Morgan says PNP’s muzzle claims are without merit
CLAIMS BY the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) that the Government has instituted a new audio system in Parliament to gag its members have been dismissed by Information Minister Robert Morgan.
Morgan yesterday refuted the claims by the Opposition made through its Deputy Leader for Government Business in the House of Representatives, Natalie Neita Garvey.
In a statement from the party, she said: “As Parliament reconvened, we witnessed a development that should concern every Jamaican who values democracy and fair governance.
“The introduction of a new microphone system that gives the Speaker power to control who speaks has raised serious questions about the effectiveness of our parliamentary procedures. The implementation of this microphone system by the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government appears to be an attempt to control the Opposition’s ability to hold the Government to account on behalf of the people…” the release said inter alia.
According to Neita Garvey, such power was in the hands of the former Speaker (Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert), who the party described was demonstrating partisan management of the processes in the House.
“Now, with this new power, the Speaker will be able to muzzle whoever they don’t want to hear, simply by not activating their microphone. On Tuesday, the very day that the new microphone system was being introduced for the first time, the Speaker used it to prevent the Opposition from being heard on a most critical matter that had brought her own status as Speaker into serious question ...” the release stated.
It said only government members were permitted to speak, while the Opposition members were denied, describing the Parliament as a kangaroo court.
“This incident suggests an institutionalised strategy aimed at silencing the Opposition in Parliament, especially when it comes to the most critical matters. It undermines the core principles of parliamentary democracy, including robust debate, accountability, and checks and balances. The Opposition strongly objects to this slide towards autocracy within the House,” the release said.
However, Morgan said yesterday that the Opposition was seeking to abuse the process by not adhering to the standing orders, and walked out when it did not suit them.
“(Neither) The new microphone system nor the Speaker is not seeking to gag anyone. When someone wishes to speak in the Parliament they have to signal to the Speaker who acknowledges them and tells them when to speak. In the most recent case, Mr Golding got up and wanted to ask question, but could not because the standing orders did not allow him to do what he wanted to do,” Morgan stated during an interview with The Gleaner.
He said the opposition leader could have risen on a point of order or offered a point of clarification. He did neither.
Golding rose indicating that he wanted to ask a question. He was never allowed to do so.
Morgan again insisted that the Speaker adhered to the standing orders.
The new microphone system allows the Speaker sole authority not to activate a member’s microphone.
“When reports are tabled and referred to a committee, they are not subject to debate. The Speaker made it clear. He could have moved a motion to suspend the standing orders so (that a) question could be asked. The rules are very clear,” Morgan said.
Such a motion would not be in keeping with the standing orders as it would be subject to a vote.
The Government has an overwhelming majority.
With the denial by the Speaker, the Opposition walked out en bloc from the sitting.
“The Opposition did not plan to stay in the sitting. They know the standing orders very well and know the process. And as it turned out, when they were not allowed to speak, the spokesman on finance threw a tantrum making wild allegations against the Government. So the walkout was planned because they sought to defy the standing orders and were not allowed to do so,” he stated.
Televic D-Cerno conference system
Information received from the Parliament yesterday described the new system as a Televic D-Cerno conference system which consists of two ‘Chairperson’ consoles, one at the Presiding Officer’s desk for meetings of the Senate and House; the other at the Chairperson’s desk for use in Committee meetings. The remaining consoles are ‘single delegate’ units which gives the Presiding Officer/Committee Chairperson the ability to open the microphone of a Member who has pressed the button to signal his/her intention to speak. However, the system automatically selects the member to speak based on the order in which members signal their intention to speak, that is, the first person to indicate that he/she wishes to speak will be the first person allowed to speak. Previously, the old system had only one ‘Chairperson’ console which was located at the Presiding Officer’s desk and gave the Presiding Officer the ability to mute other microphones. Another key difference is that a manual interface located above the Chamber allowed the user to open and mute the microphones. However, this option was not used as it would have to be operated by a member of staff and the Standing Order gives the duty of deciding the order of speakers to the Presiding Officer or Chairman. With the newly-installed system, Members wait to be acknowledged in keeping with Standing Order 32(1) and, once opened, automatically selects the first person that signalled intent to speak.