend members. What I will recommend to the house, and what the House will take on in response to the behaviours of those two persons this afternoon, is something we will discuss and respond to and address appropriately at the next sitting.”

And so, here we were on Thursday, April 25, 2019, as the questions asked prior, e.g. “Could parliamentary member be facing possible suspension during the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly?”

The Hon Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Shirley Osborne having convened the sitting on the 25th, to address parliamentary issues, as she opened: “Unfortunately for us, the very first order of business this morning, is that we are required to respond to and resolve a matter brought forward from the last sitting of the house, which took place on Friday March 29th.”

It ought to have been surprising, even if not shocking, especially to those who were still willing to downplay the events, claiming worst happen in other parliaments when the speaker continued after addressing the Hon members’ “the very first sitting of what would grow to be called the Montserrat Legislative Assembly was held in 1937, and in its 82 years of existence the house, as far as we can tell from researching into the written records and consulting with current and former parliamentarians, nothing has ever occurred in this august and venerable house that even remotely compares to what unfolded in this place on March 29, 2019.”

The Speaker continued her introduction of the matter on hand:

“Not surprisingly, this Honourable House – and this Chair – were quite unprepared to respond immediately, knowledge of Standing Orders being not quite the same as familiarity with the remedies it provides for dealing with matters so entirely unfamiliar to this Chair and this House.

The entire House recoiled in disbelief and reacted with shock at the untoward and alien occurrence and the house was suspended briefly, in accordance with Standing Order Number 3 (2) which reads, simply: “(2) The Speaker may at any time suspend a meeting.” So that I might confer with the Clerk and Standing Orders for the appropriate response.

“In the interests of clarity, therefore, and so as to ensure that all who have an interest in the workings of the Montserrat Legislative Assembly are provided with the facts, on record, in replacement of misconceptions resulting from ignorance of the rules of the House of Assembly and in response to the opportunistic misrepresentations of the facts, I shall briefly recap.”

She went on to do that in terms some of which appear here in this issue and before. She mentioned however, circumstances and events that took place prior to the March 29 meeting where she said: “…I made a plea to the members to not repeat the unfortunate and unbecoming behaviours of the previous sitting.” She said she made these comments after asking the radio not to broadcast what she was about to say to the members. The essence of this is that what happened that day was a situation which just got far worse than imaginable.

After the brief suspension on March 29, the Speaker reported: “I advised the House that I would confer further with the Clerk of the Assembly, seek wider advice and report back at the next sitting with appropriate rulings and directions for the House,” adding, “As is proper and indeed best practice, Madam Clerk and I, both, have also, separately, sought advice from our colleague clerks and speakers in other jurisdictions.”

Thus she began: “I have done so. My considered ruling, therefore, is this.” Only that before the ruling, she went on with much more explanation of the honour and culture surrounding the rules, existence, control and conduct of the house, much of which most if not all members would have been exposed to before, formally or otherwise, excerpted thus.

“The Montserrat Legislative Assembly is governed by generally accepted rules – Standing Orders, custom, codes of conduct and the authority of the Speaker – …the House is the proverbial “nation unto itself”, within which the members enjoy Privilege with a capital P, or a set of privileges available to no others else in our society. For this reason, also, is it incumbent upon them to never violate this high honour.

“These orders, rules, customs and codes, in conjunction with The Montserrat Constitution Order 2010, oblige members to always – and assiduously – uphold the honour and dignity of the House, to be ever careful to never engage in conduct that might be damaging to the reputation and integrity of the House as a whole or of its members generally, in whichever situation they might find themselves…”

 “Under Standards in public life, the Constitution reads,

106.— (2) In the exercise of their functions Ministers, members of the Legislative Assembly and public officers shall uphold and conform to the highest standards in public life

These orders, rules, customs and codes of conduct exist –

“to assist all Members in the discharge of their obligations to the House, their constituents and the public at large by –

  1. establishing the standards and principles of conduct expected of all Members in undertaking their duties;
  2. setting the rules of conduct which underpin these standards and principles and to which all Members must adhere, and in so doing
  3. ensuring public confidence in the standards expected of all Members and in the commitment of the House to upholding these rules.

After all that and much more, questioning on the way:

“With what authority, for example, would a teacher at MSS be able to reprimand a child for disrupting the class, or for cursing and swearing in the classroom, if Members of Parliament are seen to be allowed to do this in the House, with impunity?

Would we consider it acceptable for congregants to speak “badwords” in our churches?”

Then – “My office as Speaker allows me the authority to advise members and, at this moment, I advise the House that there is campaigning and politics and there is administering and governing.

“I further advise members that, in this House, the guide ought best be, above all other considerations, effective administration and good governance for the benefit and advancement of the entire populace.”

And eventually laying out the ‘charges’ having named before those who have caused them to be brought. “Honourable Members, the matters under consideration are, in general, a violation of the Standing Orders of the Assembly, and specifically:

“disruption of house proceedings;
disregard for the authority of the Chair;
violation of the dignity and honour of the House;
unparliamentary language;
leaving the House without the permission of the Speaker;
and grave misconduct in the House, including abuse of the parliamentary privilege regarding speech.”

