ST JOHN’S, Antigua, CMC – Opposition Leader Lester Bird Sunday severely criticised the Speaker of the House of Assembly Giselle Isaac for being “blatantly partisan” and “openly hostile to the opposition benches”.
In his weekly radio broadcast, Bird said that the person occupying the post of Speaker in any country is required to be an impartial and objective arbiter of meetings of the House and is obliged to give the opposition benches a fair and adequate a hearing as the government side.
“In the House of Assembly, no member or group of members should take precedence over others. This is a standard requirement of Speakers all over the world,” said the former prime minister
He said that the situation in Antigua and Barbuda is such that the present holder of the office is “blatantly partisan, openly hostile to the opposition benches and embarrassingly fawning toward the government side.
“In the premise, she is failing fatally in her duty to manage the people’s business in the House to which they have sent their elected representatives.”
Bird said that ever since Isaac began her tenure as Speaker, the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) had urged her to “change her ways in the interest of the people’s business.
“She has adamantly refused to do so. On several occasions in this present parliament, which has sat for only two days in three months, she has prohibited the opposition benches from fulfilling their obligation to speak on behalf of the people they are elected to represent.
“She has set a record for suffocating the voice of the opposition. She has conducted the Office of Speaker as if it is her personal fiefdom,” he said.
Bird was critical of the Speaker’s decision not to allow a debate on the influenza A (H1N1) virus, also commonly called Swine Flu because she was away and did not receive the letter of ALP representative Molwyn Joseph on the issue.
“Now, the Speaker’s Office is not her personal property. The fact that she was away should not have stopped the elected member’s letter from being handled by the Speaker’s Office. And, if she was away, there is a Deputy Speaker who should have handled the perfectly reasonable request.”
Bird said that the Speaker had denied the debate because she was acting on orders of the Baldwin Spencer that did not want any debate “under any circumstances.
“Consequently, we heard the absolutely ridiculous utterance from the mouth of the Speaker that she does not consider a debate by the people’s representatives on a pandemic that has killed hundreds of people especially children to be in the public interest.”
Bird said that the motion by Joseph was important on the grounds that the island would soon be welcoming thousand of people for the annual Carnival celebrations and that some of the visitors may be coming “from countries where the H1NI virus has killed people.
“All that Molwyn Joseph was requesting was a debate by all the people’s representatives on appropriate arrangements to protect the people of this country from this awful contagion. Was that not in the public interest? Indeed, what could be more in the public interest than ensuring that the nation was protected from a virus that has killed thousands in many parts of the world?,” Bird added.
The Opposition Leader said that the ALP is also seeking a court ruling regarding the two salaries being paid to the Speaker.
He said the party wants a “declaration that as a public officer, the present Speaker cannot, under the Constitution, continue to hold both posts earning two salaries”.
Bird said that the party was also planning demonstrations against the policies of the government.