There was a public discussion on whether Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Ingrid Moses can be unbiased in her position considering allegations that she is seeking political office under the banner of the National Democratic Party (NDP). The discussion was spawned by a media article and took place in the House of Assembly on 20 September. The topic was laid to rest with the promise that on 2 October the Attorney General will furnish a legal opinion on the matter.
The issue was raised by Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering during last week’s sitting. The Deputy Premier who is one of the oldest serving members of the House of Assembly referenced a news article that listed Hon. Moses as one of the candidates that would be contesting the 2019 general elections as part of the NDP team.
In noting that the announcement of the Speaker’s alleged political interest has sparked concerns, Hon. Pickering told the House: “I want to lend my voice to say publicly I am not comfortable with it and unless in this present context the sitting Speaker is about to denounce the fact that it is not so and it’s something being published against her wishes then it stands as a fact as it has not been refuted.”
He said that he ventured to look into the legal and other precedents. However, he said that he did not find anything that fits this scenario.
Hon. Pickering told the House: “I couldn’t find any precedent for it. From where I sit as one of the senior members of this House, as somebody who has travelled far and wide attending parliamentary meetings, participated in parliamentary discussions, to me, my personal opinion, and in my contribution it is a situation that is likely to create more questions than answers for the house and it begs the question if the sitting Speaker can in fact be partial.”
Hon. Pickering stressed that based on his research there is no legal barring against the Speaker running for office and he commented: “I am absolutely certain, I have no doubts in my mind you would have been given legal advice if in fact what the news report says is so.”
However, the Deputy Premier said that there is a perceived ethical concern and noted that it was on that ground he spoke.
Dr. Pickering in outlining his concern said that the matter has him troubled within his spirit as he stated that the House of Assembly, like the judiciary, are pillars of any country, any nation and he posited that the Territory should be careful about how it deals with the institutions that build a democracy.
The Deputy Premier cited that the announcement raises partiality concerns and he understands why people may feel this way. Therefore, Hon. Pickering admonished the Speaker to address the report by stating whether or not she is running: “Whether that is so or not, the bigger point is that it has not been refuted in any official way. So therefore it leaves a cloud hanging over the institution of the house as to exactly where we are.”
Opposition Concerned About Impartiality
Following Hon. Pickering’s comments on the matter, Third District Representative, and Opposition Member Hon. Julian Fraser told the Speaker that it is boldly being said that she is seeking political office and he told her that she should respond in the affirmative or negative.
Hon. Fraser said, “Madam Speaker out there in black and white it’s rumoured, I don’t know if it is official but it is rumoured that you are indeed a candidate on a political party ticket, its rumoured and I have the same concerns as I heard raised earlier regarding that. What I would say Madam Speaker, is that the benefit of the doubt should be yours where you get the opportunity to do, dismiss this whole thing as a rumour or declare it to be so.”
However, Hon. Fraser said that should Hon. Moses confirm the report he would have concerns about her operating in the neutral role of the Speaker of the House. “If you declare it to be so Madam Speaker, I have the same concerns about whether or not you can be the person that we elect to be our Speaker,” he added.
Hon. Fraser told the House, “Yes our constitution does provide that a member of the house can be the Speaker, it does, but you know what happens in that case Madam Speaker, I know it happens in the UK, and I believe it should be happening in other parliaments. Once a member of parliament is elected to be the Speaker of the House, that persons does not face an opposition, in the upcoming elections.”
“In the case of a sitting Speaker, who was elected to be impartial, as an impartial individual for outside as you are, in the case where someone in your position has been dubbed to be a candidate on a political party ticket, we don’t know what to expect. So I will just sit and observe what will be your reaction in the next two days to what has been said here today regarding that condition,” he added.
Speaker Refrains from Answering
When the time came to respond Hon. Moses did not confirm or deny the media report, instead she described the report as a ‘rumour’. She told the House, “It is at least two members in their address mentioned about ‘rumours’ and I thought the House of Assembly was a House of fact. So, you are asking me to confirm a rumour.”
Furthermore, the Speaker said that she is asking the Attorney General Baba Aziz to furnish a legal opinion on the matter.
However, this response was not fitting for Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Andrew Fahie who said that the matter deserved a firm response. Hon. Fahie told the Speaker that a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ response is required, and he also noted that a no response is also considered to be an answer.
Hon. Fahie said, “I think it is a simple yes or a simple no. I don’t think it is up to anybody (AG) to bring anything, because not answering is an answer.”
The Leader of the Opposition declared, “Madame Speaker, I think that you owe it to the House now to verify for the record of this House, whether or not there is any merit in the news report that stated that you as Speaker of the House are now an At Large candidate to contest the upcoming general elections under the NDP banner.”
Premier and Minister for Finance, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith briefly commented on the matter saying, “…As I understand it, the Speaker or position is not a public office…The Attorney General has been asked to look into the matter and he has assured us that he will give a written comment on that, and so we await to hear the written comment from the Attorney General.”
The matter was raised with His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert at a press conference held on 25 September and the Governor refrained from elaborating on the situation.
In response to a question, the Governor said: “It’s not a matter for me…It’s a matter for ‘A’, the Speaker [and]‘B’, for the House, It’s not a matter for me.”
“It is up to the House to look at those issues and ensure that there is impartiality in the House. I am not going to get involved in matters of the House.”