COMMENTARY: Speaker Sir Gerald Watt Was Wrong

Speaker on his feet May 2020

by     Charlesworth C. M. Tabor, Attorney-at-Law


I am sure there is no one in Antigua and Barbuda who is not aware of the fiasco that transpired in Parliament on Thursday 14th May, 2020 between the Speaker of the House Sir Gerald Watt and the Leader of the Opposition Jamale Pringle. For those who are not aware of the facts that gave rise to the parliamentary fiasco I will briefly outline the facts.


A few weeks ago the Prime Minister made a public announcement that he was establishing an Economic Recovery Committee (ERC). The function of the ERC is to formulate plans to stimulate and diversify the economy to address the fallout from the covid 19 pandemic.


In his public announcement, the Prime Minister made it quite pellucid that he was inviting the Opposition Leader to be a member of the ERC because of his constitutional position as Opposition Leader and that it was inevitable that he did so by virtue of that position. The Prime Minister as usual was wrong in his pronouncement because the only constitutionally obligated position that the Opposition Leader has to serve on is the Public Accounts Committee, of which he would be the Chair. Moreover, the ERC was not established as a Parliamentary Committee but was established by the Prime Minister on his own volition.


All the issues surrounding the public invitation (and subsequent written invitation) by the Prime Minister to the Opposition Leader to join the ERC; and the Opposition Leader’s reasons for declining to be a member of the ERC have been fully ventilated in the media and are well known, therefore I will not focus on them here. My sole focus in this article will be on why the Speaker of the House was wrong in not granting permission to the Leader of the Opposition to make a personal explanation to the Parliament.


In the sitting of Parliament on Thursday 14th May, 2020 under the heading of Personal Explanation on the Order of Business, the Leader of the Opposition rose to his feet and announced to the Speaker that he wanted to provide a personal explanation to the House as to why he declined to participate in the ERC established by the Prime Minister.


With respect to personal explanations by Members of Parliament this is what Erskine May had to say in his authoritative text on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament and I quote “In regard to the explanation of personal matters, the House is usually indulgent, and will permit a statement of that character to be made without any question being before the House provided that the Speaker has been informed of what the Member proposes to say, and has given leave.”


When the Leader of the Opposition informed the Speaker that he wished to make a personal explanation and what the personal explanation would be about, he would have discharged the first requirement to facilitate his request. The second requirement to facilitate the request would have been the granting of leave by the Speaker. Although the Speaker has complete discretion over whether to grant or refuse permission to a Member to give a personal explanation, this permission is invariably granted since the Speaker should be as indulgent as possible. And this indulgence shoud be even moreso when the Member (Leader of the Opposition) is the sole member of his Party in Parliament as obtains in the current situation.


There are those who seem to think that a personal explanation require advance notice and therefore the Speaker was right not to allow the Leader of the Opposition to provide his personal explanation because no advance notice was given. No advance notice is required. All that is required is that the Speaker should have an idea of the subject matter of the personal explanation. In the instant case, the Leader of the Opposition indicated to him the subject matter of his personal explanation which would have been a rebuttal of the statement by the Prime Minister appointing him to the ERC.


However, the most troubling and astounding part of the whole fiasco, was the reasoning given by the Speaker for his refusal to grant permission to the Leader of the Opposition to give his personal explanation. The reasoning of the Speaker was most flawed and given the fact that he has been Speaker for almost 6 years and is an eminent lawyer of long standing, his flawed reasoning either smacks of senility or is a case of pure malice. The latter of course I do not accept to be the case.


Now, let us look closely at the reasoning of the Speaker. In denying the request of the Leader of the Opposition to make a personal explanation, the Speaker submitted that the explanation was directed at a statement that was made outside of Parliament and therefore could not be allowed. The Speaker was clearly wrong on that submission. A personal explanation can be made on any matter once the matter is personal to the Member and is in reference to his capacity as a Member of the House. The matter does not have to relate to something said in the House (as the Speaker was erroneously suggesting). The matter could be something said outside of the House (as the Prime Minister’s statement was). The Speaker was, therefore, DEAD WRONG when he said that the Leader of the Opposition could not give a personal explanation on a matter (statement) that occurred outside of the House.


Similarly, the Speaker was again DEAD WRONG when he said that personal explanations have to do with a Member informing the House of a change in Party affiliation or any similar procedural matters. Personal explanations can be provided on any matter once the matter touches and concerns a Member of the House in his capacity as a Member of the House.


Does one have to be an Einstein, when presented with the facts of this matter, to come to the conclusion that the statement made by the Prime Minister outside of the House, directly touches and concerns the Leader of the Opposition? So as to dispel any doubt about that I shall repeat the Prime Minister’s statement. The Prime Minister publicly declared on his radio station Pointe FM that Jamale Pringle, Leader of the Opposition, was invited by him to be a member of the ERC because of his constitutional position as Leader of the Opposition. Following the rejection of the Prime Minister’s invitation by the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister then engaged in his usual spin and false narrative. In that regard, he accused the Leader of the Opposition of being guilty of a dereliction of his duty and also of being unpatriotic. Such utter nonsense could only come from the mouth of the Prime Minister.


