DECEITFUL OMISSIONS AND FALSE REPRESENTATIONS IN NDP STATEMENT ON NO CONFIDENCE MOTION
In your online journal dated February 07, 2018, you published a statement from the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) under the rubric “NDP: Unconstitutional Obstruction of Motion of No Confidence.”
Sadly, this statement contains several deceitful omissions and false representations. It is my duty to correct at least two of them.
FIRST DECEIT AND MISREPRESENTATION
First, and most fundamental, is the NDP’s statement of deliberate deception of the unsuspecting in not quoting the whole of Section 47(2)(a) of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In the NDP statement, Dr. Lorraine Friday, Leader of the Opposition, states:
“I have since written to the Speaker confirming the Opposition’s rejection of the ruling and the proceedings which followed it as a nullity under the Constitution. I pointed out that Section 47(2) of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines which speaks to a vote of no confidence, provides in relevant respects that:-
‘(2)(a) if notice in writing is given to the Speaker signed by not less than three representatives, of a motion of no confidence in the Government the Speaker shall __
- If the House is then sitting or has been summoned to meet within five days, cause the motion to be considered by the House within seven days of the notice, or
- If the House is not then sitting —–”
But this is not the whole of Section 47(2)(a)). Please note that Dr. Friday only quoted the parts he conveniently considers to be “relevant”. So, dear readers, let us quote the whole of the Section 5.47(2)(a) continuing from 47(2)(a)(ii) as follows:
“(2)(a)(ii): if the House is not then sitting and has not been so summoned (and notwithstanding that Parliament may be prorogued) summon the House to meet within fourteen days of the notice and cause the motion to be considered at that meeting:
Provided that if the House does not, within twenty-one days of the notice, meet and dispose of the motion, the Clerk of the House shall summon a special meeting of the House at such time and place as he may specify for the purpose of debating and disposing of the motion.”
I have deliberately underlined the following words in Section 47(2)(a): considered in 2(a)(i) and 2(a)(ii); meet and dispose in the proviso; and debating and disposing also in the proviso. Please note that the different timelines have different actions to be taken by the House.
So, when the motion comes before the House within seven days, or within fourteen days of the notice of the motion, all that the House is required to do is to consider the motion; anytime within 21 days, it meets and disposes of the motion; after 21 days, the House is required to debate and dispose of the motion.
In the plain reading of the Section, “consider” and “disposing” of the motion at a “meeting” of the House are NOT the same thing as debating and disposing of the motion; there is no ambiguity here which requires reference to any other consideration or limitation; the section itself imposes all the limitations. This is not only my view; it is also the view of the Attorney General, of Dr. Francis Alexis QC (an esteemed authority on Caribbean constitutions), of Parnel Campbell QC (authoritative former Attorney General under the NDP government) and of Dr. Linton Lewis (experienced lawyer and lecturer in Constitutional Law). It is to be noted that Parnel Campbell and Linton Lewis held the position of Chairman of the NDP for many, many years; they have not resigned their membership of the NDP. Many other distinguished jurists across the region support my view on the matter as expressed in Parliament.
There is absolutely no doubt that Dr. Friday and the NDP are wrong on their interpretation of Section 47(2)(a) of the Constitution St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Their deliberate omission of the whole of the section in their statement is intended to deceive people. Such naked intention to deceive does not help their cause politically. They look silly, opportunistic, and irresponsible.
SECOND DECEIT AND MISREPRESENTATION
The second instance of deceit and misrepresentation in the NDP statement concerns a quotation attributed to me in the preliminary debate in Parliament on Section 47(2). Again, they misquoted what I said and labelled it “outrageous”; the real outrage is their attempt at deception.
The NDP statement has me saying simply that “the opposition can bring a motion only if the government acquiesces or agrees.”
Instead, what I repeatedly stressed is that arising from a proper reading of Section 47(2)(a) there are three practical circumstances only in which the Opposition can ensure a debate of a no-confidence motion:
- If the government acquiesces or agrees to the debate;
- If the opposition has a majority of the members of the House when it introduces the motion on the floor of the House; and
- If the motion is not considered and disposed of within 21 days of the notice of the motion: As the proviso to 5.47(2)(a) states, after 21 days of the notice and the Clerk summons the House, the motion must be debated and disposed of.
