EDITOR, The Tribune.
Vernon Joseph Symonette and Dewitt Halson Moultrie were both born in Mathew Town, Inagua, about 15 years apart. Both would become members of the FNM and both would be elevated to the post of Speaker of the House of Assembly.
Inagua could not be prouder of these native sons. But after last week only one of them continues to enjoy the highest esteem of fellow Inaguans.
Speaker Moultrie can learn a lot about “speakering” from the now retired Vernie Symonette. Symonette understood that the eyes of history were trained on the speaker’s chair, backed up the transcribers for the Hansard. Everything said from the chair lives in perpetuity. And since the introduction of cameras to the chamber, we get to watch them and judge for ourselves.
The Speaker has a solemn obligation to maintain order and decorum in the House. As lay people, we take that to mean he must call the balls and strikes and the fouls that he sees happening on both sides of the floor. We never expected that a Speaker would have to self-censor.
The Speaker has a duty to protect the rights of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the chamber. Protection of the rights of the minority party is how we grade the maturity of a democracy.
The opposition’s job is to hold the government’s feet to the fire. In that they have to be imaginative and creative while remaining inside the bounds of decency and decorum. The Speaker has a responsibility to give them a fairly wide berth.
Mr Moultrie instead took a different tack. He soiled the Speaker’s robes by getting in the dirt and letting loose a tirade of jibes and insults at supposed supporters of the opposition who do not have the privilege of responding within the chamber.
When the member for Englerston got rowdy and testy during her intervention on the floor of the House, the Speaker had a chest of remedial actions to metaphorically put her in her place. He did not have to go nuclear so quickly and suspend her from the job that 1,814 voters in Englerston sent her to do.
Adding insult to this injury, the Speaker came across as impatient with the leader of the opposition in the chamber. Brave Davis did what any political leader would have done in the circumstance, he withdrew his troops from the session creating great symbolism for his base even while showing deference to the Speaker as they left. Each bowed to the Chair on their way out, as is the custom.
Not to be outdone, the Speaker showed them who’s boss (as if he had to) by banishing them from the chamber for two sittings. This illogical move back-fired. It gained for Davis a show of support that he has thus far failed to muster on his own.
While the FNM mounted a Donald Trump-style kissing of the Speaker’s ring adulation session, looking across at empty opposition chairs as they spoke, the blow-back from the public was one of the most serious the new FNM administration has faced.
The optics obscured a positive New Year’s address that the Prime Minister had just presented and sidelined for now the new legislative initiatives that the government was about to unveil.
And since no-one took the shovel from his hand, the Speaker kept digging, in a most undignified manner. The goings-on in the PLP are none of his business. Who Davis may or may not be taking advice from doesn’t come before him.
Dr Hubert Minnis has been preaching the gospel of inclusion and bipartisanship for the last ten months and he was getting some traction.
The Speaker would have us know that he is a moral man. He can demonstrate that with an act of contrition. He must acknowledge from the chair that his own actions and words did great damage to his impartiality.
If he has any compunction he must protect and defend the right of the minority party to be heard in Parliament. After all, the hallmark of a great speaker is to be a good listener.
Mr Moultrie should sit and have a coffee with Vernon Symonette who could “learn him a thing or two about speakering”.
February 11, 20