The opposition United Workers Party (UWP) will be holding a meeting at the Peebles Park on Thursday morning to inform supporters of what it says are concerns that its members are not being allowed to ask questions in Parliament.
The party is saying this is the second consecutive time the opposition has been barred from asking questions by House Speaker Alix Boyd-Knights.
But Boyd-Knights has said she is only obeying the Standing Orders of Parliament.
“What I have in fact been hearing is that the opposition is going to protest my obeying the Standing Orders of the House,” she said in a live interview on stated-owned DBS Radio on Thursday morning.
Parliament meets today (Thursday) and UWP Senator, Thomson Fontaine, said the meeting is to bring to the attention of the public that the opposition is not being allowed to ask questions of the government during the sitting.
“That will be the second consecutive seating of Parliament where we will not be allowed to raise pertinent questions that we think is of interest to the public,” he said. “And as such we are asking all Dominicans an hour before parliament to meet with us in the Peebles Park so that we can explain to them the situation and also tell them the kinds of questions that we were willing to ask the government in the sitting of Parliament.”
He stated that the party was told members needed 14 days notice to be able to ask their questions and to get responses from government.
“However we got the notice with 12 days notice,” he stated. “We are saying that is very unfair to us. That this was not a surprise or an urgent call of Parliament. They knew months before that they were going to have the Parliament on the 26th. So it is only fair that we would have been given enough time, the 14 days as required by the Standing Orders to be able to ask questions…”
He described the matter as a threat to the island’s democracy and it is important to raise the issue with the public, who will in turn pressure the government and the Speaker to change their behavior.
Boyd-Knights said in her live DBS interview that every member of Parliament was given a copy of the Standing Orders of Parliament and Standing Order 22 is very clear on the matter.
“Standing Order 22.1 says a question shall not be asked without notice,” she stated in reading the Standing Order. “Unless it is of an urgent character or relates to the business of the day and the member has obtained the permission of the Speaker to ask it. Standing Order 22.2 says notice of a question may be handed by the member to the clerk when the House is seating or may be sent to or left at the office of the clerk at any time during the hours prescribed for the purpose. Every such notice must be signed by the member giving it.”
She continued, “And Standing Order 22.3 says the reply to any question may be deferred to the next seating of the House unless a member asking the question shall have given not less than 14 clear days notice in writing of his intention to ask the same.”
She stated that there are other subsections “but the important thing here is that the members are given the Standing Orders, they read it.”
“There are members who have come to me, to ask me to explain certain provisions that they have not understood, but the Leader of the Opposition has indicated that he understands it, so then if he understands particularly Standing Order 22.3, it means that he is going to send his questions way before a meeting,” the Speaker indicated. “The fact is, it is not necessary for members to wait to get a notice for them to decide for them to ask a question.”
She said the requirement for notices is a clear 12 days before a sitting.
“Therefore, when a member sends a question 10 days before a meeting is to take place, he ought not to expect me to disobey the rule and just put the question on the Order Paper,” she stated.
Boyd-Knights stated that all members of the House are aware that they ought not to wait on a notice telling them that there is going to be a meeting to ask questions.
“The rule is very clear, you can ask your question anytime,” she remarked. “And when 14 days before a meeting, questions are coming we automatically go on the Order Paper.”
She pointed out that that the rules of notices are that they must be sent 12 days before a sitting and there are rules for questions which say that they must be sent at least 14 clear days before.
She insisted that members must not wait until they get a notice to send questions and the rules say that if a member wants to ask a question that is urgent, he or she can come to her and ask her permission to do so.
“Nobody came,” the Speaker said. “People just sent their letters routinely and the clerk tells me that, I think is the Monday, that questions came in, one from a new member and one from a member who has been in the House before and knows perfectly well you ought not to wait on those notices. That is why the rules are saying send your questions before.”