Nat’l Assembly clerk peeved at Speaker’s rebuke
– Trotman clarifies actions
By Abena Rockcliffe
Sherlock Isaacs, Clerk of the National Assembly, has made public his letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman which sought to make known his “great dismay” caused by the Speaker’s casting of blame upon him and his staff.
The Clerk’s grievance stemmed from last week’s parliamentary sitting which saw Trotman’s refusal to deal with Government’s amendments to an Opposition Motion, saying that he hadn’t adequate time to review the proposed amendments.
The Motion was circulated to Parliamentarians at last week’s sitting.
Trotman had then told the National Assembly that he had only been in receipt of Amendments when he assumed the position to address the National Assembly. With that, he expressed apologies to the Government’s side that that business would have to be postponed to the next sitting, since he had concerns about some of the elements.
The Clerk’s letter stated that “you sought to cast blame on me and the Parliament staff for failure to deliver copies of the amendments to you in a timely manner.”
Isaacs informed Trotman of his consultations with former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran for guidance on the matter. Attached to the letter was the advice offered by Ramkarran.
Isaacs stated in the letter that his office followed the practice inherited, which was to have the amendments circulated to members “as soon as possible” for their perusal.
The Clerk conceded that the amendments might not have been given to Trotman with adequate time for his consideration, but noted that he did receive them before the sitting, as it was handed to him by his secretary.
Isaacs said that the matter at hand isn’t the first of its kind, as the Speaker had been publicly critical of him and his staff before.
“Our works and efforts have not gone unnoticed as we were complimented in and outside of Guyana. Nevertheless, on the rare occasions when orders were made, no public admonishment, embarrassment or humiliation ensued. Instead, private correction and encouragement were received,” Isaacs stated.
At a press conference yesterday, Trotman was asked about the issue, where he stated that he had not seen the letter and had no recollection of laying blame on the parliamentary staff.
“Last week Thursday…I noticed a document that said amendments and it contained in my opinion scandalous matters, and I was disturbed about it.
“I felt that I ought to have been shown this document before the sitting and some of the material in it ought not to have been published and I also said that as per the Standing Orders, if the Speaker determines if a motion is in order … it necessarily follows that an amendment to such a motion will come under the scrutiny of the Speaker,” Trotman said.
According to him, he does not believe that that was casting blame on anyone and he went on to say that the practices of the past nine parliaments could not be observed in the tenth Parliament.
“There’s too much at stake, a misspoken word or a misstatement could derail so much and so I think it is well-known that extra caution has to be taken at every step of the way with everything that we do. In the past we’ve had majoritarian rule and so the majority always had it right, but everything said or done in the tenth Parliament has to be above board, has to pass scrutiny and we all have a duty,” the Speaker declared.
In a subsequent written response, Trotman stated that “We are both dismayed albeit for different reasons. I was dismayed to be asked a question about your letter by the Stabroek News reporter who, from all appearances, is aware of its contents, even before I was.”
The Speaker stated that it is “unfortunate that you felt that I “sought” to cast blame on you and the Parliament staff for failure to deliver copies of the amendments to me in a timely manner.”
Trotman stated that his actions at the last sitting were meant to, among other things, “prevent a serious violation of the Standing Orders; and even a possible conflagration in the House.”
“You seem as dismayed as I was when the opposition parties, and especially, APNU, cast blame on me for approving the amendments in the form in which they were circulated,” Trotman stated in his letter.
Further, the Speaker opined that “The facts, as narrated by the Hon. Attorney-General, as to how, and when, the amendments were submitted were what perhaps caused the dismay.”
The Speaker stated that “regretfully” he cannot take responsibility for the statements, and effects thereof, of the Hon. Attorney-General.
He added that, in previous times, as a Member of Parliament, he had experienced amendments to Motions disallowed by the then Speaker, Derek Jagan.
In addressing the Clerk’s point that he was handed the amendments by his secretary, Trotman said that “I was handed a bundle of documents on my arrival in the Speaker’s Chambers indeed, and then shortly after, Ms. Haniff (his secretary) placed the bundle on the Speaker’s desk. I never had a chance to go through the bundle as my mind was focused on the issues that were likely to arise from the Financial Paper.”
Trotman further stated “You may not agree, but I believe that prior to the sitting, you as Clerk, in my humble opinion, should brief the Speaker on issues arising on the Order Paper and provide advice accordingly. This is what you normally do; moreso when there is something contentious or controversial on the Order Paper.”
“Given the contents of the amendments, and the many references (and allegations raised) to named sitting Members of Parliament, former heads of Disciplined Forces, a former Leader of the Opposition, and prominent citizens, I would have expected that as Clerk, and having knowledge of these things, and that they violate the Standing Orders, you would have not left the task of “notifying” me to the Secretary. In my view the contents of the proposed amendments contained material that was obviously in contravention of the Standing Orders and I would have hoped that you would have detected same and advised me promptly by phone or in person.”
Trotman also addressed the claim of him being publicly “critical” of the Clerk and the Parliament staff and stated that upon the provision of evidence to prove his public criticism, “I will make the necessary public correction and apology.”
Trotman concluded by saying he has the greatest respect for Isaacs, who in his opinion is as an excellent Clerk. He also noted that he was quietly working on having the Clerk receive a National Award.
He expressed his continued “unstinting” support and acknowledged the Clerk’s oath to do the same.