LETTER FROM MAURICE TYNES ON THE SPEAKER RESIGNING

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This letter first appeared in The Nassau Guardian on 10 February 2021

Dear Editor,

Since the resignation of Speaker Halson Moultrie on February 4, I have received numerous calls and messages from members of the press, friends and other persons asking for my views on the resignation. So here goes.

Firstly, the constitution is silent on the question of the removal of the speaker of the House. The constitution intended that once a speaker was elected, that person would serve in office for the entirety of the parliamentary term. I doubt that the framers of the constitution could have ever envisaged the kinds of machinations that have occurred in the Bahamian House of Assembly.

Secondly, Article 55 (1) of the constitution empowers the Parliament to regulate its proceedings and each House is authorized to formulate rules of procedure to govern its business.

In 2005, the House of Assembly drafted and introduced a new set of rules. Rule 52 (1) of the Rules of Procedure for the House indicates that a motion of censure or vote of no confidence can be moved against the speaker. The constitution left it up to each House to make rules to remove its presiding officer. Westminster traditions and conventions demand that the speaker must resign and vacate the office if the motion of no confidence is successful.

Traditions and conventions of Westminster also dictate that only one motion for a no confidence vote could be moved in a single session of Parliament.

The opposition moved a vote of no confidence in the speaker earlier in the session which was amended by the FNM to say that the House did indeed have confidence in the speaker. By amending the opposition’s resolution of no confidence, the FNM took control and thus ownership of the resolution.

This control and ownership preclude the FNM from moving an original resolution of no confidence in this current session. The problem in The Bahamas is that the ruling parties have abandoned the age-old tradition of regular prorogation of the Parliament. Maybe this reluctance to prorogue Parliament, in part, is to prevent motions of no confidence being moved.

The prime minister has the option of proroguing the Parliament thus ending the current session which has endured since 2017, and starting a new session of Parliament when a new vote of no confidence could be introduced.

This strategy has its own problems as we shall see later in this letter. He could also allow him to continue as speaker as an independent member of Parliament until he decides to have the Parliament dissolved.

The speaker’s resignation from the FNM and his decision to remain as speaker of the House of Assembly is most unusual. In fact, it is the first time in my memory that I have seen that.

His decision to remain in office is protected by the provisions of Article 50 (2) as his continuing in office is not dependent on his membership in a political party. The question then is does he have the moral authority to stay in office as speaker?

I hold the view that if he had resigned from his political party upon being elected as speaker, which I encourage all future persons elected as speaker to do, this question would not have arrived.

Having not resigned from the FNM upon his election as speaker, he is bound by the dogma of his FNM party.

Moreover, the speaker tried to make the claim in his letter that his resignation from his political party was a matter of principle. He made the charge that he could not remain affiliated with the FNM because the party was not committed to the “fundamental essentials of democracy”, a very serious charge.

But if those fundamentals of democracy were the real reason for his resignation from the FNM, then his continuing in office as speaker remedies nothing. His resignation as speaker of the House of Assembly, however, would have sent a stronger signal of his fidelity to those democratic principles he espoused.

The traditions and conventions of the Westminster system hardly conceived that a no confidence vote would ever be moved by the majority party that nominated one of its own members to be speaker of the House.

In case the FNM is considering this option, I wish to remind them of the “carnival” surrounding the Trinidad and Tobago ruling party’s attempt to remove Speaker Occah Seapaul from office.

In 1995, Prime Minister Patrick Manning requested the resignation of the sitting speaker of the House of Representatives Seapaul after an allegation was raised that she had committed perjury in a court matter.

Seapaul was Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Speaker. The speaker refused to resign and the governing party gave notice that it would move a vote of no confidence in the speaker.

The speaker refused to put the motion claiming that it was out of order.

The prime minister, unable to remove the Speaker by parliamentary means, put the country under a state of emergency and had the speaker placed under house arrest.

We hope the current situation in The Bahamas does not escalate to that extreme. But in this country, which is perpetually under a state of emergency, it must be very tempting for Prime Minister Minnis to add Speaker Moultrie to one of his many emergency orders and have Speaker Moultrie placed under House arrest.

—  Maurice Tynes