“To become an effective chair, the individual must establish goodwill, respect, and trust between the chair and the assembly.” — Hugh Cannon
(Author’s note: This article was originally published on February 12, 2018. In light of the recently reprehensible ruling regarding Glenys Hanna-Martin, MP, in Parliament, we reproduce it to set the stage for next week’s article in which we call for the speaker of the House of Assembly to be removed if this institution is to reverse an already sullied reputation and return it to the august body that was originally anticipated.)
This week in The Bahamas, democracy and civility in public life suffered a severe setback. Never in our 289-year parliamentary history has the country witnessed such an unprovoked, unprecedented, and unwarranted attack by the speaker of the House whose primary duty is to protect the voice of the people.
In a deplorable display and flagrant abuse of power, the speaker of the House of Assembly suspended Her Majesty’s entire Loyal Opposition from Parliament and launched a scathing verbal assault on three parliamentarians, and against an individual who cannot defend himself in Parliament.
In light of these developments, we will consider this — was the speaker of the House of Assembly out of order when he suspended the entire official opposition and verbally assaulted the former clerk of the House of Assembly?
The speaker attacked the former House clerk
The speaker began his communication by turning his vitriol on Maurice Tynes, the former clerk of the House. The speaker was responding to a letter to the editor in which Tynes wrote that he was “disturbed and alarmed by the speaker’s decision to name and suspend Englerston M.P. Glenys Hanna-Martin” and accused the speaker of taking on a “Trump-like style.”
The speaker declared, “I thought that the retired clerk was my friend. I remember when I was in third-party politics as leader of the Bahamian Freedom Alliance, the retired clerk would call me all the time and provided me with material to attack the Ingraham administration.”
“I thought that he was championing the cause of good governance and democracy, but alas, he was only trying to help the P.L.P. as he seemed to be doing today, while also attacking the acting and hopefully soon to be confirmed clerk of Parliament.”
As a result of those remarks, Philip Davis and the members of Parliament for Exuma and Ragged Island and Central and South Andros collected their belongings and left the chamber. As they were departing, the speaker asked the men to take their seats. They ignored the speaker who then suspended the opposition members for two sittings.
In their absence, the speaker continued, “I had the opportunity of working with the apparently troubled former clerk from May 24, 2017 through August 31, 2017 and I can say at this time, thank God for attrition.
“Imagine trusting, working and relying on the advice of someone who has now publicly expressed his innermost feelings and the kind of political venom directed at the speaker in the letter to the editor. Thank you very much, Mr. Retired Clerk, may your soul rest in peace.”
The speaker promised that “decorum, dignity and fidelity of Parliament will be maintained”. He also said, “Darkness and wickedness will be withdrawn, expunged, suspended and driven out by expulsion.”
The speaker berated Davis
The speaker then attacked Davis, leader of the opposition, after Davis and his entire parliamentary team departed Parliament. Shortly thereafter, the speaker read a 40-minute-long communication, chastising the opposition leader because the latter criticized the speaker for naming and suspending opposition member Hanna-Martin from Parliament during the preceding session.
In his blustering rebuke, the speaker said, “I cry shame on the member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador [Davis].”
In reference to Davis’ criticism of the speaker, the latter said, “Ordinarily, I would not respond to such nonsense but the honorable member, and I wish that he was still present so I could address him directly; he has provoked the chair and forced the chair to defend my integrity.”
“While I can give you more than 90 reasons why the member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador’s allegation is absolutely absurd, I shall confine my response to the fact that I am married to a beautiful and wonderfully made Bain Town woman. And I want to emphasize to the member … that my wife is an indigenous Bahamian woman and that I have had over those 38 years, no reason for divorce.”
“The member has allowed, in my estimation, reprobates and perverts with track records of denying and hating women to insert such a ludicrous assertion into his press release. My name might begin with an M but the first three letters are Mou and not Mit. Don’t mix me up. I am not a soft, powder puff man. I am a real man.” (sic)
Questioning the integrity of the Hansard
One week earlier, when the speaker suspended Hanna-Martin from Parliament, he indicated that he had ordered the recordings of the House proceedings from Z.N.S. in order “to hear the totality of what transpired in the House.”
This is troubling because the Hansard is the official record of House proceedings. However, the speaker felt that it was necessary to view the House proceedings on the Z.N.S. recordings instead of the Hansard, presumably because he has greater confidence in the recordings of Z.N.S. instead of the Hansard.
The speaker has a responsibility to ensure that the House records, namely the Hansard, are properly maintained, so that if there are any questions about parliamentary proceedings, they can be answered by reference to the Hansard. By his own admission, the speaker has failed in his responsibility to ensure that the Hansard maintains an accurate record of parliamentary proceedings.
Is the speaker out of order?
By his communication in the House of Assembly, the speaker clearly demonstrated that he is out of order. There are several things that support this conclusion:
First, with respect to his attack on the former clerk of the House, the speaker should recognize that it is inappropriate for him to attack civilians who are not members of the House of Assembly. Persons who are not in Parliament do not have an equal opportunity to respond to attacks by parliamentarians, including the speaker.
Second, as an attorney, the speaker should appreciate that every citizen is entitled to the best possible defense and his reference of being able “to give you more than 90 reasons why the member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador’s allegation is absolutely absurd” is a fainthearted attack on the leader of the opposition’s defense of accused persons in his professional capacity as an attorney.
Surely, the speaker appreciates that, in our system of jurisprudence, anyone who is charged before the courts is presumed innocent until proven guilty and has the right to an attorney of his choice.
Third, the speaker’s reference to having a wife who “is an indigenous Bahamian woman” is despicable and disrespectful.
Is the speaker so insensitive and vacuous that he cannot recognize that his insults equally apply to several Cabinet ministers whose wives are not “indigenous Bahamian women”? That statement alone should prompt an immediate apology from the speaker to those who are offended by such a scandalous statement.
Politicians’ wives are never appropriate targets of vitriol, especially by such banal political novices. It is unbecoming of the speaker to sink to such abysmal depths.
Fourth, regarding the speaker’s reference to “reprobates and perverts with track records of denying and hating women.”
Is there no limit to how low the speaker will descend to demean any citizen in an effort to score cheap political points?
Fifth, in reference to the speaker’s assertion that “I am a real man”, it has been my experience that “real men” do not have to prove who or what they are by debasing others in order to elevate themselves.
Sixth, by now, the speaker must appreciate that he has exceeded his authority by suspending all members of the official opposition. By his action, he has deprived thousands of Bahamians of having the voice in Parliament that they elected to represent them. This speaker’s behavior in the entire episode is symptomatic of despotic behavior that is frequently practiced by the enemies of democracy.
The way forward
What, then, is the most appropriate course of action for the way forward?
The speaker has clearly demeaned, debased and depreciated the office of speaker.
Many of his own political colleagues and the public recognize that this is so. How will he ever regain the confidence of the Bahamian people, and those persons whom he has offended, including some of his own parliamentary colleagues?
The speaker has lost the moral authority to continue in office. Therefore, the most appropriate course of action for him is to apologize to Parliament and to resign his office forthwith. Failing this, in the interest of protecting the office and returning it to its previously inviolable status in our democracy, the House of Assembly should replace him as the speaker.
As long as he remains in the chair, a dark cloud will continue to shroud the supreme parliamentary office, which is constitutionally mandated to preside over Parliament with impartiality, objectivity and integrity.
Next week, we will detail 10 reasons why this speaker is the worst in the modern Bahamian Parliament and should be immediately relieved of his office.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.