While parliamentary members and other political players have already started to question the wisdom in such a move, the Head of Government, Prime minister Dr. Denzil Douglas is dismissing the criticism.
He has pushed back on recent comments and objections by asking, “What is three additional senators?”
Leader of the Opposition People’s Action Movement, PAM, Mr. Shawn Richards and Douglas’ former Cabinet colleague, Dwyer Astaphan and the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Brantley, have all objected to the move, indicating that the added costs, which they estimate to be between EC$300,000-EC$500,000, is truly unnecessary and financially irresponsible, given the economic plight of the country.
But Douglas does not agree. He said, “The cost is minimal.”
He explained, “They are not ministers of government. The salaries for senators are minimal. They are not ministers of government who we would have to pay ministerial salaries…those who are conveying that out there in the public, are misleading the public, because no one is trying to impose new ministers of government, we do not intend to do that. It is simply to increase the number of senators so that our parliament would have the opportunity to nominate and elect a non-government senator…to become Deputy Speaker.”
Dr. Douglas, who is also Finance Minister, said the Ministry of Finance has advised him that it is easily managed in the fiscal year ending and the new fiscal year to come. Other sources have indicated that while a senator who is a full member is paid approximately EC$13,000 monthly, senators who are not members of Cabinet, only obtain a monthly income of EC$3,000.
Opposition elements contend however that they do not trust the government and believe that they have ulterior motives and that the effort is designed to bolster the Prime Minister’s own support in the legislature, because he feels that no longer can he count on the guaranteed support of his Deputy Prime Minister, Sam Condor and Senior Minister Dr. Timothy Harris, who recently broke ranks with him, objecting to a piece of legislation that authorized the government to vest 1,200 acres of lands to a local bank.
However, Douglas on Tuesday morning, (20th November, 2012), was adamant; “We believe that there is need to shore up the administrative management of the parliament. We believe that more is going to be called upon us to do, as parliamentarians, over the next few months and years. The agenda is becoming very, very compact. The debates are taking longer and we believe it is important to give the parliament the opportunity to elect a senator…elect one of the senators as the Deputy Speaker of the House.”
Douglas tried painfully to explain his position on local radio when he stated, “Before we opened this parliament in March of 2010, we met with the opposition, as we have done in the past, trying to get a member of the opposition to also assist in the parliament as the Deputy Speaker. None of them accepted it. We nevertheless went to the parliament in the morning and we went through the exercise of nominating a member of the opposition, since there was no available member on the government side to make the Deputy Speaker. So then one of the ministers of government had to resign their ministerial responsibilities in order to get the House properly started to do the people’s work after the elections of January 2010.”
That was Tourism Minister, Senator Richard Skerritt, who made history by becoming the shortest serving Deputy Speaker in the history of West Indian politics, if not worldwide, resigning the post within 24 hours, only to be re-instated in his position as a full minister, thereby leaving the position of Deputy Speaker, vacant. Thus, the country is now, almost three years after, still trying to resolve the matter.
The solution, suggests Douglas, is to expand the pool of appointed senators.
“And we’ve managed thus far, but we cannot continue like that. It is therefore our duty as the government to attempt to bring to parliament, another opportunity for the parliament to elect a Deputy Speaker…that is all we are doing. And because of the way the constitution is written with regard to the number of senators, to the number of elected persons, we are proposing to increase the number by three. So, that there would be two on the government side and one addition on the opposition side. Any of those three persons, hopefully, once this has been passed by the parliament …can then be nominated and elected to become the Deputy Speaker of the parliament…I don’t see anything big about that.”
The opposition meanwhile is of the view that all the government has to do is dis-appoint one of its current two senators, (the other being Education Minister Nigel Carty), and have them serve as Deputy. This would not be new. Minister of Health, Marcella Liburd, who is now an elected MP was in fact a nominated senator in a previous parliament and served as the Deputy Speaker to then Speaker Walford Gumbs. It was only after the 2004 election that you had a member of the opposition, NRP’s Patrice Nisbett, serving as the Deputy to Marcella Liburd, who, before becoming the elected MP for Central Basseterre, held the post of Speaker after taking over from Mr. Gumbs.