by G.A.Dwyer Astaphan
On the afternoon of May 18, 2023, Member of Parliament for the St. Peter Constituency in Antigua, Mr. Asot Michal was suspended from the Parliament for the next three sittings.
Mr. Michael was, at the time, on his feet, delivering what I thought to be a very incisive, well reasoned and significant presentation on a Bill relating to prosecutorial powers of the Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
He was passionate, articulate, and on point, punching hard and punching clean.
And he was making some people uncomfortable. The head shots that he was throwing were making some people dizzy.
Reportedly, during the morning portion of the sitting Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin and one Gaston Browne had tried to rattle Mr. Michael with interruptions, and cross talk, and and their punishment was a tap on the wrist by House Speaker, Gerald Watt.
Now as Mr. Michael addressed the House in the afternoon, Mr. Benjamin rose on a point of order to say that Mr. Michael was reading his speech. Despite Mr. Michael’s defence that he was simply referring to his “copious notes”, the Speaker took Mr. Benjamin’s point and ordered Mr. Michael to stop reading. The Speaker also said that he had observed Mr. Michael reading his speech during the morning but had said nothing, but, as Speaker Gerald Watts declared, “the buck stops now”.
Some questions: How many years has Mr. Watts been Speaker, 9 years? How many times over the years had he ‘seen’ Mr. Michael ‘reading’ his speech over the past 9 years? How many times has he ordered Mr. Michael to stop reading his speeches over the past 9 years, and when did Speaker Watts start ordering Mr. Michael to do so? Might this muscular and totally uncalled for approach by the Speaker towards Mr. Michael have been triggered by recent events?
The people of Antigua & Barbuda need to get these questions answered because if for a simple and relatively harmless thing like that we see an escalation to the Speaker ordering a person who is elected by the people of your country to represent thousands to be thrown out of Parliament, then there is a real problem.
A well prepared member can have copious notes and can refer to them frequently.
But from ordering him to stop reading, the Speaker, now having clearly lost his way and his composure, decided to have Mr. Michael named, and suspended, but the proper procedure to do so was not followed. He should have called upon a member of the House to put a motion, but that didn’t happen, and this is one reason, in my opinion, Mr. Michael will win his case if he brings it to Court. And the folly of the Speaker and those who went along with him will cause them all to swallow their own political spit.
Contributing to the Speaker’s anger was Mr. Michael’s comment, made after the action had begun, that he, the Speaker, was biased and a mercenary. Mr. Michael should not have made that comment, but still it was not something that rose to the level of justifying naming and suspension. He was no threat to anybody or to the peaceful proceedings of the House. This was not an aggravated situation that would justify what was done to Mr. Michael, and, through him, to the people of St. Peter’s and, indeed, to parliamentary democracy in Antigua & Barbuda and the region.
Suspended for three sittings! That could keep Mr. Michael out of the House for weeks, maybe months!
And if bad judgment is repeated, on a second occasion he could be suspended for six sittings. Six!
Mr. Michael needs to get this matter into the Court as soon as possible and his supporters need to peacefully picket the House to show their unhappiness with what has been done to their representative and to them. Indeed, all right-minded Antiguans and Barbudans need to do so because this is an attack on all, not just on Mr. Michael and his constituents. Further, the region needs to speak out and condemn this act.
Looks like dey ‘fraid Asot.
I can’t end this without scolding the Opposition. While they may have thought, and if so, rightly so (in my opinion) that the action to suspend Mr. Michael was in breach of the rules, they should nevertheless have demanded a division on the motion to suspend, so that the whole country, and the whole world could hear, and the record would show, how each and every member of the House voted on that motion.
It could have caused some interesting responses. And in any event, it would have been the right and strategic thing to do.