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Legislative Assembly ‘Fiasco’?

By Bennette Roach

Problems of the conduct and behavior surrounding sittings and the business of the Legislative Assembly, particularly regarding the time, number of sittings and a seeming surprising lack of cooperation with the political leader of this land have plagued since the current Speaker has been in ‘control’ of the Assembly.

 Last Friday, October 27, the sitting of the Legislative Assembly was a postponed sitting that was scheduled as announced on July 24, 2017 by the Hon Speaker Shirley Osborne that should have been held on “Tuesday, September 26th.

The July 24 was primarily information to postpone the scheduled meeting of July 25 to Thursday, July 27th at 9.00 a.m. at the usual Assembly meeting in the Cultural Centre in Little Bay. The Speaker had advised that the postponement was “at the request of the Government”.

At that time the Speaker informed as a reminder, “that the Parliamentary year ends in July, and recommences in September. No sittings will take place in this period of prorogation except in the case of a serious emergency that demands a meeting of Parliamentarians.”

The note continued to advise: “The 2017-2018 parliamentary year will begin with a formal opening ceremony on Tuesday, September 26th and the full calendar will be published very shortly…”

The Speaker informed also that the programme of the Opening will also be published before the September date, “and notwithstanding that formal invitations will be issued later, the Speaker now issues an early invitation to citizens and residents to save the date and either attend or watch the opening ceremony of our Parliamentary year, 2017-2018.”

But possible circumstances seem to evade the planning of dates for the Assembly sittings. Three hurricanes made passage around Montserrat, Irma, Jose and Maria, the last one though scathing, left the island with measurable damage during September.

Of interest Her Excellency the Governor as it became evident following her actions which could have necessitated or required a sitting of the Assembly to take place within five days after the 23rd September, may not have been aware of the situation regarding the sitting. It must have been evident that Parliament would not have been opened as scheduled.

The 2017-18 calendar was circulated by the Clerk’s office on August 30, showing the Opening of Parliament for the 26-27; a next sitting for October 24th – 25th. It is understood there could not have been a sitting in September and it seemed that an early date could have been set.

The question remains. What constituted the delay that the sitting was scheduled for a day when three of the six government legislators to include three ministers would be absent from the territory? This raised further questions when as one reporter puts it, “There was a stark absence of substantive government ministers Friday at the ceremony to mark the opening of the parliamentary year 2017-2018. It was the first time in the history of months of Parliament that this has happened. The Hon Premier Donaldson Romeo his Deputy hon Delmaude Ryan (who was reportedly sick), hon Ministers Paul Lewis and David Osborne, most of whom are off island were notably absent from Friday’s sitting”.

There are eleven members of the Assembly; three members who sit on the opposition benches, one of whom was also absent, Hon Eastern Taylor Farrell and Dr Samuel Joseph, present. On the government benches, there were hon members, Claude Hogan and Gregory Willock, as well as the ex officio members, Hon acting financial secretary Philip Chambers and the Ag. Attorney General.

TMR learnt that as guest speaker at a business meeting the Speaker reportedly chided critically that the legislators were always seeking ways, to either curtail or avoid Assembly sittings. On Friday the Hon. Speaker made an announcement at the opening thus:

“We are doing everything we can at the legislature to enhance and elevate the level of participation of the people within the Democratic and legislative processes of this beloved land, and we thank you for your support and input,” she said.

“This is your house, it is your ceremony therefore, so you the people get to decide what it looks like and how it works. And with your support and input we’ll continue to design until they get it the way that serves us all best. Now it might seem like some grand coincidence that so very many members of the house are not seated within it today of all days but of course the executive branch of the government has duties that it must conduct in places outside of this house and our Constitution demands that the assembly convene regardless of what the executive branch might be doing elsewhere.

“I have therefore decided to proceed in this particular manner and so this morning I stand with you to formally declare that the House of Assembly of the people of Montserrat is open to conduct the business of the people within it, for the parliamentary year 2017-2018 and I thank you all very much for your participation.”

Present at the opening were some college student. TMR learnt that members of a hopeful new youth parliament being formed were invited to the special sitting. There a few college students present. Some persons reportedly left the audience upon learning the situation that so many and in particular which of the legislators were absent.

There was to be a little more drama in the house when upon the adjournment Hon Willock (who was acting as Minister) sought to make a statement which the Speaker denied.

This all sparked debate among observers and concerned as they expressed alarm and surprise at the fact the meeting took place at all as nothing much of consequence was conducted.

