By: Kiana Wilburg
“I am sorry for him. House Speaker Raphael Trotman is not only in an embarrassing position, but a challenging one at that.”
This is the view of former speaker of the National Assembly, Sase Narain on the stressing circumstances of the House over which Trotman now has to preside.
The retired attorney-at-law asserted that the recent controversy surrounding the Speaker’s powers to reconvene the sitting of the National Assembly is a very “tricky” situation. Narain recalled that he and former speaker, Ralph Ramkarran, wrote Trotman stating that they believe that under Standing Order 8 (1), he has the power to reconvene.
Trotman, after observing that the Whips on both sides of the House were unable to reach a consensus on the date, proposed November 6. But when the request for this projected date for the first sitting was sent to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, it was denied.
The former speaker stated that Trotman should know the relationship between Clerk and the government and should have known that Isaacs’ decision would have been in keeping with such. Narain, who served as Speaker from 1971 to 1992 under the People’s National Congress when it was the government and held a majority in the National Assembly, said that the House Speaker should have had a “fallback position.”
“Everyone has a different approach but mine would not have been with any whips, they just help in facilitating a smooth process and it’s the Prime Minister, Sam Hinds who should be targeted. He is the one who gets up and moves a motion to the effect that Parliament be adjourned to next Monday, for example, or to a date to be fixed. Certainly, the Opposition can get up and say ‘I move an amendment to that motion and my amendment is instead of meeting Monday, the Parliament should meet Thursday’ and they take a vote…but the opposition does not do that. Nevertheless, in hindsight, Trotman could have done several other things…The road ahead will not be easy for him…The National Assembly never had this make-up before and it is going through an evolution, whether it will survive is another matter but it will be challenging for Trotman as we are seeing now,” Narain asserted.
While he stayed clear of elaborating on the “several other things” he did opine that Trotman is in “new territory.”
He opined as well that while he is unaware of the position the Opposition will take in light of the Clerk’s refusal to obey the directive imparted by the House Speaker, he did stress that the instability in the relationship between Trotman and Isaacs could have scarring implications for the National Assembly.
“In some cases, when the Speaker presides he is the boss while the administration of the office is for the Clerk. But the relationship between the two needs to be healthy, strong, and instability like this just lends to further damage to the House,” the former speaker added.
Narain said too that the chaotic situation of the House—delay in meeting, unaccented Bills, is not what the Parliament should be facilitating. “The Speaker is in a most embarrassing and challenging position. Trotman has the potential but it is really sad that he has been appointed at a time where he would have to chair in some of these circumstances.”
As it relates to misconduct by Parliamentarians in the Tenth Parliament, Narain said that if it were he, such infractions would have been dealt with condignly.
Narain explained that the Speaker is like an umpire of the House, always watching for infractions. He also likened the House Speaker to being the Chairman of a debating society, always vigilant about points raised, the management of time allotted to speakers for their arguments, and listening to the pros and cons.
He recalled, “Historically, the behaviour of most Parliamentarians of the People’s Progressive Party with every Speaker was in most cases rebellious. In my case, there was one incident where the late former President Dr. Cheddi Jagan was so upset during a sitting that he threw down a set of books and removed the mace. Another Parliamentarian even threw a glass at me once. Of course, the latter was expelled but as for Dr. Jagan, I dealt with him effectively.
As Speaker you have to evolve and know what is effective and it may not always be in the rules and in the case with Dr. Jagan, there is a part of the Standing Order which says that you can’t speak unless the House Speaker recognizes you. And I did not until Dr. Jagan apologized for his inappropriate behaviour. He chose not to and that went on for two years. If he got up I told the parliamentary reporters not to record what he says and I was resolute. “
He stayed away from naming specific instances of improper conduct that he observed by parliamentarians of recent but said that Trotman needs to know how to handle such matters. “It is not only embarrassing but it’s a challenge. I am sorry for him. I know what I would have done but it’s for him to decide what he will do now. If it were me they would have felt the consequences and… I don’t think they are feeling the consequences of their actions right now,” he added.
He said too that as Speaker, it is imperative for Parliamentarians to know that “you will not stand for nonsense.” Narain concluded that while Trotman is in an invidious position, he must know how and when to flex the parliamentary muscles.
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