The point that I am making in this article is that the Speaker of the House was wrong in refusing to give the Leader of the Opposition the opportunity to make a personal explanation. I have indicated that the two grounds upon which the Speaker relied to justify his refusal were incorrect and not supported by any procedural parliamentary or legal basis.


The fiasco in Parliament on the 14th day of May, 2020 was rather unfortunate and could have been avoided if the Speaker was on the top of his game. The whole procedure should have been quite simple. The Speaker should have allowed the personal explanation by the Leader of the Opposition and then the Prime Minister would have been given an opportuinity to reply (if he so chooses since the personal explanation was about a statement he made). That would have been the end of the matter and no debate would follow since debates are not allowed on personal explanation.


The Speaker of the House, Sir Gerald Watt, despite his knowledge and experience messed up big time. I can only hope that this does not happen again in the House.



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  1. ONE SIDED Tabor You are wrong. Tabor you never blamed the UPP for anything. You Guys are not helping Pringle. You Guys are helping Pringle to FAILURE. This is wrong Tabor. Please guide Pringle along the RIGHT path.

    • In my layperson opinion Mr. Tabor has given his reasons why Gerald Watt was wrong. You have stated that Tabor is wrong but you have failed to give even one reason for your statement. Contrary to what appears to be popular blogging tactics on this site “because I said so it is so” does not stand up in a debate forum or a court of law. Tell us why exactly, beyond the UPP criticism, Mr. Tabor is wrong.

  2. My take on this issue is as follows where the opposition is so limited the speaker should give that such minority as much latitude as is permissible. Such minority should not be limited by time to speak because he can speak until the cows comes home the Is will always have it.

    1 Sir Gerald himself spoke about D Gisel Isaac on matters that was not before the house.
    2 Minister of Education spoke at length about the Ebooks saga and that issue was not before the house.
    3 Mr G Browne spoke at length about Observer Media Group that issue was not before the house.
    4 Asot Michael spoke poetically about his near death experience that to was not before the house.
    5 Sir Gerald himself spoke about the standing orders at length that issue was not before the house either.

    Let the lone minority talk until he get white squall it will not affect nothing.

  3. “In regard to the explanation of personal matters, the House is usually indulgent, and will permit a statement of that character to be made without any question being before the House provided that the Speaker has been informed of what the Member proposes to say, and has given leave.”

    hmm I see Tabor ignores the Proviso. He also ignores that the personal matter according to Erkskin May relates to a matter currently before the parliament. Its about for eg. clearing up a wrong impression which may have been given by something he earlier stated ir parliamement. In Jamaica the standing orders make clear that it cannot be controversial and he/she will need the leave of both the speaker and the house (indulgence) see chapter 8 . Brethren its clear why Watt is a QC and you have to resort to call in programs and letters to the media houses.


  4. ALL AROUND where is wrong sided Tabor wrong. In my article l said that the Speaker of the House was wrong to refuse to grant permission to Pringle to make a personal explanation. Show me where the decision of the Speaker was right and then we can have a discussion. Stop making statements without any factual basis.

  5. TENMAN are you serious? A matter on a personal explanation can relate to anything whether said inside or outside of Parliament once the matter is in reference to a Member as a Member of Parliament. I would suggest that you reread my article because f you read it correctly you would not level that criticism against me. In fact, that was once of the reasons given by the Speaker for not allowing the personal explanation ie it was on a matter said outside of Parliament. The Speaker was wrong.

    • I know you enjoy being contentious as a method for seeking attention. Perhaps because I am first born, have never needed to seek attention hence been told I was spoiled. Again you yourself admitted its a decision for the speaker to make. You then interjected that he should have said yes, though your quote makes clear he has the right to say no. Its like you have decided to go against Erskine May and suggest that the speaker has no choice. The usual indulgence mentioned is that OF THE HOUSE (the members) and of something that speaker has allowed (sorry for the caps but ANR does not allow users to bold or place portions in red). Again Erskine May never said its usually allowed by the speaker, that’s your flawed interpretation. Also what’s usual for 1844 (when the book was published) may not be usual now. Part of the role of the speaker is to ensure persons stick to the subject at hand and hence members time is not wasted. As you well know these are not ordinary times due to covid hence time for parliament has more restrictions due to members being forced to wear masks. Go and examine how the speaker dealt with Minister Micheal during that very session. The PM never mentioned the issue in parliament hence the speaker was correct in ruling this was a matter for outside of parliament. If you were to examine the examples provided in the section in Erskine May about personal explanations, they all relate to matters before parliament see A Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, pg 330 – 333. Also note it also falls under the chapter 11 relating to debates. Tabor, I am off to go do some real work. Just hope sense will one day come your way

  6. JEB I know you can speak for yourself and do not need any support from me. However, I am compelled to say how correct and rational your comment is. I see this forum as a platform for debate and useful exchange of ideas, but many of the commenters in here focus on attacking the messenger and not the message. I gave reasons why the Speaker Sir Gerald Watt was wrong in refusing to give permission to Mr. Pringle to make a personal explanation. However, as you rightly said instead of giving reasons to challenge my view, you have people like Tenman and others just sprouting pure nonsense.