The Speaker reacted to persons who had voiced their concerns of the seeming ‘awkwardness’ of a sitting of the Assembly when she knew the major players would be absent. She said she acted within the law when she convened parliament citing (perhaps technically correct) it was constitutionally due.

Speaking later on the adjournment, where he was denied the privilege to make a statement to the Assembly, Hon Willock said: “…clearly the public needs to understand our perspective as to what transpired. Whether or not we’re satisfied, rules are clear, but I’m just saying there has to be level respect for everyone…knowing that we are the people’s representative, there has to be a level of understanding for us the legislative members.

Opposition member Dr. Sammy Joseph said he had formally requested and was granted permission to speak at the adjournment.

However he said: “…it was a surprise to me when I realise that Hon Willock opened the motion for the adjournment and then parliament was called off… by reaction from the other side and the opposition member, it was a surprise to him also no one was allowed to speak…she has a right to adjourn parliament when she so desires… but I would have thought if you afraid of what the members were going say, you do have right to stop them if they are going too far…as elected members have right to speak to the people who elected them…”

The Speaker’s reaction again raised more questions rather than clarification or satisfaction for her actions as she cites the possibility of wasting resources, and that, “the legislation does not meet at the direction of the government . It is separate and distinct from the government the government is answerable to the Legislature…the government is responsible to the legislature not the other way around the legislature does not meet when the government wants…”

“…I was not going to go into November because that would be a violation in my office and I was not willing to do that.”

 She confirmed her decision to deny the members present the chance to speak on the adjournment last Friday. After he (Willock) made a motion for parliament to be adjourned. “I did (deny him) and that’s my prerogative…”

But Willock said (as above) he did not understand why the elected members were not allowed to speak and called for the speaker to exercise a greater level of respect for the M.P.’s

The Standing Orders permit the Speaker suspend the meeting at any time; or adjourn, or by a vote of the majority of the members present.

In reporting on the ‘fiasco’ ZJBNews said it obtained the views of parliamentary experts who called the turn of events last Friday, maladministration. They say the people however will be the judges and the ones to feel the pressure, stating that the entire conduct was quite unfortunate and reflected the deep fissures that existed within two of the most important pillars of government, the Executive and the Legislature.

The experts say in this instance more of the burden falls on the Executive. They also hinted that the people or anyone for that matter could complain to the Complaints Commission or seek judicial review to be clear on the conduct of the Speaker.

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The Montserrat Reporter - August 18, 2017

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By Bennette Roach

Problems of the conduct and behavior surrounding sittings and the business of the Legislative Assembly, particularly regarding the time, number of sittings and a seeming surprising lack of cooperation with the political leader of this land have plagued since the current Speaker has been in ‘control’ of the Assembly.

 Last Friday, October 27, the sitting of the Legislative Assembly was a postponed sitting that was scheduled as announced on July 24, 2017 by the Hon Speaker Shirley Osborne that should have been held on “Tuesday, September 26th.

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The July 24 was primarily information to postpone the scheduled meeting of July 25 to Thursday, July 27th at 9.00 a.m. at the usual Assembly meeting in the Cultural Centre in Little Bay. The Speaker had advised that the postponement was “at the request of the Government”.

At that time the Speaker informed as a reminder, “that the Parliamentary year ends in July, and recommences in September. No sittings will take place in this period of prorogation except in the case of a serious emergency that demands a meeting of Parliamentarians.”

The note continued to advise: “The 2017-2018 parliamentary year will begin with a formal opening ceremony on Tuesday, September 26th and the full calendar will be published very shortly…”

The Speaker informed also that the programme of the Opening will also be published before the September date, “and notwithstanding that formal invitations will be issued later, the Speaker now issues an early invitation to citizens and residents to save the date and either attend or watch the opening ceremony of our Parliamentary year, 2017-2018.”

But possible circumstances seem to evade the planning of dates for the Assembly sittings. Three hurricanes made passage around Montserrat, Irma, Jose and Maria, the last one though scathing, left the island with measurable damage during September.

Of interest Her Excellency the Governor as it became evident following her actions which could have necessitated or required a sitting of the Assembly to take place within five days after the 23rd September, may not have been aware of the situation regarding the sitting. It must have been evident that Parliament would not have been opened as scheduled.

The 2017-18 calendar was circulated by the Clerk’s office on August 30, showing the Opening of Parliament for the 26-27; a next sitting for October 24th – 25th. It is understood there could not have been a sitting in September and it seemed that an early date could have been set.

