BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, December 8, 2017 (Press Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister) – The Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. Denzil Douglas squandered much of the time prescribed to him by the Standing Orders of the Honourable House to respond to the tax-free and balanced 2018 Budget presented by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris.
At the adjournment of the National Assembly on Wednesday, December 6, 2017, Speaker of the National Assembly, the Honourable A. Michael Perkins indicated that the House would resume at 10am on Thursday, December 7, 2017.
However, the Leader of the Opposition disregarded the clear instruction of the Honourable Speaker and did not show up on time to make his response to the Budget as is the norm.
Subsequent to this, the Honourable Speaker suspended the sitting of the Parliament to give the Leader of the Opposition enough time to respond.
During his presentation, the Opposition Leader became embroiled in a number of irrelevant issues not pertinent to the Budget Debate, causing members on the Government benches to rise on several points of order to object to the breach of the regulations by Dr. Douglas.
Several of the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition were outrageous and were known to him to be blatantly untrue. When caught, instead of refraining from repeating the untruth, the Honourable Member for Number Six continued on the path of imputing improper conduct and motive on Members of the Parliament.
He also engaged in an outrageously false statement, claiming that last week, 800 electricity consumers had their services disconnected. That falsehood the Leader of the Opposition knew could not stand.
It would appear from exchanges in the Parliament that the disconnection of the services of a prominent member in the Opposition leadership for chronic non-payment was maliciously turned into a scenario of 800 persons being impacted. The opposition member in question failed in his duty to pay for services that he had used.
Indeed, it was regrettable that the Leader of the Opposition would raise that matter when it was the Opposition Leader himself, then serving as Minister of Finance in the final term of his administration, who raised electricity tariffs by 85 percent, and in doing so creating undue hardship for many electricity consumers.
By the time the Leader of the Opposition had used up his 2 hours and 36 minutes allowed to him under the rules of the House, he had done a disservice to himself and to the Parliament by the lack of coherence in his presentation, his manipulation of the budgetary numbers and his engagement in parochial politics.
Having squandered his allotted time, the Leader of the Opposition was denied extended time after failing to receive a majority of votes in favour thereof.
In explaining the rules of the House, Member of Parliament for Nevis 9 the Honourable Mark Brantley categorically stated that there is “no provision under the rules for any question to be put to this House for any extension of time by the Leader of the Opposition in the context of a Budget Debate.”
The Honourable Member cited Section 40 of the National Assembly Elections Act which speaks to Time Limits of Speeches to reinforce his point. Section 40 subsection (4) and (5) makes reference to the Time Limits for Members speaking on a Budget.
It reads, “(4) In a debate on the annual financial statement and budgetary proposals subject to paragraph (5) hereof, a member shall not speak for more than ninety minutes unless he or she requests and obtains an extension of time in the manner prescribed by paragraphs (1) and (2) after this period has elapsed and thereupon the Speaker shall permit him or her to speak for a further period not exceeding thirty minutes. (5) The time limit specified in paragraph 3 shall not apply to the Minister of Finance, and the member speaking first on behalf of the Opposition shall be entitled to speak for an equal period of time as the Minister of Finance provided however that this period shall not be less than two hours.”
Minister Brantley added, “Put differently Madam Deputy Speaker, if it was that the Minister of Finance had spoken for 3 or 4 hours, the first person to respond on the Opposition benches would have had that equal time but having had that equal time there is no provision that would allow him or her to seek additional time in the way in which it was attempted earlier.”
In the end, pundits have said that the Opposition Leader’s presentation was bereft of statesmanship and lacking in content and quality.