LIKE any other public official, an opposition leader is accountable to the public. The post-holder is expected to conform to the standards applicable to all who serve the nation. Thus, there is no good reason why an opposition leader, like any other Member of Parliament, cannot be subject to a substantive motion criticising his conduct. In fact, such motions are common and are not limited to ministers: any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate can be subject to censure. Just last week, one such motion against the Speaker of the House of Representatives Wade Mark was debated in Parliament. Time and time again, MPs are asked not to impute improper motives to MPs but, rather, file substantive motions against anyone whose conduct they deem unacceptable and wish to discuss in a Parliament debate.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is well within her right to call for a motion of no-confidence against Rowley. Speaking at the UNC’s first public rally for the year, the Prime Minister announced she has asked Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal to file a motion of no-confidence in the House of Representatives. She was also critical, once more, of Rowley’s failure last year to disclose to her and to President Anthony Carmona that the candidate proposed for the $38,540 per month post of Director of the Police Complaints Authority had been identified as a witness on Rowley’s behalf in a private defamation lawsuit with then Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. The Prime Minister noted the David West matter opened Rowley to the criticism that he did not conform – whether in spirit or in letter – to the disclosure requirements of the Integrity in Public Life Act which calls for disclosure of all conflicts between private gain and public office.
Political analysts have said that a successful censure motion against Rowley will not result in his automatic removal. This contrasts with the situation in relation to a Prime Minister where, under the Constitution, if a motion of no-confidence is successful, the Prime Minister must resign or be removed and the Parliament dissolved. The logic for this is simple. If, for some reason, Government members vote against their own prime minister, siding with the Opposition and providing the Opposition the majority needed to pass such a motion, it would clearly mean that the prime minister of the day no longer holds the support of the majority of the House. Therefore, that person would no longer be prime minister because that person would no longer have the support of the majority of the House.
While a successful motion of censure against an Opposition Leader does not result in the post-holder’s automatic removal, bringing such a motion is not frivolous. The fact remains that matters may arise during the debate which could sway the support of the Opposition members, generally. And if all Opposition members decide to stop backing Rowley he will lose the post of Opposition Leader. Of course, this is a description of the possible, if not necessarily probable, given the fact that Rowley is political leader of all the PNM MPs.
By now it is clear, however, that serious questions over Rowley’s conduct have been raised. One relates to his use of Parliament procedure to unleash highly scandalous email allegations which began to appear dubious within hours of them being made. Rowley said he held on to materials for months, even as on the face of it they involved a threat to a journalist’s life. While questions have been raised over former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and former Minister of National Security Gary Griffith, questions are also pending in relation to Rowley over his handling of the David West affair. A no-confidence motion will ventilate the issues and allow Rowley to respond to the matters raised.
The public must have confidence in an opposition leader, whom we sometimes depend on to voice views in Parliament and to hold a government to account. Matters which shake that confidence rightfully merit debate nationally and in the forum of the House of Representatives.