Peoples Progressive Party, executive member and Member of Parliament (MP) Anil Nandlall, has officially responded to the series of events surrounding his expulsion from the National Assembly at the hands of the Speaker, Dr Barton Scotland.
Nandlall asserted, among other things, that the Speaker’s action to oust him from Parliament is a ‘violation of the constitution’ and a hypocritical undertaking, taking into consideration his reason for doing so. See his full statement below:
Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice 12th Edition, on page 234 states “The chief characteristics attaching to the Office of Speaker in the House of Commons are authority and impartiality.” The Opposition has had cause to repeatedly complain against the Speaker’s conduct in the National Assembly. The sitting of the National Assembly of the 4th of November, 2016, provides another such occasion.
It is now public knowledge, that at that sitting, I was prohibited from speaking and participating in the business of and subsequently expelled from the National Assembly by the Speaker. I am an elected member of the National Assembly. My right to speak and participate in the business of the National Assembly is grounded in the supreme law, the Constitution of Guyana. This issue was elaborately addressed by Chief Justice Chang in a case filed by me, as Attorney- General, on the 27th of November, 2012, when the then Joint-Opposition gagged then Minister of Home Affairs, the Honorable Clement Rohee, from speaking in the National Assembly. In the course of his 34 pages Judgement, Chief Justice Chang at page 27 posited thus “… It is the view of this court that Mr. Rohee’s right to speak in the National Assembly derives from his office as member of the National Assembly and not from his office as an Executive Minister. Thus, his right as an elected member of the National Assembly must be concomitant with his constitutional duty to speak for and to represent his electors in the National Assembly who, in turn, have a concomitant right to be so represented. It is here apposite to note that article 9 of the Constitution expressly provides: “sovereignty belongs to the people who exercise it through their elected representatives.”
On the other hand, the Speaker is not an elected representative of the people but is elected by the Members of Parliament and holds office at their pleasure. His status, role and function lack the constitutional underpinning and security of tenure which elected Members of Parliament enjoy. The word “Parliament” is derived from the French infinitive “parler”-to speak and the latin derivative “parli”- which means “speak”. In any democracy, Parliament is the highest forum for discussion and debate.
A speaker’s role is to maintain order with a view to facilitate and encourage the debate, not to curtail and frustrate it. The notion which seems to have permeated the 11th Parliament that the Speaker can capriciously interfere with a member’s right to speak and to influence the content of those speeches and the whimsical requests for evidence and sources from members during the course of their speeches in relation to matters that enjoy public notoriety and which are published widely in the press, is not only a gross abuse of power by the chair but is also an unlawful interference with a member’s duty to represent his constituents and a violation of the constituent’s right to be represented by his elected representatives. This abrogation of the constitution and parliamentary norms and practices strike at the heart of our democracy. The doctrine of comity rotates upon the axis of reciprocity. It is not a one-way street.
The prohibition of an elected member’s right to speak without good cause, as I have pointed out, is a violation of the constitution. Moreover, his expulsion of me from the precincts of the House. These are not matters which are to be treated lightly. The video of my presentation has since been made public for the world to see. I did not behave disorderly or contumaciously; I did not disrupt the proceedings of the House; the Honorable Speaker offered me an option: withdraw my statement or take my seat. In compliance with his order, I chose the latter option. Yet I was banned from participating in the remainder of the proceedings. Yet still the Speaker wanted more. He next expelled me. The Speaker fell hopelessly into error when he did so. I committed no act or created no situation which would warrant the use of that exceptional power. An elected member of the National Assembly does not sit in the Assembly at the pleasure of the Speaker.
The matter is compounded by the lack of impartiality. It is public knowledge that Ministers of the Government are given days and sometimes weeks to produce documents. Often times they never do. But there is no reprimand from the Speaker. In the very sitting, Minister Bulkan was granted leave by the Speaker to produce certain documents until the next sitting of the National Assembly. The public is also aware that Minister George Norton, failed to produce the controversial rental agreement for the premises at Sussex Street rented to store drugs and pharmaceuticals, when requested to do so in the National Assembly. The Speaker gave him permission to send it at a later date to the National Assembly. Two weeks hence, he did not do so. I wrote the Clerk to remind him of the Minister’s breach of his undertaking to the National Assembly to produce this document. The Clerk informed me in writing that he will write to the Minister to remind him. Only then did the minister send a copy of the contract to the Clerk’s office. Again, not a murmur of objection or admonition from the Speaker.
However, I am ordered to, instantly produce a newspaper to which I made reference during my speech. My request for an hour to do so is summarily dismissed by the Speaker and I am ordered to withdraw the statement, unless I can produce the newspaper instantly. As it turned out, I found the article to which I was referring. It vindicates what I said in my speech.
In this entire saga, the fact that the Opposition came to the National Assembly that particular day prepared to discuss a completely different agenda and therefore was unprepared to discuss the President’s Speech, conveniently escaped the Speaker. Had I known that I was coming to speak on the President’s Speech, I would have equipped myself with the necessary newspaper clippings upon which I wish to rely. The agenda was changed immediately prior to the commencement to the sitting.
In the end, the lack of impartiality and the abuse of power are axiomatic.