August 6, 2020

Constitutional Gridlock Over Motion Of No Confidence In St Vincent

By Ernesto Cooke – A prolonged debate that precluded a motion of no confidence brought by the Opposition New Democratic Party was met with objection by Gonsalves Unity Labour Party government supported by references from section 42 B in the Constitution of SVG and the Erskine May document, which outlines the rules for parliamentary procedures in West Minster system of governance.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves repeatedly scolded and schooled members on the Opposition bench who displayed limited familiarity with the documented rules guiding the ambiguous procedure relating to the tabling of a motion of no confidence.

The prolonged debate may be interpreted as a tactical delay by the Govt side of the house, knowing that the Opposition NDP had already scheduled a public rally later that Wednesday evening, January 31st, 2018.

Prime Minister Gonsalves had earlier asked for a division of votes among members of the assembly on whether the motion of no confidence should proceed.

The leader of the opposition, Dr. Godwin Friday, was given the opportunity to vote first. However, that’s when the delay took effect.

Rather than proceeding with the division of votes, the NDP leader initiated a call for clarity on the rationale for a call for a division of votes. This led to the prolonged exchanges on both sides which followed an amendment by the government side, to the motion of no confidence brought by the opposition.

The Opposition defied the call for an amendment claiming that the Government had submitted an entirely new motion rather than an amendment.

Speaker of the House of Assembly Hon. Jomo Thomas seemingly struggled to display competence in varying aspects of the legal interpretations of the constitutional procedure and apparently sought guidance from Dr Gonsalves at different intervals on the interpretation of the rules in parliamentary procedures as set out in the Erskine May.

 He later admitted that “I am in the ocean here”, noting the unique nature of the parliamentary event. Traditionally, the sitting government had simply acquiesced to a debate on a motion of no confidence.

The PM charged the Speaker that his philosophical difference was blinding his ability to rule on the mater.

House Speaker Hon. Thomas disagreed with the claim made by Prime Minister Gonsalves, suggesting that he, the Speaker, had earlier articulated for both motions to be put before the parliament for a vote.

Minister of Finance Hon. Camilo Gonsalves interjected asking whether the Speaker was proposing that both the Opposition’ motion of no confidence and the ULP’s amendment which countered the NDP’s motion by declaring confidence in the ULP administration.

This question raised even more doubts about the logical way forward. Further discussion and debates eventually led to Health Minister Hon. Senator Luke Browne proposing that the amendment is likely to take precedence which would be followed by a debate on the motion.

The process revealed a tactical move by the government which not only defused the opposition’s attempt at launching its attack on the government by way of its motion of no confidence.

While the final recommendation was that the substantive is referred to the office of the Attorney General, parliament will debate the vote of confidence brought by the government this afternoon at 4.pm

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