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House Speaker always beholden to PM

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The issue is not whether Speaker Wade Mark sought to misinform the Parliament about his source of information on the pending high court matter against the Sunshine newspaper and his motives for doing so; it is rather how can it be expected that a Speaker who owes his political career, his livelihood, his pension, his political association to a prime minister to be anything but biased and confrontational against the opposition that is challenging his very existence?

Conversely, how can MPs who are supported by a Speaker not return the favour? On the other side of the House, it is impossible to expect that an opposition party searching for ways and means to further weaken a government with elections due soon not to seek to make incisive inroads into the credibility of the Speaker and by extension the ruling party to which he belongs.

The polity and society have to stop expecting miracles to happen when the constitutional arrangements dictate otherwise.

It was completely predictable that mover of the motion against the Speaker would have spoken glowingly about Mark when the two were in the same political stable. It was also predictable that the Chief Whip, Roodal Moonilal,  would make excursions into irrelevancies to distract from the issue of whether or not the Speaker sought to deliberately mislead the House.    

Dr Moonilal bared his soul when he told the Parliament and the nation that he and his team were not concerned about who the notice of the court matter came from. 

That is an amazing admission when at the heart of the motion by MP Warner is that the Speaker sought deliberately to hide the fact that the notice was given to him by Finance Minister Larry Howai.

The debate avoided completely, even from Warner and the opposition MPs, the real issue: the need to examine the constitutional power given to the majority party, effectively the Prime Minister, to elect the Speaker and the President of the Senate.

The avoidance is deliberate because all of the parties want to keep control over the election—really, the appointment of the Speaker and the President of the Senate to exercise dominance over the Parliament when they are in power.

An independent Speaker and President, well chosen, would have the power and authority to bring objectivity and fairness to the operations of the Parliament; moreover, such presiding officers will be perceived inside and outside of the Parliament as not seeking to carry out the agenda of the Prime Minister and ruling party. And perhaps most importantly the watching and analysing electorate can begin to have some respect for the Parliament if they see in action a Speaker and a President not driven by partisan political motive.

The Parliament has no dignity other than that given to it by its members. And no matter how erudite, passionate and pontifical they be, MPs cannot call dignity into existence by repetition in the absence of words and deeds which contribute to dignity. 

Defined by Webster’s Dictionary, dignity relates to “bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion ….”

That translates into honesty and integrity; the genuine nature of a position taken; an approach that is worthy of emulation and a range of other things. 

In the late 1970s, Explainer described the behaviour of MPs as “Kicksin in Parliament.” In modern times rank dishonesty has prevailed, inclusive of individuals and parties taking positions which have been in direct contrast to their previous stances.

Basdeo Panday once informed that “politics has its own morality,” which means politicians can do and say as they please even when it’s contradictory and more of what they previously said and did. 

Unsubstantiated and slanderous statements made by individuals of one party against another under the cloak of protection have increased in frequency and venom; added to which have been cowardly allegations against people outside of the Parliament with no opportunity to defend themselves. Budget debates amount to no more than political stances; on occasion when in opposition, parties condemn measures they initiated when in power.

MP Rodger Samuel once said to the effect that he worried deeply about the conduct of MPs in the House. There is no possibility of individual MPs on either side taking positions based on merit and conscience; so what dignity do they speak of?  

The debate on the motion of no confidence against Speaker Wade Mark at times rang hollow, hypocritical and most of all gave no hope that the MPs could have displayed any intention and capacity to bring meaningful change to a Parliamentary system designed to produce dominance and bias one side over the other.

Once a Prime Minister has the authority to appoint a Speaker, the appointed will never be free of political bias. He/she will have to serve the interests of his/her benefactor in conducting the business of the House.


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