ANNOUNCEMENTS BY SPEAKER:
FOURTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 4TH, 2020
Good morning and my customary welcome to the Fourth Sitting of the Third Session of the Fourth House of Assembly of the Virgin Islands.
I recognise our guests, the Deputy Governor David D. Archer Jr and Mrs. Archer, the Financial Secretary, Cabinet Secretary, Permanent Secretaries, Senior Public Servants, Social Commentators, Members of the Virgin Islands Youth Parliament, and persons tuned-in on a variety of media platforms. I welcome you all.
Today’s Sitting is special, as it is the start of the 70th anniversary celebration of the restoration of the Legislature in the Virgin Islands.
While I will never pre-empt the Honourable Members who sit in the well of the Chambers and their contributions to this topic, please permit me to share a few observations.
We often hear that there are three co-equal branches of Government, the Legislative, the Executive and the Judicial.
In our case, according to the Constitution, the Governor is Head of the Executive Branch, the Speaker is Head of the Legislative and the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme court is the Head of our Judicial Branch.
But, 70 years later, I have observed that this co-equal arrangement is not always practiced. Often, the Executive and Judicial are given some inherent tools that are not always afforded to the Legislative Branch.
After all, it is the Legislative Branch that passes the Appropriation Bill - the funding of the other two branches.
Almost 19 months ago while the public debated the security afforded to our Head of Government and Premier, there was never a dispute over both the Governor and Chief Justice being afforded the same security, which we support.
Again, it speaks to a different standard or, might I say, interpretation of co-equal branches of government. While the other two branches are allowed to have the tools that come with the office, for us in the Legislative Branch, it continues to be a struggle.
Now, I do not want tomorrow’s headlines to be that the Speaker is requesting special privilege or treatment for elected Members. That is far from the truth. All the Speaker is requesting is that the concept of co-equal branches of government is put into practice and respected.
While I understand that House of Assemblies or Parliaments are rooted in the history of the Westminster system—for example, the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, from its start in 1341; is of the people, the common man or women—However, I still believe that the office of all of the 15 Members of this Honourable House, after 70 years, must be given the respect and courtesies due.
As Members and the public probe new constitutional arrangements with the United Kingdom, one consideration, in my humble view, should be the Legislature having the power, to override an unelected Governor when he refuses to assent to a Bill.
There is a process on how a bill is passed even before it reaches this Honourable House.
I went back to look at British history seeking information on the last time a King or Queen refused the Royal assent.
What I discovered is that in modern times, the Monarch, Governor Generals or Governors always ascent to a Bill passed by the People's House, on the advice of the government of the day, as the royal assent is considered a formality.
The last time a Bill was refused to be assented to in the United Kingdom was in 1708, when Queen Anne vetoed a Bill on the Scottish Militia on the advice of ministers.
Honourable Members, after 70 years, it is an insult to this House of Assembly when 13 elected Members pass a Bill then an unelected Governor could just refuse to ascent to a Bill without a proper explanation. That can never be good governance, transparency or democratic practice, notwithstanding Section 79, 2 of the Constitution.
Many of my fellow Speakers in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association who I often converse with have labelled this behavior as an abuse of power, dictatorship and injustice to the people.
I trust that by the time we are ready to celebrate our 75th or 80th anniversary of the restoration the Legislature, we as free people will not have to face such issues.
And finally, I will allow during Honourable members contribution to the Resolution on the ‘Order of the Day’, Members tapping on their desks or visitors in the gallery clapping.
With that said, I call upon the Clerk.