Whatever thunder Finance Minister Larry Howai’s 2013-2014 budget may have elicited in Parliament yesterday was stolen by the Speaker’s dramatic announcement declaring the St Joseph seat of Herbert Volney vacant.
This was in keeping with the provisions of the Crossing of the Floor Act.
Howai’s budget was the biggest ever. And the confirmation that the property tax was back provoked derisory outbursts of “Axe the Tax” from the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) MPs.
But the most striking image on budget day was the theatrical wave of a visibly-upset Volney as he departed the Parliament Chamber, with the Speaker still on his legs in the closing stages of his most historic announcement as presiding officer of the House of Representatives.
At exactly 3.51 p.m., Mark announced to a packed but hushed chamber: “I hereby declare that Mr Herbert Volney MP, the Member for St Joseph, having been a candidate of the United National Congress and elected to the House, has resigned from the United National Congress. Accordingly, the Honourable Member is required under Section 49 (A) (4) of the Constitution to cease to perform his functions as a member of the House of Representatives with immediate effect.”
Mark read the Crossing of the Floor provisions of the Constitution which require the Speaker to declare a seat vacant, once a member has resigned from the party on whose ticket he fought and the leader of that party has so informed the Speaker.
The holding of a by-election should also follow, but Volney said he plans to challenge the Speaker’s ruling.
“The Speaker has quite clearly acted as judge, jury and executioner and has violated the provisions of the Constitution. I have no where else to go but to the court... The UNC has silenced me. They have silenced the people of St Joseph and they will pay a heavy price,” Volney said, immediately after he left the chamber.
Volney has 14 days in which to file his legal challenge. He said his attorneys are prepared. But Volney remains out while the matter awaits a ruling of the court.
Mark said, “the Member (Volney) shall be entitled to resume the performance of such functions (as a Member of Parliament) only if and when the legal proceedings...are finally determined,” in his favour.
The Speaker said a fundamental question was whether the creation of Standing Orders to identify and recognise the leader of each party was necessary for the invoking of the Crossing of the Floor provision.
Mark, however, said that after due consideration, he had arrived at the view that the absence of Standing Orders which provide for the identification and recognition of the leader of each party in the House of Representatives was not a bar to the exercise of his (the Speaker’s) powers and jurisdiction in the relation of the Crossing of the Floor provisions.
Mark said there were several critical issues: a) The Constitution “mandated” a member who has resigned from the party to vacate his seat; b) Volney himself had informed him in writing of his resignation from the UNC; c) Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was “unquestionably the leader of the United National Congress” and it was “appropriate and correct” for her to inform him of Volney’s resignation from that party.
Volney said he had been prepared for “the worst”. But he still seemed shaken over his expulsion from the Parliament. He rose and shook hands with Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner, who told him: “This too shall pass.”
Volney said Warner would represent the people of St Joseph until his matter is determined by the court.
For Volney, yesterday’s development was the final sequel to the loss of his ministerial portfolio in September last year, in the wake of the Section 34 fiasco.
That began the bitter parting with the UNC, the party on whose ticket he had fought the May 2010 general election. Volney had first declared himself an Independent. But with the victory of Jack Warner’s Independent Liberal Party in the Chaguanas West by-election, Volney finally cut his ties with the ruling People’s Partnership and formally wrote to the Speaker announcing that he had resigned from the UNC.
Volney said yesterday he had given consideration to resigning the seat, but it must not be at the timing of the Government.
“It will be at the timing of the Member of Parliament, when my constituents of St Joseph tell me that we are ready to defeat the UNC and the PNM,” he said.
As a result of the loss of his parliamentary seat, Volney, who resigned from the bench in May 2010 to contest the general election, would no longer be paid his monthly salary ($14,500) as a parliamentarian.