January 24, 2014
Poor judgment – Sir James

A former prime minister, who once wound up debate on the national Budget before any member of the then Opposition had spoken, says the opposition members of Parliament exercised poor judgment on Tuesday, when they did not rise and make a contribution to the debate.{{more}}

Sir James Mitchell, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, said when he was prime minister, he once wound up the Budget debate even before Sir Vincent Beache, who was then Leader of the Opposition, had spoken. “I delivered my thing, and at that time, the Opposition Leader did not have to lead the response.

“They were there waiting and waiting, and the Speaker called on them, and after the Speaker called twice, nobody would get up. They were watching one another, so I got up and wound up the debate,” Sir James said.

The former prime minister could not recall the exact date that the incident took place, but said it was early in the life of the New Democratic Party (NDP) administration, certainly before present Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves had entered Parliament.

Mitchell’s account is supported by Sir Vincent, as well as present Speaker of the House of Assembly Hendrick Alexander, who was an Opposition senator at the time.

“We hesitated in terms of debating, and then Mitchell wrapped up the thing,” Alexander told SEARCHLIGHT Wednesday.

According to Alexander, the incident took place in 1985.

Sir Vincent recalls that the Parliamentary Opposition was blamed for what happened.

“We got hell for it, the Opposition. We got blamed…,” he said.

“He (Mitchell) got up as Leader of the House and wrapped up.”

Earlier this week, after the Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace had made his contribution to the budget debate, no one, either on the government or opposition benches, rose when the Speaker called three times for further debate.

“No further debate? Honorable Prime Minister, I invite you to wind up,” Alexander said, after no one rose to speak.

As Prime Minister Gonsalves rose and began his wind up speech, the Opposition members packed their bags and left the Assembly chamber.

Sir James Mitchell, commenting on what transpired, said the Opposition is totally at fault.

“It is foolish, it shows very, very poor judgment on the part of the Leadership of the Opposition, to allow that to happen to them,” he said in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday.

He dismissed claims by opposition parliamentarians that they were waiting on government parliamentarians to make their presentations first, so that they could respond.

“That is nonsense. Nothing says that anybody should speak in the Parliament. There is no order about who should speak or anything like that,” Sir James said.

“They are totally at fault, they have no excuse. That is only a lame excuse. So what happens, if no one from the Government speaks, you will never reply? You have a responsibility to respond to what is in the budget presented by the Prime Minister, not just by the speeches of the other side. You are replying to the presentation made by the Government,” he said.

“It’s painful with these guys. When I heard that, I said it is pathetic that they should be caught like that,” the former prime minister and founder of the NDP said.