By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — Minister for economic development, housing, urban renewal, transport and civil aviation, Guy Joseph, was ejected from the Saint Lucia House of Assembly on Tuesday by speaker Andy Daniel after refusing to withdraw a statement directed at an opposition member.
At the time, the opposition parliamentarians were expressing objections to an Immigration (Amendment) Bill introduced by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet that, amongst other things, imposed new visa restrictions on Venezuelan nationals.
According to Chastanet, much of the drugs and gun-related crime on the island could be traced back to Venezuela.
In response to opposition comments, Joseph said, “You have a vested interest in the arms coming in.”
In a rejoinder, opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) member, Ernest Hilaire, told Joseph, “I can see you teething, don’t worry; I can see your teeth smiling, don’t worry,” an apparent reference to a well known play on the word “teefing” [thieving] frequently used in regional calypsos.
“I would like you withdraw the statement, please,” Daniel told Joseph.
“What statement?” was Joseph’s immediate response, followed by, “I’m not withdrawing it.”
“Then, minister, if you are not withdrawing it I would ask that you leave the House, please,” Daniel said.
“I will leave the house,” Joseph replied, before walking out of the chamber.
Daniel also called on Hilaire to withdraw his remark, which he did immediately.
The incident has left unanswered questions as to exactly what Joseph was referring to in apparently accusing the opposition of being involved in arms trafficking from Venezuela.
“I have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of what the minister meant. It is a serious statement to make. If it were parliamentary banter and cross talk and an unintended outburst, surely the minister should have acceded to the request of the Honourable Speaker and withdraw. I was also asked to withdraw my comment in response that I saw his ‘teething’ which I did. It makes you wonder why the minister would not have withdrawn it,” Hilaire told Caribbean News Now subsequently.
Leader of the opposition, Phillip J Pierre, dismissed the statement as typical government vindictiveness.
However, government vindictiveness is now more likely to be on display as regards the fate of Speaker Daniel, a former magistrate, who displayed unusual fortitude in upbraiding and sanctioning the government bench.
The speaker is effectively appointed by the government of the day which, notably, after two years in office, has failed to elect a deputy speaker as required by the constitution.