Accordingly with the authority of the Speaker. “All of these being behaviours prohibited by the ,

She also cited the Standing Orders from which the charges derived Standing Order Nos. 39, 40, 4, 49, 78 (1), 49 Section 2.

It is my recommendation, therefore, that the violations of the Parliament by these two members be responded to in this manner:

“that Mr. Willock renders an apology to the House, withdraw from this present sitting and be suspended for one sitting hereafter.

“That Dr. Buffonge renders an apology to the House, which must be in writing and with notice, withdraw from this present sitting and be suspended for two sittings hereafter.

The question to be put is, therefore, Honourable Members, whether the House accepts these recommendations.”

It may be surprising to note that the opposition with one member absent voted against the motion, with the two ‘charged’ not being able to vote, the motion carried with the government side voting in favour with one abstention.

Reports, unconfirmed and being checked speak to continuing awkwardness and misbehavior, which may cause further citations. The matter may not be over. The budget presentation is carded for the next sitting of the house likely to be May 155. The two members will be absent.

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https://indd.adobe.com/embed/2b4deb22-cf03-4509-9bbd-938c7e8ecc7d
Hon Speaker, Shirley Osborne, with clerk in Legislative Assembly session
Seating in opposition Hons. Easton Farrell, Dr. Sammy Joseph, Dr. Ingrid Buffonge and Gregory Willock

Aware that TMR (The Montserrat Reporter) had not given full coverage under the headlined “…Assembly mess,” in the March 29, 2019 issue, we had prepared coverage for publication under caption “It was certainly messy” following full investigation. Time went by, but as of last weekend the time came for an answer following postponement of earlier sittings, when the matter(s) was dealt with in the Assembly held on April 25, 2019.

The result – apologies, and suspensions from sittings.

In last week’s TMR issue we headlined the week’s share of mess both in the UK and in Montserrat, both in different proportions. Montserrat being much less, affecting only the territory but coming nevertheless from the highest level possible in parliament, the Legislative Assembly (LegAss).

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We addressed the matter briefly in the Editorial where we suggested from the brief information available last Friday immediately following the poor conduct of the Legislative member Dr. Ingrid Buffonge, in her fifth year after being elected in the last 2014 General Elections, supported by the Hon Gregory Willock, a fact he constantly seeks to deny.

Dr. Buffonge has reportedly said that her remarks were not directed to the Speaker, and was unaware that her microphone was still turned on. But irrespective Hon Speaker Shirley Osborne has explained that she, “… used language that is just absolutely not acceptable here. And upon being asked to apologize to the house choose instead to leave.”

With Dr. Buffonge’s supporter of her failed motion against the PDM government last year, Hon Willock was seemingly in support and joined Dr. Buffonge who rather than, or refusing to apologise as Speaker Osborne said she was asked to do, walked out.

Earlier in the sitting the Speaker had admonished members from both sides that they should be mindful of how they interrupt a speaker., This is usually done by a member drawing attention by saying, “On a point of order…”

This time the speaker had interrupted Dr. Buffonge who was speaking to a Supplementary bill to approve additional funds for health care, for relevance. She was stating her repeated continue d dissatisfaction with the way the Ministry of Health had been functioning. But the Honourable Speaker told Buffonge, “I find what you are saying very interesting, however, I’m having great difficulty making the connection, the relevance of what you are saying to the bill on hand. —would you in maybe twenty words or so explain the connection before you go on?” she asked of the member.

Dr. Buffonge responded by saying, “Madam Speaker, I’m really struggling to have a voice in parliament with you being super controlling. I find that nobody else gets the treatment that I get.”

At some point soon after Dr. Buffonge among other words uttered the offending words, and after being asked to apologise, reportedly said goodbye to the House and walked out. She was followed by Willock leaving the Hon opposition leader with Hon. Dr Sammy Joseph.

A stunned public wait for the next move on the issue. Meanwhile the Hon Speaker is reported to have said, ‘The standing orders allows the House to name and suspend members. What I will recommend to the house, and what the House will take on in response to the behaviours of those two persons this afternoon, is something we will discuss and respond to and address appropriately at the next sitting.”

And so, here we were on Thursday, April 25, 2019, as the questions asked prior, e.g. “Could parliamentary member be facing possible suspension during the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly?”

The Hon Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Shirley Osborne having convened the sitting on the 25th, to address parliamentary issues, as she opened: “Unfortunately for us, the very first order of business this morning, is that we are required to respond to and resolve a matter brought forward from the last sitting of the house, which took place on Friday March 29th.”

It ought to have been surprising, even if not shocking, especially to those who were still willing to downplay the events, claiming worst happen in other parliaments when the speaker continued after addressing the Hon members’ “the very first sitting of what would grow to be called the Montserrat Legislative Assembly was held in 1937, and in its 82 years of existence the house, as far as we can tell from researching into the written records and consulting with current and former parliamentarians, nothing has ever occurred in this august and venerable house that even remotely compares to what unfolded in this place on March 29, 2019.”

