You have been compromised, Mr PM
Prior to last Tuesday Delroy Chuck, the Speaker of the House of Repre-sentatives, had very little reason to rule on a point of order from Section 16 of the standing orders. Indeed, Chuck spent more time insisting that questions be answered at the appropriate time, but we cannot recall him being in a situation where he had to adjudicate on whether a member should hide behind the aforementioned.
Standing Order 16 gives any member the protection from being asked any questions which deals with the action of a minister for which he is not accountable to the legislature. It is that rule that formed the basis of Prime Minister Bruce Golding's covering, as he dodged questions relating to his role in the Manatt mess.
In a statement to Parliament last Tuesday, Prime Minister Golding said he sanctioned a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) lobbying effort to get the United States to soften its position on the extradition request for reputed don Christopher 'Dudus' Coke. Beyond answering a few questions, Golding was on the defensive as he begged the Speaker to rule that certain questions may not be asked of him, since he was not wearing the hat of prime minister when he sanctioned the scheme.
We find it, at the very least, incredulous that Golding would retreat behind Standing Order 16, even though he is the architect of 'Prime Minister's Question Time'. Section 17B of the standing orders provides that "during the Second sitting of the House in each month, there shall be a Question Time during which responses by the prime minister to questions asked of him in relation to matters of national importance and national interest shall take precedence."
One wonders if the parlia-mentary Opposition did not remember that provision or if they had little confidence that Chuck would have been a fair adjudicator and insisted that Golding stopped ducking questions posed at him. It is our view that if the role of any member of the parliament, in a private capacity, conflicts with that to which they are accountable to the legislature, the public interest should supersede private con-siderations.
But we don't believe that Tuesday's incident just happened. It was clearly a deliberate plan by the prime minister to thwart the efforts of the Parliament to unearth the whole truth behind the engagement of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. We are left to wonder whether Chuck, being a member of the JLP, was in on the plot to stall the efforts in the House.
We feel that Golding, at the very least, abused the standing orders which, in fact, makes allowance for personal explanation. Under Standing Order 19, a member, with the "leave of the Speaker, and the indulgence of the House, may make a personal explanation to the House". Golding argued last Tuesday that his statement reflected his role as leader of the JLP and not as prime minister. In this case, his statement, on the face of it, appears to be a personal explanation. However, at no point during the sitting did Leader of Government Business Andrew Holness or Golding seek leave of the Speaker to make a personal statement. The matter was not even put to the House for a vote and no form of indulgence was sought.
Standing order sidelined
We also believe that by linking the vast portion of his statement to his sole role as leader of the JLP, Golding either ignored or abused the provisions of Standing Order 11A. The section, which deals with contents of statement, clearly states that "a statement by a minister shall be limited to matters which directly relate to the subject or department with the responsibility for which he has been charged or which are of urgent national importance".
Perhaps the time has come for the Standing Order committee to revisit sections 11A and 19 or else Parliament may find itself bombarded by other uncon-scionable, self-seeking, hide-and-seek performances. The fact that both Golding and Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Ken Baugh were prepared to answer questions tabled by the Opposition in Parliament last Tuesday indicates that Government was ready to deal with all matters arising. If Golding was not prepared to answer obvious questions from his statement, he should not have spoken to the matter in the House, except when he provided answers to those questions that had been tabled.
Having made his "personal statement" to Parliament in the segment which allows 'Statement by Ministers', we are left to ponder whether Golding has reflected on the oath he took when he was sworn in as member of parliament. Like every member, he pledged to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to Jamaica", to "uphold and defend the Constitution and laws of Jamaica" and to "conscientiously and impartially" discharge his responsibilities to the people of Jamaica - "So help me God."
Golding has made it clear that his struggle with the United States for it to observe the extradition treaty is not to protect 'Dudus' but rather to defend the Constitution and to ensure "constitutional rights do not begin at Liguanea". We have no doubt that the prime minister is batting on a constitutional wicket.
But let us reflect on a section of his 'personal statement' to Parliament: "I sanctioned the initiative, knowing that such interventions have in the past proven to be of considerable value in dealing with issues involving the governments of both countries. I made it clear, however, that this was an initiative to be undertaken by the party, not by or on behalf of the government."
While the prime minister insisted he was wearing the hat of leader of the JLP at the time, we believe there is everything wrong with the move and wish the prime minister to explain to us why any political party should intervene in a government-to-government affair. Until a suitable explanation comes, we will hold the view that Golding did not "conscientiously and impartially" discharge his responsibilities to the people of Jamaica and for that reason, he appears, on the face of it, to be compromised.
We find it, at the very least incredulous, that Golding would retreat behind Standing Order 16, even though he is the architect of 'Prime Minister's Question Time'.