Federal Elections in St. Kitts and Nevis constitutionally due in 2020 was one of several parliamentary and constitutional matters that were discussed by Speaker of the National Assembly, the Honourable A. Michael Perkins, on this week’s edition of the “Working for You” radio and television programme on Wednesday.
While the selection of the exact date of the election lies with the Prime Minister, the Constitution of St. Christopher and Nevis provides guidelines about the timeframe when an election must be held.
While addressing the rules concerning the dissolution or prorogation of Parliament, Speaker Perkins indicated that the Constitution dictates that the first sitting of a National Assembly must take place within 90 days of the last general election.
“The House (National Assembly) first met in May 2015 – three months after the election. And once the House would have had that first meeting, there is when the actual 5 years begins you know,” Speaker Perkins stated, referring to the five-year term allowed to a government, adding that the parliament “has to be dissolved by mid-May this year and once it’s dissolved you still have another 90 days by which an election must be held.”
Speaker Clarifies Rule on Naming of Members of the Judiciary in Parliament
Speaker Perkins took the opportunity to clarify the rule regarding Members of the Judiciary being mentioned in Parliament.
“It has its own history as to what brought me to the point where I made a very specific ruling that unless a member brings a substantive motion to the house to deal with any judge, magistrate, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) or the Registrar of the High Court, unless that person in their official capacity is brought up in the debate through a substantive motion, I would not tolerate these persons and their offices being brought into the debate of the House.”
Speaker Perkins noted that although the Standing Orders speak specifically to judges, he felt it was important to make such ruling.
“…Using my discretion of authority which I have, you know you have analyzed things, you have to understand what is being said and why, and I felt very uncomfortable. I find we were going down a dangerous path of questioning such high-ranking members of the judiciary,” he said. “The judiciary, that’s like the backbone of our good governance and so I simply could no longer allow members to be in a way accusing these persons of wrong doings or questioning their conduct.”
The Speaker has appealed to members of parliament to desist from such behavior, reiterating “there is now a ruling which says members would not be allowed to bring up the names of judges, magistrates, the DPP or the Registrar of the High Court in the debates unless it is through a substantive motion.”
National Assembly Regulates Own Procedures, May Make Rules for Orderly Conduct
Under section 44 of the Constitution of the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, National Assembly regulates its own procedures and may in particular make rules for the orderly conduct of its own proceedings, the Speaker explained.
“To me, this is a very powerful bit of legislation. It has constitutional authority. So, this is saying that as a Parliament we can make rules to govern the proceedings in Parliament once none of the rules violate or is ultra vires to said Constitution,” said the speaker, adding there are 85 rules, which are Standing Orders that govern the proceedings, and at any time, Parliament can add to, take away from, or amend those rules.
“As a matter of fact, we are in the process now to doing just that,” he said. “[We now have] what we call the Standing Orders Review Committee. It is a committee established by the Parliament which over the past year or so has been looking at ways and means or areas of the Standing Orders which we think should be amended.”
The Speaker said that when members call for a point of order, these points of order refer to the Standing Orders.
“So, when a member rises on a point of order, he really should be indicating which of those orders, and there are 85 of them, he thinks is being violated or breached. However, over time and in the past, Speakers including myself, have used our discretion to allow members to raise almost anything under the umbrella of a point of order,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a breach of the rule, but anything that I feel needs some clarification or a member could complain that you are misleading the Parliament, [that is] you are saying something that is not true.”
“Having said that I tend to deal with points of order in three basic ways,” he added. “I may say that is not allowed or I will allow it and ask the member to either retract or modify his language, or this is also a ruling from my standpoint, or I say nothing. I remain silent on it and move on.”
The speaker sdaid in the future it is hoped that Parliament will be able to table and have passed a new or improved set of Standing Orders for the National Assembly.