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Confusing fact with fiction

Sir Philip Greaves

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If I had been the author of the article that appeared in your Sunday Sun of August 1, 2010 under the caption ‘Senator Boyce Out Of Place?’ I would not be proud of myself. What is amazing is that on such an uncomplicated matter Mr Ezra Alleyne has managed to confuse the public. Mr Alleyne has been able to inelegantly mix statements of fact with suggestions of fiction in his attempt to substantiate his thesis that it was constitutionally incorrect for Senator Boyce to have appeared before the Press in defence of the Government’s financial policy.FactIt is a fact that there are certain matters reserved in the Constitution for the House of Assembly and these are for the most part money bills. The restriction is that such bills cannot be introduced in the Senate. However, those said bills when passed in the House of Assembly must then be sent to the Senate for debate and passage in the Upper Chamber.  Not only ChamberBut the Senate is not the only Chamber that has restrictions. The Constitution has also imposed restrictions on the House of Assembly in such matters. For example, the Lower Chamber cannot proceed to debate money bills that provide for a charge on any public fund, including the Consolidated Fund unless debate thereon has been recommended by the Cabinet “signified by a Minister”. But quite properly, this does prevent any member of the House from discussing such matters outside of the Lower Chamber whether by means of a Press conference or otherwise. And they do, not surreptitiously but quite openly, without Mr Alleyne’s censure.Fiction “It is constitutionally wrong for a senator to lead speak on financial matters”. So wrote Mr Alleyne. His justification for that assertion is that “. . . the Minister of Finance has always been and, must be a member of the House of Assembly”. An absolute non sequitur. Lead speak?The question is, what does he mean by “lead speak”? Is it that the senator cannot constitutionally be the first to speak on financial matters? Or he cannot at a Press conference lead a debate on such matters? Or it may well have other interpretations. Whatever it be, it is fundamentally misleading. A senator, albeit a minister, has the same right that a member of the House of Assembly has to discuss such matters outside of his Chamber.  Would he have taken the same position if it was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance instead of Senator Boyce who faced the Press at that time? If the answer is in the affirmative, that would equally be without foundation.  In your anticipated response hereto, Mr Alleyne, you must inform the public from your vast constitutional experience of your position in relation to matters that occur regularly in Parliament. For example, a senator during his address in debate in the Senate perhaps on matters relating to education, and which is not a money bill, proceeds erroneously to berate the Government’s financial policies, what must the senator who is a minister in the Ministry of Finance do?Must he merely sit there and maintain his silence because to defend the Government would be to “lead speak”?   Senator Boyce’s excellent performance has clearly left a number of persons uncomfortable and some doubts, uncertainties and confusion must be planted in the public’s mind to diminish the contribution that he has made to the debate on financial matters and the economy. Straw targetsThose who follow Mr Alleyne’s writings must by now have come to the realisation that his style is to resort to the setting up of straw targets and then proceed to shoot them down. This recent article is no different. It bears no relationship to reality.I do not parade myself as any constitutional expert. I was one of the framers of the Barbados Constitution both as a member of a committee established by Cabinet to prepare a constitutional framework for Barbados for presentation to the Houses of Parliament preparatory to the Independence talks in London and also as a delegate at the Constitutional Conference in London in 1966.
So I have a question for Mr Alleyne.  Where in the Constitution is the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance (in this case Senator Boyce) prohibited from addressing a Press conference on financial issues?Mr Alleyne has a duty to share it with his readers and hopefully devoid of any waffling tactics. If he cannot provide the reference(and there is none), how then is it “constitutionally wrong”?   • Sir Philip M. Greaves, KA, QC, is a former Deputy Prime Minister.