Appointment of a Leader of the Opposition

By: Sandra Ferguson

Last Tuesday, April 21st, 2020, the Hon. Tobias Clement made his first appearance on GBN’s “To the Point”, in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition, having finally take up formal appointment the previous week.  Some listeners, noting that  Hon. Clement was filling a spot normally filled by the National Democratic Congress, requested an explanation.  The hostess of the programme advised that the spot was reserved for the Opposition and since Hon. Clement was now the Leader of the Opposition, this spot had reverted to him.    We the people will see what happens this week.  Will GBN silence the voice of the National Democratic Congress, representative of 40 percent of the electorate of the 2018 elections?

It is fitting that Hon Clement should have had a voice last week since his appointment as Leader of the Opposition is an important political development.  And he MUST continue to have a voice.  But Hon. Clement has no party (as yet).  He does not represent nor command any majority.  Therefore, to simply cut-off the voice of the National Democratic Congress which does not have any seat in Parliament though commanding 40 percent of our electorate, is UNACCEPTABLE.  We the people do have shares in GBN, through our government, and we must make this clear to the owners/operators of GBN.  There are enough slots on GBN’s programme to have BOTH Hon. Clement and the National Democratic Congress. 

The appointment of Hon. Clement as Leader of the Opposition bears testimony to the concerns and reservations expressed by the Grouping of Civil Society Organisations in its review of the Constitution Reform Bill, Ensuring the Appointment of the Opposition, (Amendment) Bill, 2016   which made provisions for the appointment of a Leader of the Opposition in a situation where all elected seats were won by one party that would form the Government – as happened in the elections of 1999, 2013 and 2018.

Among its observations, pertinent to the current situation, the Grouping noted the following:-

  • Elected and Selected  Representatives:  The House of Representatives consists of elected representatives.    In the event of someone crossing the floor, that person would automatically become the Leader of the Opposition and a selected Leader of the Opposition would be automatically removed. 
  • Political Manipulation:  Did the provision allow for the government to manipulate who would become the Leader of the Opposition?
  • Representation and Inclusion:  Did a specially selected Leader of the Opposition address the issues of representation and inclusion?  Given, the first past the post system which prevails in Grenada, in the case of the current situation in Grenada, 40 percent of the electorate which voted for a particular party does not have representation in the House of Representatives.

Hon. Tobias Clement becoming the Leader of the Opposition affords an opportunity to put these observations in perspective:-

  • Representation and Inclusion:  His appointment STILL does not afford the party (National Democratic Congress) which got the second highest number of votes in the 2018 elections a voice in the  House of Representatives.  Indeed, those spaces that the party currently occupies will be lost. This has already started with the slot on GBN’s “To the Point” programme.
  • Political Manipulation:  To my mind, it is too early to judge as yet.    However, Hon. Clement does admit his LONG  association with the New National Party going back to the early days of deceased Hon. H.A. Blaize. Time will tell what values and principles he has imbibed/with which he was imbued – the principles and integrity of Papa Blaize or the culture of cabal and kool-aid of the cult of the current party from which he has resigned.  What difference will he make and how?

Role of the Leader of the Opposition:

  • Checks and Balances:  The Leader of the Opposition is one of the checks and balances of the governance process in Grenada’s current Westminster arrangement and provides an alternative view to the government in the House of Representatives. 
  • Constitutional Functions:  As Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Hon. Clement’s functions, as prescribed by the Constitution are the following:-
    • Opposition Senators:  He will advise the Governor–General on the appointment of the three Opposition Senators.  We the people do not know who is the current THIRD opposition senator, but Sen. Ron Redhead and Sen. Kimmlyn James,  Congress’ senatorial voices, have already tarried TOO long in submitting their resignations.
  • Public Accounts Committee:  He will chair the Public Accounts Committee.   We the people should look very closely at how he performs this role.  It is a challenging role and very often those who have to answer questions do not co-operate.
  • Constituency and Boundaries Committee:  He will appoint two members to the Constituency and Boundaries Committee which is responsible for determining the number of electoral constituencies and their boundaries.  It is unclear whether such a committee exists presently.

In the Fullness of Time:

We the people must guard against the appointment of Hon. Clement contributing to increased political tribalism and divisiveness, widening the existing political divide to the detriment of our little rock.    I recommend that we keep an open mind in respect of Hon Tobias Clement.  We must put him in context by understanding from whence he came and judge him by his  ACTIONS going forward.  We the people will have an opportunity to see how Hon. Clement speaks truth to power – his favourite tag line – in his role as Leader of the Opposition and soon enough we will know WHAT he stands for, WHO are his political collaborators and handlers, if any, WHAT  difference will he make and HOW?  All in the fullness of time!

We the people must guard against distraction and STOP looking for knights in shining armour!  They do not exist.  Only the people can save themselves.  And therefore we must seek leadership which values our intelligence and contributions – leadership which includes, enlightens and empowers.  We must AVOID  like COVID-19 leadership seeking self-aggrandizement and self-glorification, prioritizing the development of flocks of hungry sheep to be fed while destroying their grazing grounds, instead scheduling a regime of just enough feeding so that the hungry sheep, grateful for the meagre ration,  bleat “ four legs bad, two legs good”, blissfully unaware of being prepared for slaughter.

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