The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) staged a walk out of parliament today, June 20 in protest of what it said was the “spiteful and vindictive” behaviour exhibited by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet.
The opposition members exited the second debate sitting on the Appropriation Bill shortly after a presentation by member for Laborie Alva Baptiste, and moments after the prime minister rose to close the debate.
The SLP held a press conference to address the matter later in the day.
Leader of the Opposition Philip J Pierre told the conference that the walk-out seemed necessary after a number of lines were crossed by the prime minister.
One of them, according to him, was the “first time” a government’s first budget debate was adjourned by 40 days. Pierre said such a move has “serious implications for the country.”
“We can only say that it was adjourned because of spitefulness and vindictiveness and the prime minister wants to make a point that he is in charge,” he said.
Furthermore, Pierre accused Chastanet of refusing to allow four senior members of his government to speak on matters of national interest at the House sitting. He said these members include former prime minister Stephenson King and Agriculture Minister Ezechiel Joseph.
“It is convention and normal that after an opposition member speaks, a member of the government responds. Again, we came willing and able to speak to the issues of the budget but the prime minister, in his normal vindictive and spiteful manner, because he has the power of rebuttal, refuses to allow four senior members of his government to speak,” Pierre said.
“We wanted to hear from Mr King; what is the state of the Gros Islet Highway? What is the state of the Hewanorra Airport? The prime minister did not allow Mr. Stephenson King to speak,” Pierre argued.
He was adamant that the SLP will not allow the prime minister “to run roughshod over us”.
“We have said to the government that we are not against St. Lucia. We have a responsibility to St. Lucia; 37,000 people voted for us. We want to defend these people… We want St. Lucia to progress. We want St. Lucia to advance. But the government is callous,[and] it holds the opposition in contempt… and it believes in victimisation,” the SLP leader said.
“The point that we are making is that we did not stay in the parliament this morning. We did not give the prime minister the courtesy of listening to him because he has showed utter contempt and disregard for the people of St. Lucia and the parliament of St. Lucia. The parliament does not belong to the prime minister,” Pierre stated.
Meanwhile, Chastanet, in responding to claims that he broke conventions at the House sitting by not allowing the opposition an opportunity to speak following the Laborie member’s presentation, said that when given the chance, no one chose to speak and because of this he closed the debate.
He argued that based on the House of Assembly’s standing orders there is no speaking order.
“So generally, we have said, if in fact we have eleven [members] and they have six then two of my people would go to one of theirs. So if you take that mathematics and apply to the fact that we have done seven already, they’re two speakers behind,” he said.
Chastanet accused members of the SLP of both adhering and abandoning conventions when it suits them.