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Don't cry for Alix Boyd-Knights, the constantly berated Speaker of Dominica's House of Assembly. She's doing her job extremely well and hence Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) continues to rate her at Grade A. So the party (don't fool yourself, it is never Parliament that "appoints" Speakers) has kept Speaker Boyd-Knights in that position for 16 years.

And Honourable Boyd- Knights loves her job too. So do not expect her to resign or turn down an offer for another term starting in three years, if the DLP wins another general election. In our view Speaker Knights has that job for as long as she desires, during Skerrit's time in power, because there's no one else in Dominica who can perform as efficiently and decisively in the position of Speaker of Parliament, when Mr. Skerrit is that person who appoints the Speaker.

If you are a prime minister who wants to continue to be in charge of cabinet, parliament, head of state and every other major institution in the Dominica you want someone of the calibre of Alix Boyd-Knights to be your Speaker. We are sorry, but that's the level of power that our flawed Constitution offers a prime minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica. And Mr. Skerrit knows how to use the Constitution extremely well.

And don't ever think that Alix Boyd-Knights' job is easy. To keep a lid on opposition parliamentarians' so-called disruptive behaviour in the House is a difficult task indeed, not one for the faint-hearted. And by the way the Speaker deserves every penny she receives as remuneration from the State despite the fact that the House of Assembly meets so infrequently. Since Speaker Boyd- Knights is very efficient, Prime Minister Skerrit, we believe, is able to sleep at ease at nights knowing that there will be no unexpected revolt in the House.

But seriously, the Speaker of the Dominica House of Assembly has an impossible job. People expect the Speaker to preside fairly and impartially over a system that is inherently unfair. Since the Speaker is appointed by the DLP (more correctly, the Prime Minister) if Boyd-Knights is to act in anyway contrary to the objectives of the DLP, how long do you think she would have kept her job? Definitely not for 16 years.

This, in our view, is a basic explanation for a state of affairs in which the Speaker is repeatedly under fire from members of the opposition, the United Workers Party (UWP), for what the party describes as disrespectful, biased and 'un-parliamentary' behaviour. At last Monday's meeting of Parliament Speaker Knights clashed again with the opposition; this time with Danny Lugay, the Roseau North Member of Parliament who said a few un-parliamentary words to her. But you could see that Lugay was frustrated by the Speaker's efficiency. Nothing escapes her attention. She was doing her job and MPs like Lugay should understand that there's a significant difference between "what should" be the Speaker's job and "what is" a Speaker's job, a person who is appointed by a political party obsessed with staying in power. Sorry, but in our view that's how the system works in Dominica. Don't blame Speaker Knights; blame the ridiculous system that we inherited and we have refused to adjust no matter how many legal luminaries advise us to.

The Speaker and the opposition have clashed repeatedly throughout Boyd-Knights 16-year tenure. For instance, during the November 2010 meeting of the House of Assembly, the UWP and the Speaker locked horns. The issue involved Speaker Boyd-Knights' insistence that explanations that the opposition sought from the government ministers, particularly from the Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit about his many visits overseas, were inappropriate. Her rationale is that the questions violated Rule 23(1) of the Standing Orders of the House.

Invariably, that is always the problem between Speaker Boyd-Knights and the opposition- her interpretations of the opposition's violations of the rules. Obviously Speaker Boyd-Knights knows Standing Orders much better than the inexperienced UWP parliamentarians (after all, she's been using that little book for 16 years) and so at every opportunity she mercilessly drives her points of disagreement home when opposition members of parliament seem to cross the line. Amazingly, members of Parliament on the government's side of the House seem to have "complete" understanding of Standing Orders because so they rarely seem to cross the line. So it seems.

But the public must be reminded that Boyd-Knights is not the first Speaker of Dominica's House of Assembly whose impartiality has been challenged by the opposition. Apparently, it is part of the game that Dominican politicians play, especially when they sit on the opposition's side of Parliament. You may recall that during the period from 1995 - 2000 the DLP, at that time in opposition, relentlessly attacked Speaker Ossie Symes (appointed by the UWP) on that same basis-biasness towards the opposition. Once during a contentious debate Symes said he was, like Pontius Pilate, washing his hands. But the late Symes was no Alix Boyd-Knights.

In our view, the antagonism between the Speaker and the opposition will continue unless Dominica finds a more nonpartisan method of appointing the Speaker of the House of Assembly. There must be a way to force a Speaker to be impartial and that should not depend on her concept of fair play. Presently, the Constitution gives a prime minister the prerogative of selecting a Speaker so he picks someone that he can trust, someone who would not suddenly turn around and shoot in his goal. So do not blame Skerrit for applying the rules, blame the faulty rules.

In parliamentary democracies like Dominica, the Speaker is expected to ensure the orderly and effective functioning of the legislative arm of government. In a speech delivered a few years ago Sir Brian Alleyne underscored that point when he said that the Speaker is the "servant" of the Parliament, not its master, and speaks "as the House is pleased to direct." But, one may ask, who, in practice (not theory) directs the House? Is it the Prime Minister who appoints the Speaker?

We argue that the neutrality of the Speaker, any Speaker, is a myth, an ideal, an expectation that is impractical in the current extreme party political division in Dominica. There is a fundamental contradiction between what is theoretically expected from Speakers of the House of Assembly in the Westminster system of Government and what exists in practice in Dominica today.

In other words if Dominicans want an impartial Speaker in the future they need to re-examine the Constitution and put therein rules that forces the Speaker to act independently. Don't depend on her sense of fair play. Or, alternatively, find another way of appointing the Speaker of the House of Assembly.


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