The Speaker continued her introduction of the matter on hand:

“Not surprisingly, this Honourable House – and this Chair – were quite unprepared to respond immediately, knowledge of Standing Orders being not quite the same as familiarity with the remedies it provides for dealing with matters so entirely unfamiliar to this Chair and this House.

The entire House recoiled in disbelief and reacted with shock at the untoward and alien occurrence and the house was suspended briefly, in accordance with Standing Order Number 3 (2) which reads, simply: “(2) The Speaker may at any time suspend a meeting.” So that I might confer with the Clerk and Standing Orders for the appropriate response.

“In the interests of clarity, therefore, and so as to ensure that all who have an interest in the workings of the Montserrat Legislative Assembly are provided with the facts, on record, in replacement of misconceptions resulting from ignorance of the rules of the House of Assembly and in response to the opportunistic misrepresentations of the facts, I shall briefly recap.”

She went on to do that in terms some of which appear here in this issue and before. She mentioned however, circumstances and events that took place prior to the March 29 meeting where she said: “…I made a plea to the members to not repeat the unfortunate and unbecoming behaviours of the previous sitting.” She said she made these comments after asking the radio not to broadcast what she was about to say to the members. The essence of this is that what happened that day was a situation which just got far worse than imaginable.

After the brief suspension on March 29, the Speaker reported: “I advised the House that I would confer further with the Clerk of the Assembly, seek wider advice and report back at the next sitting with appropriate rulings and directions for the House,” adding, “As is proper and indeed best practice, Madam Clerk and I, both, have also, separately, sought advice from our colleague clerks and speakers in other jurisdictions.”

Thus she began: “I have done so. My considered ruling, therefore, is this.” Only that before the ruling, she went on with much more explanation of the honour and culture surrounding the rules, existence, control and conduct of the house, much of which most if not all members would have been exposed to before, formally or otherwise, excerpted thus.

“The Montserrat Legislative Assembly is governed by generally accepted rules – Standing Orders, custom, codes of conduct and the authority of the Speaker – …the House is the proverbial “nation unto itself”, within which the members enjoy Privilege with a capital P, or a set of privileges available to no others else in our society. For this reason, also, is it incumbent upon them to never violate this high honour.

“These orders, rules, customs and codes, in conjunction with The Montserrat Constitution Order 2010, oblige members to always – and assiduously – uphold the honour and dignity of the House, to be ever careful to never engage in conduct that might be damaging to the reputation and integrity of the House as a whole or of its members generally, in whichever situation they might find themselves…”

 “Under Standards in public life, the Constitution reads,

106.— (2) In the exercise of their functions Ministers, members of the Legislative Assembly and public officers shall uphold and conform to the highest standards in public life

These orders, rules, customs and codes of conduct exist –

“to assist all Members in the discharge of their obligations to the House, their constituents and the public at large by –

  1. establishing the standards and principles of conduct expected of all Members in undertaking their duties;
  2. setting the rules of conduct which underpin these standards and principles and to which all Members must adhere, and in so doing
  3. ensuring public confidence in the standards expected of all Members and in the commitment of the House to upholding these rules.

After all that and much more, questioning on the way:

“With what authority, for example, would a teacher at MSS be able to reprimand a child for disrupting the class, or for cursing and swearing in the classroom, if Members of Parliament are seen to be allowed to do this in the House, with impunity?

Would we consider it acceptable for congregants to speak “badwords” in our churches?”

Then – “My office as Speaker allows me the authority to advise members and, at this moment, I advise the House that there is campaigning and politics and there is administering and governing.

“I further advise members that, in this House, the guide ought best be, above all other considerations, effective administration and good governance for the benefit and advancement of the entire populace.”

And eventually laying out the ‘charges’ having named before those who have caused them to be brought. “Honourable Members, the matters under consideration are, in general, a violation of the Standing Orders of the Assembly, and specifically:

“disruption of house proceedings;
disregard for the authority of the Chair;
violation of the dignity and honour of the House;
unparliamentary language;
leaving the House without the permission of the Speaker;
and grave misconduct in the House, including abuse of the parliamentary privilege regarding speech.”

Accordingly with the authority of the Speaker. “All of these being behaviours prohibited by the ,

She also cited the Standing Orders from which the charges derived Standing Order Nos. 39, 40, 4, 49, 78 (1), 49 Section 2.

It is my recommendation, therefore, that the violations of the Parliament by these two members be responded to in this manner:

“that Mr. Willock renders an apology to the House, withdraw from this present sitting and be suspended for one sitting hereafter.

“That Dr. Buffonge renders an apology to the House, which must be in writing and with notice, withdraw from this present sitting and be suspended for two sittings hereafter.

The question to be put is, therefore, Honourable Members, whether the House accepts these recommendations.”

It may be surprising to note that the opposition with one member absent voted against the motion, with the two ‘charged’ not being able to vote, the motion carried with the government side voting in favour with one abstention.

Reports, unconfirmed and being checked speak to continuing awkwardness and misbehavior, which may cause further citations. The matter may not be over. The budget presentation is carded for the next sitting of the house likely to be May 155. The two members will be absent.