ROSEAU, Dominica, Jun 28, CMC – A former Trinidad and Tobago legislator has criticised the Speaker of the Dominica parliament, Alix Boyd Knights, and warned that parliamentary democracy in the country is “under threat’.
The Dominican-born Herbert Volney, who served as justice minister in the People’s Partnership government until he was fired in September 2012 by then prime minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, said that he had witnessed Monday’s sitting of Parliament here and was “appalled at what I have seen.
“Parliamentary democracy in Dominica is under threat by the dictatorship of a Speaker, unelected by the people, who presides over the conduct of the chamber as a school teacher would in a Primary School,” Volney wrote on his Facebook page.
The former High Court judge in Trinidad and Tobago said that the bill under consideration “required the latitude of free speech and relaxation of the strictures of court rules in order to allow the Opposition to express their concerns.
“While relevance is important there is much room for a Speaker to allow for a more relaxed and respectful approach to the debate. She was quick to shut down member after member on the Opposition citing standing orders.
“I am saddened to say but this Speaker is painting a very negative image of parliamentary privilege and conduct by stifling the say of the Opposition. The Government side will have its way at the end of the day but it is important that the Opposition be given an opportunity to have its say,” he wrote.
But a government spokesman Tuesday described as “unfortunate” Volney’s statement saying he had failed to “give an objective analysis of the conduct of the members of the opposition in the House”.
Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that “you get the impression from what Mr. Volney said that the Speaker goes on a frolic of her own, but that’s not the case.
“The fact is the Speaker of the House has religiously and regularly and consistently applied the rules. There have been a number of occasions where her decisions have been challenged in court and on every occasion the opposition has lost. So I don’t know why Mr. Volney would have made such a statement.”
Astaphan said that while Volney is entitled to make a statement, acknowledging that he is a former legislator and High Court judge, “but at the same time I think because of his standing he had an obligation to at least say something, make some objective assessment of the conduct of the members who would have led to those actions being taken before making the highly subjective and critical statements of the Speaker of the House”.
In his statement on Facebook, Volney said that he had been privileged to have watched the modus operandi of Dominican Speakers Winston, Cools-Lartigue, and Davis-Pierre.
“Their approach was not legalistic as is that of Madame Speaker today, and fine debating skills were allowed to develop and flourish.
“This is very embarrassing to me in the diaspora and my advice to the Opposition is to walk out en masse until the Speaker understands that this is not her classroom and the chamber belongs not to her but to the elected members. I heard no one on the government side cite a standing order objection and it is not for the Speaker to do the work of the members on the government side.”
Volney said that Prime Minister Skerrit “must seriously now consider the damage that the Speaker is doing to the image of his governance of Dominica by her outlandish conduct in presiding over the chamber, and the desirability of retiring her to pasture”.
Source: Trinidad Express