PURELY POLITICAL: Next step, Mia
BARRING ANY FURTHER HICCUPS or other unforeseen circumstances, a report from the Committee of Privileges on the Speaker Michael Carrington matter should be laid in the House of Assembly on Tuesday.
Heightened anticipation among members of the public and the media turned to disappointment last Tuesday when the report was not made available following a scheduled meeting of the Committee the previous day.
Well-placed sources indicated that not all MPs on the seven-member select committee were available for a formal meeting to conclude its deliberations and approve the report.
That meeting was therefore rescheduled for last Friday and the sources were confident that the report would be presented to the House for adoption this week.
Though it is next to impossible to predict what will be the committee’s determination, some people who have been following the issue closely are of the view that the report is not likely to make the heart of Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley jump for joy.
While they are of one accord that Mottley deserves national commendation for having the matter placed before the people, a few with intimate knowledge of parliamentary procedures and processes feel the decision to take the matter into Parliament was a sure way of ensuring that after a flurry of political rhetoric and righteous public indignation, it would die a natural death at the committee level.
Ironically, the Committee of Privileges is chaired by the Speaker, the very man against whom the complaint of a breach of privilege was lodged.
There are three other Government MPs: Deputy Speaker Mara Thompson (St John), Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite (St Philip South), and Minister of Agriculture Dr. David Estwick, while the Opposition’s representatives are Santia Bradshaw (St Michael South East, who formally raised the matter on the floor of the House), Trevor Prescod (St Michael East) and Ronald Toppin (St Michael North).
These are all intelligent, capable MPs, among them a couple of lawyers, who are able to give the complaint serious enough examination and make a fair determination.
The fear among those versed in parliamentary matters, however, is that among the Committee’s options is a determination that the matter was not of the kind and nature that should be engaging its attention. In the parliamentary vernacular, “it was not properly before the Committee”.
In other words, the Committee is the wrong court in which the Opposition should to attempt to try the Speaker.
That, the experts argue, would have the effect of forcing the Opposition to seek an alternative platform from which to prosecute Carrington.
They suggest that given the innocuous ruling by the High Court with an Order for Carrington to turn over the in excess of $200 000 of a client’s money he had withheld for over a decade, there was clearly no criminal conviction which would have had an instant impact on the Speaker’s tenure, not only in that office but also as an MP.
Why the matter was pursued as a civil case and not through the courts which would likely have involved a police investigation and a determination by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), is an issue that perhaps only the client, John Griffiths and his advisers, can answer.
It led to the Opposition reaching out for a parliamentary resolution, which in the absence of a criminal conviction, was well nigh impossible.
While, as I have previously pointed out, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart spoke about the Speaker and “ancient rights and privileges” of the House, it has since been pointed out to me that statute law – at least two pieces of local legislation – would trump those ancient rights and privileges in dealing with an offending MP.
The Representation of the People Act at section 64 states: Where a member of the House of Assembly persistently refuses to conform with the Standing Orders of the House, the majority of members then present may in accordance with Standing Orders expel such member from the House and the seat of such member shall be declared vacant.
Section 65 (2) says proceedings may be brought in the name of the Clerk of Parliament.
The Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act 1963 in relation to the conduct of members, states at 26: Any member who –
(e) is convicted of any offence under this Act is guilty of contempt of the House to which he belongs.
27. Where any member is guilty of contempt under this Act, the House may order such member to be reprimanded by the President of the Speaker, as the case may be, to suspend him from the service of the House for such period as it may determine; but such period shall not extend beyond the last day of the meeting following that in which the resolution is passed, of the session in which the resolution is passed, whichever first occurs.
29. Nothing in sections 26, 27 or 28 shall be construed so as to preclude the bringing of proceedings, civil or criminal, against any member in respect of any act or thing done contrary to paragraph (b) of section 26.
So where would a finessed complaint against Carrington leave the Opposition? Back to square one – the court of public opinion – where it should have been in the first place and must remain for the duration, the experts say.
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]