BELMOPAN, Wed. Aug. 31, 2016–Last Friday, at the sitting of the House of Representatives, the Member for Cayo South, Hon Julius Espat, used un-parliamentary language that was critical of the impartiality of the Speaker of the House, Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, who immediately asked for a minister to “name this person.”
The Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, the Member for Pickstock, answered the Speaker’s request, which was made a number of times.
Elrington’s motion, however, did not name Hon. Espat by name, nor was it followed by the necessary voting of the House, which would have sealed Hon. Espat’s fate.
“There was no suspension,” says PUP Legal Advisor, Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck
What followed next was a full-scale exercise of the power of the Speaker over his House. Police moved in and cleared the galleries, and not even the media was spared, then, Hon. Julius Espat was forcefully dragged out of the House’s chamber by police, who, it was later confirmed, were carrying out the orders of “Mr. Speaker.”
The question being asked since Friday’s national debacle is whether or not Hon. Espat was suspended in accordance with the rules governing suspension from the lower House of Belize’s parliament.
On Monday, at their press conference, the PUP indicated that the Speaker’s action toward Hon. Espat may be taken to the Supreme Court on a constitutional challenge.
Today, Thursday, the PUP’s Legal Advisor, Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck further explained to Amandala, “The Speaker has no authority to suspend.”
Marshalleck said only the House could suspend. To suspend, a resolution has to be moved and the House has to vote on it.
“There was no resolution to suspend, so therefore there was no suspension,” Marshalleck said. “The Speaker could have put him out of the meeting, but he cannot suspend him,” he added.
Amandala asked Marshalleck why Speaker Peyrefitte had not followed through with the suspension process that he started.
Marshalleck said the Speaker got carried away by the heat of the moment and he was apparently not familiar with the procedure to suspend a Member of the House of Representatives.
Amandala asked Marshalleck what he would advise the PUP to do under the present circumstances.
Marshalleck said they should write the Speaker and if he acknowledges his error, then Espat should be free to attend the next House meeting. If he insists that there was a suspension, then the matter should be taken to court.
Yesterday, Wednesday, when Amandala caught up with Hon. Julius Espat in Belmopan, we asked him about a statement he made on Monday at the PUP press conference, when he said that if there was a House meeting today he would attend, because he is not suspended.
Espat replied, “I’ll give you the technical explanation and I’ll give you how we do it in Belize.”
In his technical explanation, Espat said the House of Representative is designed with the knowledge that there are heated arguments, discussions and debate. There is a rule in there that allows the Speaker of the House to request an apology when somebody makes a statement that he believes is out of order, Espat noted.
Espat added, “The Speaker of the House did not ask for an apology, but on top of that, I offered an apology. When he tried to name me and nobody wanted to, finally, Elrington stood up, but he didn’t name me by name. So that’s another error.”
Finally, Espat explained that nobody can be suspended by a person. “The Speaker does not have the authority to suspend you; the minister does not have the authority, only the House itself has that authority. Therefore, the Speaker should have asked for a vote in the House to request a suspension,” Espat continued.
Espat maintains that he was within his legal rights. “So I held my ground. I will continue being there for my people and I will go back to the House,” he said.
He was about to address the House on the Auditor General’s report when the Speaker took offence to his assertion that he (the Speaker) was a mercenary who was being paid to silence him, Espat.
So Amandala asked Espat, who has retained the position of Chairman of the House Public Accounts Committee, whether the people at the helm of the criminal justice system — the Commissioner of Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions — should be looking into some of the findings in the Auditor General’s report, and if necessary, should they lay criminal charges where crimes have been committed.
“They should,” Hon. Espat said. “But the Prime Minister would be the first to defend them.”
“Ministers should be held accountable for their actions, and if those actions are illegal they should be charged,” he said.