Time for a female Speaker?
March 3, 2020

Time for a female Speaker?

The House of Assembly of St Vincent and the Grenadines is about to get a new Speaker. The new Speaker will be this country’s 10th since independence in 1979. All of them, like their predecessors in the period before independence, were male.

The election of a new Speaker has been occasioned by the resignation of the latest office holder, Jomo Sanga Thomas, effective February 29, 2020. Thomas had announced his impending resignation late last year, simultaneously cutting his links with the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP), on whose slate of candidates he contested the last general elections in the South Leeward constituency.

Frankly it is sad to see to witness the departure of Mr Thomas because he has distinguished himself as one of the best holders of that distinguished office. It is even more regrettable that he has chosen to leave at this time during the last year of the present Parliament. With elections virtually on our doorsteps, parliamentary sittings can become quite contentious and it would have been good to have the steadying hand of an experienced Speaker.

It is only fair to say that in his tenure in office, Mr Thomas has striven to exercise his duties without fear or favour, sometimes in difficult circumstances, risking the wrath of some Parliamentarians, prone to bullying tactics. In this, his performance stands out among that of several of his predecessors, some of whom were quite willing to let the government bench get its way, while others were so undistinguished that they are hardly remembered.

To his credit, the departing Speaker insisted on respect for the authority of the Speaker and even when he erred was not afraid to say so. He has deservedly won the respect, though grudgingly in some cases, of both sides of Parliament and will surely be missed. We bid farewell to him and wish him best of luck in his future endeavours.

There has been some speculation of his future political role for he is undoubtedly politically ambitious. Having had his early political experiences with the United People’s Movement, once led by Prime Minister Gonsalves, he returned home after his sojourn abroad where he completed his law studies. He became an outspoken critic of the ULP and became one of the principal leaders of the short-lived Movement for Change. Thomas later joined the ULP, becoming a Senator and was then elected Speaker.

His departure is bound to fuel speculation about a possible successor. It will be no easy task for the new Speaker and will surely test his/her mettle. We made the point in our opening paragraph that all previous Speakers have been male. Surely there must be women in our society, sufficiently qualified, mature and independent of mind to accept the challenge. What about an announcement to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day (IWD) about a female nominee for the post, particularly if the support from both sides of the House can be obtained? That would surely be a wonderful IWD gesture!