FILE PHOTO:Rev. Dr. William Watty
FILE PHOTO:Rev. Dr. William Watty

By Rev. Dr. William Watty

Call me chauvinist, call me neanderthal, call me ante-diluvian, I don't mind; but there is no outcome more pathetic than when "woman day come at last", you end up with is a puppet, shouting her head off, but with her jaws being opened and closed by a ventriloquist who, lo and behold! is a man. Lest that day overtake us unawares, if it is not already here, I would advise that the glass-ceiling be reinforced ten-fold and made impregnable against the worst calamity that could afflict our Commonwealth.

I listened in to the most recent Parliamentary debate and observed again the antics and the tactics of the Speaker of the House. It was not possible for me to listen throughout, but I heard enough to be convinced that we have a problem, and our refusal to come to terms with it in a sober and rational way can only compound it, for I find it difficult to believe that the Speaker does not know what she is doing, or what she intends by her partisan direction of the Proceedings in our Honorable House. Take, for instance, the timing of her interventions, which usually occur when contributions are being made from the Opposition Side. Just at that point when, what I consider to be a fair but stinging criticism is getting close to the bone, I murmur "Here she comes" and, like clockwork, the psychic-without-equal chimes in about "imputing improper motives", interrupting the man's speech just when he should be allowed to continue and deflecting the argument. Consternation and frustration overtakes the speaker and no matter how much he might try respectfully to brush aside the interruption and move on, the Speaker of the House hangs on, and will not let go, with her remonstrations and admonitions until the poor victim loses his cool and falls into her trap. He forgets all about the criticism he rose to make and begins altercating with her, which is just what she wanted. Having succeeded in her ploy, she then re-asserts her authority as Speaker of the House, abruptly adjourns the heated exchange and bludgeons the confused member into silence, leaving the point he was hoping to make hanging in the air. "Woman day here!"

To the discerning listener, the tactics are not merely unacceptable, they are cruel; but such is our political culture and climate that just to expose the trickery is to risk being identified, conveniently, with the Party in Opposition and therefore dismissed as being also partisan or, as the case may be, of earning the jibe of "Sour Grapes", all of which is the typical way of refusing to come to terms with a serious problem staring us in the face, which is making a mockery of our Parliamentary Democracy.

Let me therefore digress a little and clarify my political position, once and for all. I make no apology for declaring that I am in opposition (a small "o" please, Mr. Editor). From the approach to, and conduct of, the General Elections of 2009, I took the deliberate decision that, as my political contribution, I would appoint myself a watchman with a focus on the Party in power, having made the clear distinction between being in opposition and being allied to the Party in Opposition. For those of you who are unable to grasp the distinction, I am sorry, but that is your problem, not mine; and should any Member of the United Workers Party imagine that there is no difference, and that because I am in opposition I am with their Party, let them win the next General Elections (as I fervently hope they will), and let them also wallow in the decadent political culture that presently prevails, and they will discover how UWP I am. Political partisanship and political patronage are the twin curses of Dominican politics. Everybody, I say everybody, is in it for what she/he can get out of it; but when the curse is blatant and open in the highest decision-making body of our nation, it becomes intolerable and is an insult that the rest of us do not deserve. It is not fair to Dominica and it must stop.

So to return to the Speaker and her performance there was, on the last day of the sittings, a juncture at which the Prime Minister charged the Leader of the Opposition with a misdemeanor, whereupon the Leader of the Opposition rose on a Point of Order to insist that the charge was untrue. Instead of calling upon the Prime Minister to prove the veracity of his allegation or withdraw it, the Speaker simply sat there in her Chair, hemming and hawing, and giving the Prime Minister enough time to wriggle out of his dilemma, neither withdrawing the accusation nor being able to prove it, and then wheel around 1800 to lambast the Leader of the Opposition savagely for giving what he cannot take. It was a most disgraceful exhibition of Parliamentary procedure for which I hold the Speaker's captivity to partisanship entirely responsible. She could not be firm, because she was subservient, and could not be fair because she was beholden. Tommy Tucker only sang for his supper, but for his banquet it was descant against the Opposition and silence for the Government.

The tragedy is that it did not have to go that way so far. With another kind of Speaker, our Parliament could have shone as an honorable House with debates conducted, however spiritedly, with becoming dignity, decency and decorum. On the whole I have been impressed with the quality of the contributions, from both sides of the House and, if I may say so, from both genders. I do not know any Member of our Parliament who wishes to besmirch the prestige of the House, or lower the standard of the debates. I can see and understand that the persistent harassment and maligning of the Leader of the Opposition stems from an innate fear lest his quick and easy grasp of the issues, his superior talent for articulation and communication and, above all his giving of no quarters and expectation of no favors, combine to make him too formidable an opponent with whom to contend, and with him is a Team, all of whom, like him, novices but none a pushover. As to the Government side, there must be a creeping anxiety, that they have now passed the summit. They have had a long innings, but it cannot go on forever. The Maximum Leader, upon whom their fortunes entirely depend, must eventually either tire and graciously withdraw, or else lose his shine and fall. It is only a matter of time. And therefore, whether we like it or not, there is a Leadership-crisis in the making, and it is nothing to do with the Member for Roseau South. For the first time, in a long time, a strange combination of circumstances has leveled what once looked like a sloping playing field because of a numerical imbalance. What we therefore do not need at this time is a Speaker of the House who does not know, or does not care to remember, the scope and the limits of her appointment, which are, put very simply, that she must know and respect the rules, she must be firm and she must, above all, be fair in her ruling and over-ruling. Therefore let not a report on a threat to her person becloud or shelve or sideline the problem that exists. That report hopefully has been lodged at the Police Headquarters for further, fuller and hopefully a successful investigation. Nor let us, above all, be carried away by the illusion that women's day has come if, on that glorious day, lo and behold!, it is a man, a skilful ventriloquist, who is pulling the strings and manipulating his puppet, without so much as moving his lips.