The question remains. What constituted the delay that the sitting was scheduled for a day when three of the six government legislators to include three ministers would be absent from the territory? This raised further questions when as one reporter puts it, “There was a stark absence of substantive government ministers Friday at the ceremony to mark the opening of the parliamentary year 2017-2018. It was the first time in the history of months of Parliament that this has happened. The Hon Premier Donaldson Romeo his Deputy hon Delmaude Ryan (who was reportedly sick), hon Ministers Paul Lewis and David Osborne, most of whom are off island were notably absent from Friday’s sitting”.

There are eleven members of the Assembly; three members who sit on the opposition benches, one of whom was also absent, Hon Eastern Taylor Farrell and Dr Samuel Joseph, present. On the government benches, there were hon members, Claude Hogan and Gregory Willock, as well as the ex officio members, Hon acting financial secretary Philip Chambers and the Ag. Attorney General.

TMR learnt that as guest speaker at a business meeting the Speaker reportedly chided critically that the legislators were always seeking ways, to either curtail or avoid Assembly sittings. On Friday the Hon. Speaker made an announcement at the opening thus:

“We are doing everything we can at the legislature to enhance and elevate the level of participation of the people within the Democratic and legislative processes of this beloved land, and we thank you for your support and input,” she said.

“This is your house, it is your ceremony therefore, so you the people get to decide what it looks like and how it works. And with your support and input we’ll continue to design until they get it the way that serves us all best. Now it might seem like some grand coincidence that so very many members of the house are not seated within it today of all days but of course the executive branch of the government has duties that it must conduct in places outside of this house and our Constitution demands that the assembly convene regardless of what the executive branch might be doing elsewhere.

“I have therefore decided to proceed in this particular manner and so this morning I stand with you to formally declare that the House of Assembly of the people of Montserrat is open to conduct the business of the people within it, for the parliamentary year 2017-2018 and I thank you all very much for your participation.”

Present at the opening were some college student. TMR learnt that members of a hopeful new youth parliament being formed were invited to the special sitting. There a few college students present. Some persons reportedly left the audience upon learning the situation that so many and in particular which of the legislators were absent.

There was to be a little more drama in the house when upon the adjournment Hon Willock (who was acting as Minister) sought to make a statement which the Speaker denied.

This all sparked debate among observers and concerned as they expressed alarm and surprise at the fact the meeting took place at all as nothing much of consequence was conducted.

The Speaker reacted to persons who had voiced their concerns of the seeming ‘awkwardness’ of a sitting of the Assembly when she knew the major players would be absent. She said she acted within the law when she convened parliament citing (perhaps technically correct) it was constitutionally due.

Speaking later on the adjournment, where he was denied the privilege to make a statement to the Assembly, Hon Willock said: “…clearly the public needs to understand our perspective as to what transpired. Whether or not we’re satisfied, rules are clear, but I’m just saying there has to be level respect for everyone…knowing that we are the people’s representative, there has to be a level of understanding for us the legislative members.

Opposition member Dr. Sammy Joseph said he had formally requested and was granted permission to speak at the adjournment.

However he said: “…it was a surprise to me when I realise that Hon Willock opened the motion for the adjournment and then parliament was called off… by reaction from the other side and the opposition member, it was a surprise to him also no one was allowed to speak…she has a right to adjourn parliament when she so desires… but I would have thought if you afraid of what the members were going say, you do have right to stop them if they are going too far…as elected members have right to speak to the people who elected them…”

The Speaker’s reaction again raised more questions rather than clarification or satisfaction for her actions as she cites the possibility of wasting resources, and that, “the legislation does not meet at the direction of the government . It is separate and distinct from the government the government is answerable to the Legislature…the government is responsible to the legislature not the other way around the legislature does not meet when the government wants…”

“…I was not going to go into November because that would be a violation in my office and I was not willing to do that.”

 She confirmed her decision to deny the members present the chance to speak on the adjournment last Friday. After he (Willock) made a motion for parliament to be adjourned. “I did (deny him) and that’s my prerogative…”

But Willock said (as above) he did not understand why the elected members were not allowed to speak and called for the speaker to exercise a greater level of respect for the M.P.’s

The Standing Orders permit the Speaker suspend the meeting at any time; or adjourn, or by a vote of the majority of the members present.

In reporting on the ‘fiasco’ ZJBNews said it obtained the views of parliamentary experts who called the turn of events last Friday, maladministration. They say the people however will be the judges and the ones to feel the pressure, stating that the entire conduct was quite unfortunate and reflected the deep fissures that existed within two of the most important pillars of government, the Executive and the Legislature.

The experts say in this instance more of the burden falls on the Executive. They also hinted that the people or anyone for that matter could complain to the Complaints Commission or seek judicial review to be clear on the conduct of the Speaker.