A bruising battle could be in the making between President of the Senate, Chester Humphrey and Labour Representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Raymond Roberts.
The two were once close comrades in the Trade Union movement but are now bitter political foes with Sen. Humphrey now giving active support to the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
Humphrey is now considered a bitter foe of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) after he was expelled as a member in 2012 at the height of a bitter leadership feud between two rival factions – one led by then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas and the other that reportedly pledged loyalty to former Tourism Minister Peter Davis, now a full-fledged NNP member.
During recent Senate sittings, a number of government members have been seeking to link Sen. Roberts to Congress and singling him out as having political ambitions for the South St. George constituency.
At last week’s sitting of the Upper House, Sen. Roberts once again refused to bow to the demands of Sen. Humphrey to withdraw a document he introduced to the House the previous week during a debate on the Physical Planning and Development Control Bill.
The document which speaks of a company by the name of “Unity House Limited” that was registered on October 21st 2015 offering five hundred thousand shares at $10.00 each shows Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, and his Works Minister Gregory Bowen along with the New National Party Office Manager Marcella Campbell as being the main shareholders.
Sen. Humphrey had asked Sen. Roberts to withdraw the document, but in refusing to do so he opted to walk out of the House claiming that he would not be censored.
During the continuation of the unfinished Senate Meeting last Friday, the Senate President drew Members attention to Standing Order No.42, which speaks of responsibility for order in the House and at Committee stages.
According to Humphrey, it is the President of the Senate and the Chairman in Committee who are responsible for the observance of the rules of order in the Senate and Committee respectively, and their decisions upon any point of order shall not be open to appeal, and shall not be reviewed by the Senate, except upon a substantive motion made after notice.
He informed the House that he needed “to turn to some unfinished business,” which is to address Sen. Roberts and the stand he took at the last sitting.
“On the last occasion, Sen. Roberts, when I gave certain kinds of directions you openly defied the Chair, you openly were contemptuous to the Chair, and, therefore I wish to seek some clarifications from you, and this clarification is simple and straight forward, does not require any long or prolong (answer) just a simple yes or no answer. I wish to find out from you whether or not you will comply with the Standing Orders of the House?” he said.
“I have always complied with the Standing Orders and I will,” replied Sen. Roberts.
Not satisfied with the answer given, Sen. Humphrey said: “I ask you a simple, straight forward question – do you or do you not intend to comply with the Standing Orders of this Senate? It is either yes or no!”
“I shall always comply with the Standing Orders,” Sen. Roberts repeated once more.
Sen. Humphrey then once again called on his Trade Union Colleague to withdraw the document.
“Mr. President I regret to inform you I shall not withdraw the statement,” Sen. Roberts said.
The Senate President informed his Trades Union Colleague that if the document is not withdrawn he will not recognise him, and he will not be allowed to speak at the sitting.
“You can make as much as a contribution that you wish, without restraint of course, once (in) accordance with the rules, but you cannot vacate the rules which says that the President is the one who determines the Standing Order and its application. If you have a difficulty with it there is an appeal procedure which you can use… and you’re repeating again the contempt you committed on the last occasion,” he said.
“If you withdraw it (the document) you can stay, if you can’t withdraw it, I will not recognise you. It is purely a matter for you… You decide which way you want to go, but again you’re repeating the contempt which now would require me at a future date to look at the matter once more,” he added.
Without adding anything, Sen. Roberts quietly packed his bag and left the Senate.
Roberts replaced Humphrey as the Labour Representative in the Senate following the 2013 general elections.
Sources told THE NEW TODAY newspaper that Humphrey was seeking another term as the Senator but the majority of other unions threw their support behind Roberts.
Humphrey was offered the post of President of the Senate about a year later when the holder of the post, Lawrence Joseph stepped down.
The Senate President indicated that it is his duty to maintain high standards in the House, as well as to ensure that the rules are upheld, and to see to it that the decorum and integrity of the House are protected at all times.
“We have an obligation, not only to ourselves, but to all those who follow the proceedings to ensure that the integrity and standards as set in this House are maintained,” he said.
Sen. Humphrey recalled that during his inaugural address when he became President of the Senate, he said in part, “I will faithfully execute the Office of President without fear or favour, affection or ill will, and that in the execution of the functions of that Office, I will honour, uphold and preserve the Constitution of Grenada.”
He said he has always strived to live through that oath, and based on the many accolades and comments he has been receiving from ordinary citizens, Members of Parliament and other Presiding Officers he formed the opinion that he has been fair, balanced, and has maintained the decorum of the House.
“There was a departure from that standard on the last occasion when we met. In fact, a departure which lends itself to what can only be described as contempt of the House, a matter that gravely concerns me,” he said.
Sen. Humphrey warned that every Senator needs to be clear that the House is not a market square, neither is it a meeting place, somewhere near the hump-back bridge in River Road, St. George’s.
“It (the House) is a place of dignity, it’s the place where the laws are made, and if, as (we) law makers do not maintain the decorum that is necessary, and that goes naturally with such authority that we have, then I’m afraid the laws which we pass, and the citizenry may be inclined not to respect those laws, and there are rules, and it is my solemn duty to uphold those rules,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Senate has chastised a certain section of the media for misrepresenting what had transpired during a sitting two weeks ago between himself and Sen. Roberts.
Sen. Humphrey seized the opportunity at the commencement of the continuation of the unfinished Senate Meeting last week Friday to register his disappointment with the two news items.
He said the reports carried by both FLOW CC6 and GBN conveyed the view the Chair had requested an apology from a certain member of the House.
Both FLOW CC6 News and GBN News reported that Sen. Humphrey had asked Sen. Roberts to apologise to the House for a document he introduced during his contribution to the debate on the Physical Planning and Development Control Bill.
However, Sen. Humphrey had asked the Labour Representative to withdraw the document, which showed Prime Minister Mitchell, his Works Minister, and another person Marcella Campbell as shareholders of “Unity House Limited”.
When Sen. Roberts referred to the company, there were murmurs from the Government Side in the Senate that the business was set up to facilitate the construction of the NNP’s head office on Upper Lucas Street.
The Senate President disclosed that both the Clerk of Parliament Willan Thompson, and himself wrote both media houses pointing to the inaccuracy and misinformation contained in their news items and requested the necessary corrections.
“I am happy to report, Honourable Members, that on this occasion both media houses responded, both media houses offered corrections to the misinformation which was sent and, to me, that represents progress.
But I wish to repeat for the media, that you have an obligation to report accurately, and where there is doubt a simple connection with the Clerk for a review of the Hansard could be had,” he remarked.
“That is the principle of fairness, accuracy and balance,” he said.
Sen. Humphrey stated that the privilege afforded to the media to report from the Senate is based on principles, which are universally recognised and known, but that media accreditation to the Senate is at the pleasure of the Chair.