The Parliamentarians are assembled in Antigua and Barbuda for the 38th annual regional conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association from July 28-August 2. The theme for the conference is “Challenges to Caribbean Democracy.”
Over 50 participants, inclusive of both government and opposition representation, are expected to participate in the 6-day commonwealth conference.
The longstanding motion of no confidence against St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas inspired the first topic of the conference, “Losing Confidence in the No Confidence Motion,” according to D.Gisele Isaac-Arrindell, Speaker of the National Assembly in Antigua and Barbuda, and Co-president of the Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
Arrindell said that she found the entire no confidence motion in St. Kitts and Nevis “mind-boggling” and had hoped to have some contribution from Speaker Martin on the matter at the conference, but that he declined.
“What we had was a session entitled “losing confidence in the no confidence motion and we had written to St. Kitts to ask a couple months ago whether they would present on the subject…well, we never heard from St. Kitts until last Friday when we did know that St. Kitts was coming,” Speaker Arrindell said.
“We have two representatives here and we asked the Speaker if he would be presenting on the no confidence motion and he declined to do so. The matter was raised by other delegates during the discussion period naming St. Kitts specifically and asking the Speaker why he was not taking part because they thought that given the importance of the issue across the region that St. Kitts itself ought to have a voice at the table, but we had to explain that the Speaker had declined to speak,” she said. “It was not discussed from the St. Kitts perspective not for want of trying but it didn’t happen.”
Speaker Arrindell said that a motion of no confidence is a serious constitutional tool that should not be treated in a frivolous manner.
The motion of no confidence filed by the Opposition eight months ago against the Denzil-led Administration has not been put on the Order Paper and Prime Minister Douglas has said that he doesn’t know when it will happen.
“I heard the prime minister in his interview say that he had determined that it would be heard after the Budget debate and I was a little bit surprised at that really because in Antigua and Barbuda, I don’t think it is the prime minister that will determine when a motion would be heard,” Arrindell said.
“It was a little surprising for me to hear him say that basically the Executive can determine when the legislature can hear it and that is the reason why we wanted to discuss it here because our way of governing, our traditions in government is that there is a separation of the powers. There is the Executive, there’s the Legislature and there’s the Judiciary, neither is above the other so I wanted specifically for us to discuss the whole notion that the executive could give directives to the legislature,” Arrindell added.
Prime Minister Douglas has given the impression on more than one occasion that the motion of no confidence has to have his approval to come before the Parliament.
At a political meeting he has said that the motion of no confidence will not come until two of his former ministers who have broken ranks with the government and formed their own party, resign. Prime Minister Douglas was speaking of Dr. Timothy Harris, who he fired and Sam Condor, his former deputy, who resigned over issues having to do with “good governance and constitutional integrity.”
Speaker Arrindell said that if it were her, the motion of no confidence in St. Kitts would have been put on the Order Paper and debated a long time ago.
“There is a period of notice that’s articulated in our Standing Orders and then once that period of notice has been observed, the Speaker in my interpretation has an obligation to put it on the Order Paper,” she said.
Martin has refused to facilitate the motion of no confidence on the Order Paper.
“In all of the circumstances therefore, I will continue to hold in abeyance any decision on the matters before the National Assembly relating to the motions which have been filed by the Honourable Leader of the Opposition, and now, by the Honourable Member for St. Christopher 5,” stated Martin, in an address to the House after the Opposition withdrew a court case challenging the governments long delay in the hearing of the motion of no confidence.
The Opposition withdrew the court case after the government said that it couldn’t debate the motion of no confidence because it was sub judice.
However, after the Opposition withdrew the court case, the Speaker of the National Assembly filed an application with the court to have the matters that the Opposition wanted answered to be addressed by the court after stating in Parliament on 8th July that “the High Court has no jurisdiction to hear any matter concerning the exercise of the Speaker’s discretion or decisions on matters concerning the management of the internal procedures and proceedings of the National Assembly.”