  7. Who is this Tabor guy anyway? I don’t know him and don’t want to know him. He seems to dominate and pontificate. Methinks he thinks he knows a lot. How come he thinks he know so much??? Is he a politician or something?

    • He suppose to be a lawyer but Looks like law aint working out for him so he ah try one thing inna politricks to bad fu he cause I cannot see this guy has a future in that venture. Maybe he should take up writing and most importantly pray to God

  8. KRISTI you are making me laugh anyway this comment is for TENMAN and his usual nonsense. Please look at the other examples where the Speaker allowed a Member to make a personal explanation and ask yourself why he should have refused in the case of Pringle. I believe you should be aware of all the previous examples so I would not even try to assist you with any. By the way, even though the Speaker has the discretion to refuse or grant permission for a personal explanation, invariably it is not refused and the reasons the Speaker gave were all flawed. Please show me where he was correct in his reasoning in refusing permission. That is all I want to hear from you. I take it you should be an intelligent person since you either work for the FSRC or serve on the Board. Let’s see that intelligence at work.

  9. TENMAN for your elucidation I will give you an example from Erskine May where a request for a personal explanation was refused. This is the case —- an explanation of reflections made outside the House upon a Member in a capacity other than that of a Member of Parliament has been ruled out of order. Now follow the logic TENMAN, once a statement is made about a Member whether outside or inside the HOUSE, once the statement is in reference to the Member as a Member of the HOUSE, the Member has a right to respond by a personal explanation. I hope you can follow the logic of this argument and it is not beyond your comprehension. The Prime Minister’s statement was made outside the HOUSE about his invitation to Jamale Pringle to be a member of the ERC. He went as far as to say that Jamale Pringle was constitutionally obligated by virtue of his office as Leader of the Opposition. Now tell me isn’t the Prime Minister’s statement about Pringle as a member of the HOUSE. It is on the basis of the latter why Pringle had the right to respond by a personal explanation in the HOUSE. I hope the issue is now clearer to you.

  10. Karma is a ….. I see you think I could have a future in writing. Thanks for the commendation. Anyway, just to inform you I have no interest in politics whatsoever. I am a lawyer and comment on legal issues when I am motivated to do so. Two such cases in point are when I pointed out the the Regulations to govern our conduct under the state of public emergency was unlawfully passed and the present case of the flawed reasoning of the Speaker of the House in refusing to allow Pringle to give a personal explanation. Am I wrong to do that? Why are you condemning me to do so. Grow up guys.

  11. I certainly will not dispute or debate whether or not the Speaker was right…. And moreso, let us give Pringle the benefit of the doubt that the Speaker was wrong….. The issue of contention was not about the Speaker but it was how the leader of the opposition, Mr Jemaul Pringle handle the matter after he was denied to give a personal explanation. Clearly Jamaul lost his cool and yes the Speaker triggered him off. However, Jamaul’s reaction was certainly not warranted by speaking to the speaker in that manner….. The house of parliament is govern by rules & regulations and a code of conduct is one of them. The speaker himself, as head of the house automatically commands respect inspite of the fact that he might be percieved in a particular manner… Pringle should be disciplined….. There is a time & place for everything….. If he did not get justice at that time when he needed it, aleast he could perhaps use another platform or forum to express his concerns….. I have learnt that when one door closes another one is always open…..

  12. Bluddy Bloke you are absolutely correct. The Speaker was wrong to refuse permission to Pringle to give the personal explanation. I have said in another post on this medium that Pringle can also be blamed for his response to the Speaker. In many cases it is not what you say but how you say it. I personally believe that Pringle could have been a bit more tempered and diplomatic in his response. I guessed he lost his cool after wrongfully denied permission for his personal explanation by the Speaker. The Speaker’s reaction as well certainly left much to be desired.

  13. Mr. Tabor, I am not legally minded as you are and hence i will certainly not debate whether the speaker was right or wrong in denying Mr. Pringle, the leader of the opposition, the right to offer his personal explanation….. However, two wrongs cannot make a right…..! I must admit, that I admire you sharing the view publicly, that Mr. Pringle could be more diplomatic in responding to the Speaker. The house of parliament is a sacred place where all parliamentarians should respect… As honourable persons, their code of conduct which includes their choice of words, body language, mannerism etc should be at its best. Unlike others who may choose to verbally attack you perhaps bcuz you are percieved to be defending the opposition, I personally think that you are entitled to your own opinion based on your own personal convictions and that much we should all respect….. However, I observed that many of the UPP hierarchy are attacking the speaker’s action also and overlooking or saying very little about the behaviour of Mr. Pringle…. This in my view is not good for our politics and moreso for the younger ones who are aspiring to become astute politicians….. These debates take place in the public’s eye…… The young, old, man, woman, boy & girl are all watching or listening on TV, social media or the radio. I assume we all want the best for this nation…..Now, whether we are supporters of one political party or the other, WRONGS, should not be condoned and it should be denounced immediately when it happens…… Likewise, RESPECT should be given where respect is due. It will only benefit us more as nation that we are proud of.

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