Clearly, Section 47(2)(a) accords any three Representatives the right to bring a motion of no confidence by giving notice of the motion to the Speaker. However, once the motion comes to the House it is only mandatory that it be debated if the motion is not considered and disposed of within 21 days of the motion.
In practical terms, and in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, after a motion of no-confidence is moved and seconded, the Speaker then proposes the question to the House as follows: “The question is that this Honourable House express no confidence in the Government, is there any debate?” If the majority in the House overwhelmingly shouts “No” and a division is asked for (that is, every Representative’s vote be counted individually) and the majority defeats the question as proposed, that is the end of the matter. In that process, the motion would have satisfied the requirement of being considered. That is one basic way for consideration to be satisfied; there are, of course, other ways, including a debate. But the word “considered” in Section 47(2)(a), and indeed in its ordinary meaning, does not mean “debate on its merits”; it means “reflection”, “thinking about” and such like synonyms. There is no mandatory requirement for a debate to take place every time a motion of no confidence is brought to the House; the debate is required only after 21 days and the motion is not considered and disposed of.
ASURDITIES TO BE AVOIDED
It has been said by some that the respective interpretations proffered by the Government and Opposition on Section 47(2)(a) are equally sound in an abstract academic sense. I do not share that view that these positions are “equally sound”, but let us for argument’s sake accept that “the equally sound” thesis is correct. But given that Parliament does not act in vain; that it is not a debating society; and that its representativeness is determined by competitive elections and a government established on the basis of a majoritarian principle, which of these supposedly “equally sound” interpretations produce absurd practical results. Clearly, the interpretation with absurd consequences is that which says that “consider and dispose” in Section 47(2)(a)(i) in conjunction with the proviso, means the same thing as “debate and dispose” in the proviso.
Let me state two such absurdities:
- An opposition which is allowed under the Constitution every other Monday morning to debate a motion of no-confidence which it brings to the House, will result in making Parliament unworkable in practical terms;
- Since Section 41(i) (inclusive of the proviso) of the Constitution stipulates that “questions of no confidence in government shall be determined by a majority of all the Representatives”, the eight members of the Government could stay away from the debate and the motion of no-confidence would still be defeated because a majority (eight Representatives) of all the Representatives would be required; a score of 7 to nil is a defeat of a no-confidence motion. Such a result would make a mockery of the interpretation that insists that “consider” in Section 47(2)(a) means “debate”.
So as to avoid such absurdities, the founding fathers of the Constitution wisely chose their words carefully: “consider” and dispose before 21 days of a notice of no-confidence motion; “debate” and dispose after 21 days of the notice. This is not too difficult to grasp!
On the other issue of the amendment to the motion of no confidence, the law and practice are so clear that I leave the NDP to reflect on the positions so well-articulated by Parnel Campbell and Linton Lewis. Nothing more needs to be said.
It is to be hoped that any reflective person who was minded to opt for the interpretation offered by the opposition on Section 47(2)(a) of the Constitution would now, upon a mature consideration, alter his or her stance and embrace the wise and sensible counsel provided by Parnel Campbell, Linton Lewis, Francis Alexis, and Attorney-General Jaundy Martin, among others. Their legal view is identical to that which I outlined in the House.
Meanwhile, the NDP ought to stop its deceit and false representations on this matter. They have made fools of themselves and have shown themselves unprepared for governance. It is wholly bogus for them to repeat the folly that they have been denied their constitutional rights or that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is under a “dictatorship” of Ralph and the ULP. That kind of nonsense may impress the “internet crazies” and such like-minded individuals with partisan political, personal, or vanity agendas.
In light of the above, Lorraine Friday’s snide and arrogant remark that if he were a Professor he would grade me an “F minus” in constitutional law has self-evidently boomeranged. And what does the NDP’s Senator Barnwell now think of her infantile and unwarranted Parliamentary abuse when she labelled me “idiot and arse?”
From now on, let’s have a serious discussion among serious people about this serious matter. Time is up for political entertainers and their few moments of transient fame.
Dr. The Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves