I write with reference to MP Christopher A Jones’s charge that Speaker Manzoor Nadir has shown a “…pattern of unfair and biased behaviour” pertaining to his rulings in the Parliament during the 2023 Budget debates.
Editor, I can say, from my direct experience over the past week in Parliament, that if fact Mr Jones’s complaint is unfair and biased. Allow me to explain.
Mr Jones makes his case by comparing two utterances in the Parliament, one by Mr. Sherod Duncan, and the other by Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Hon. Mr. Charles Ramson Jr. The contentious words by the two MPs were uttered through quotations. In Mr. Duncan case, the word “corruption” was quoted from a 2009 speech by President Obama. Mr Ramson Jr., in a quotation from Mark Twain, used the word “fools.” The larger rhetorical context of the two words needs elaboration.
In Mr. Duncan’s case, the full quote (in Mr. Jones’s letter to the editor) reads as follows: “Those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent….” As for Mr Ramson Jr., the quotation from Mark Twain in part reads “let’s be thankful for fools, because without them the rest of us wouldn’t be able to succeed.” The rhetorical import of Duncan’s speech act is that the PPP/C is corrupt and deceitful. In Ramson’s case, the logic of the rhetoric is that the APNU+AFC are foolish, and that this has enabled the PPP/C to succeed.
Now, here is why I think Chief Whip Jones has it wrong. Prior to Sherod Duncan’s speech, the Speaker had repeatedly warned speakers about overusing the word “corruption”, given that it is unparliamentary, according to the guidance currently in place. I recall at least a dozen moments of intervention by the Speaker regarding the use of the word “corruption”, and other words as well. The word “fools” was used only once by Ramson Jr. The Speaker did not intervene because Ramson Jr. turned off his microphone and took his seat immediately after the Mark Twain quote.
One could argue that the Speaker could have asked Minister Ramson Jr. to withdraw the word “fools,” but if the “one-off” rule was generalised, almost no one would be able to speak in Parliament. Almost every speech had one or two words that were unparliamentary, and those were allowed to sail by.
Editor, it must be noted that Speaker Nadir repeatedly and evenhandedly “called-out” speakers from both sides of the house for use of offensive language. For the most part, most of the presenters obliged. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Speaker Manzoor Nadir for his dogged neutrality, and also for a pretty healthy sense of humour. Beep Beep.
Dr Randolph Persaud