Dominica's Day of Shame
By Darius Lecointe, PhD, JD
This year Father's Day was celebrated on Sunday, June 21st. That day should also have been recognized as Dominica's Day of Shame. That Day of Shame began on Tuesday, June 19th when thirteen of Dominica's 21 elected representatives, along with four Senators, met in the chamber of the House of Assembly to do the unthinkable. Absent from that meeting were the Speaker of the House, eight elected representatives, including the Prime Minister, The Hon. P.R. John, four Senators and the Attorney General.
According to the Hansard (the official record of the proceedings of the House), this was an Emergency Meeting of the First Session of the First Parliament under the Commonwealth of Dominica Constitution Order, 1978. Things began to go wrong from the very beginning.
The first item of business was an announcement by the Clerk of the "unavoidable absence of the Speaker at today's sitting of the House of Assembly. The Deputy Speaker will now take the chair." According to Rule 6(4) of the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly the Deputy Speaker was now "invested with all the powers of the Speaker until the next sitting of the House, or for Twenty-four hour (sic), whichever period is shorter."
But after the Deputy Speaker Eden Bowers read the Prayer, and without any further statement from the Clerk, Hon. O. J Seraphin proposed that Eden Bowers should be elected as the Speaker. After the election it would seem that Dominica now had two Speakers. However, the Speaker had actually resigned, and this is indicated in the Minutes. This presented a different problem because Rule 4 of the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly provides that when the Speaker's position becomes vacant the Clerk must conduct the election for the Speaker, without the Deputy Speaker taking the chair.
Interestingly, the Hansard recorded that the motion to elect Eden Bowers as Speaker was made by Hon. Prime Minister Mr. O.J. Seraphin, but Hon. O.J Seraphin, who had earlier resigned from the Patrick John government, was recorded present in the Minutes as Member for the Canefield Constituency. It would appear that in the opinion of the Clerk of the House, Dominica, at that time, had two Prime Ministers: one with the duly recognized authority of the President and the other without.
The resignation of the Speaker raised several serious questions, beginning with the legitimacy of the sitting. The Speaker of the House is the only person authorized by the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly to summon an emergency sitting of the House. Standing Order 11(3) specifically provides that "in case of urgency or emergency of which the Speaker shall be the sole judge, a sitting of the House may be summoned on such short notice as he may determine."
The efforts that had been made to ensure the presence of a quorum, which is set at "twelve members besides the person presiding at the sitting," were for naught because the Clerk's announcement indicates that no one was presiding over the House as she made her announcement. Even though there were thirteen members in the chamber there was no quorum.
Then there is the unsettled question of the mace. The mace represents the Executive authority of the President. The newly elected Speaker did not enter the House under the Executive authority of the President, but what followed next was even more egregious.
As soon as the newly elected Speaker called the House back to order the Leader of the Opposition rose for the first item of public business. First, she withdrew a Motion of censure in the Government of Dominica, then she read a communique from a meeting that had been held that very morning that named Jenner Armour as Acting President of Dominica.
The communique was signed by Patrick John, Prime Minister, Arnold Boghaert, Bishop of Roseau and M. Eugenia Charles, Leader of the Opposition. In lieu of her Motion of Censure she then took the extraordinary step of asking that "the elected members be called upon to say whether they are in fact, supporting Patrick John or are prepared to support a caucus of Parliamentarians who will administer the business of Dominica for the benefit of Dominica for the next few months."
The Speaker interjected and asked the elected members to indicate their withdrawal of support from Prime Minister John by a simple show of hands. He announced that there had been "a declaration by everyone." Then one by one nine elected members took to the floor and did as the Leader of the Opposition had asked.
The House was adjourned on the motion of the Leader of the Opposition, and reconvened on Thursday, June 21st. to pass the following motion without debate. The motion was moved by Hon. E.H Francis of Newtown and seconded by Hon. B.J. Louis of Salisbury.
"WHEREAS the Committee for National Salvation has proposed the formation of an Interim Government headed by The Honourable Oliver Seraphin;
AND WHEREAS at the request of the Committee for National Salvation a meeting of Parliamentary Representatives approved the recommendation of the Committee for National Salvation that the said Oliver Seraphin be chosen to head Interim Government;
BE IT NOW RESOLVED THAT this House recommends the appointment of Honourable Oliver Seraphin as Prime Minister of the Interim Government pending the results of a General Election in accordance with the provisions of the Dominica Constitution".
The Hon. Francis was the only one to speak on the motion:
"Mr. Speaker I do not anticipate any debate on this motion, but I think this country has been in turmoil for much too long. This endorsement of the appointment of The Honourable Oliver Seraphin will go a long way in establishing some commencement of the solution that we all seek. We have been negotiating for quite some time, and there have been arguments and counter-arguments, concessions, proposals and otherwise. I, Mr. Speaker, would like to see the actual crystallization of the nucleus or the commencement of a solution. I'd like it to commence and begin to move, so that we can have a solution in this country and return to normalcy within the course of this week for sure. Therefore, I ask his Honourable House to go along with me and let us establish a Constitutional Office of Prime Minister today. Thank you very much".
Did we ever return to normalcy? Here we are today in the throes of a pandemic with our country in a different race to return to normalcy. If nothing else, COVID-19 has taught us that you can't return to normalcy by wishing. Our future is in our hands but it is not under our control. Conditions that we do not choose must be met, and what needs to be done must be done right.
If the Constitution was still in force on July 21, 1979 there are consequences for such flagrant violations of the Constitution. What happened during those two days was a bloodless coup masquerading as a constitutional transfer of power. Instead, for 41 years we have pretended to be a Constitutional Republic.
In 1979 our Parliament - consisting of the Legislative and Executive branches -subjugated the Constitution to the will of an authority that is foreign to the Constitution. Through the Election Petition matter presently before the Court, it appears that that our lawyers are content to subjugate it further to the rules of the regional court.
The power of The People is in the Constitution and it cannot protect us while it remains in tatters in the mud. The Constitution must be formally reinstated.