Wright out until June 21

Speaker of the House of Representatives Marisa Dalrymple Philibert confirmed yesterday that she had granted the request from embattled Westmoreland Central Member of Parliament (MP) George Wright to go on leave for two months.

The period of leave runs from April 20 to June 21, and the reasons given by Wright for seeking a leave of absence were “due to unforeseen circumstances, and the fact that there are certain matters which I am required to attend to, as a matter of urgency”.

The Speaker said that her reading of “urgency” is that it is something of utmost importance, adding that this is a reason which has been given by several MPs, on either side of the House of Representatives, seeking leave of absence.

She said Wright has been very “open and clear” in terms his need for the leave, and it was not unusual for members to ask for leave for reasons beyond their control, or which are unavoidable.

She also noted that the Speaker is not required to reveal the reasons for approving the leave, particularly that there is nothing in the standing orders requiring her to explain why leave is granted.

“Nowhere in May’s [the noted UK authority on parliamentary procedures] or in the standing orders am I required to do what I have just done, but I have done so because I have nothing to hide,” Dalrymple Philibert said, after answering a number of questions from the Leader of Opposition Business in the House Anthony Hylton.

“This is a matter that is in the public space. And I want to make it abundantly clear that, as the Speaker of this Parliament, none of us here condone violence. But we cannot, as a Parliament, be led by jungle law. We have to abide by the laws. That’s all I am saying,” she argued.

Asked whether Wright would receive emoluments while on leave, she said that she expected that Wright will be treated as would all other MPs going on leave of absence who continue to receive their salary for the period of the leave. She also noted that the subsistence for members could only be denied in circumstances in which the member does not inform the speaker “within good time”.

“I suspect that, like all other members, while absent from the House, he is probably still being compensated, and might I remind that we have had members that have been compensated in like manner,” she explained.

“I must re-emphasise that that we cannot operate by jungle law. We must abide by the rules,” the Speaker insisted.

She was supported by the Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck and the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Pearnel Charles Jr, who offered that, “In a democracy, every citizen is subject to the law of the land, and at the same time cannot seek to deny due process to any of its citizens”.

He went to say that some of the questions raised by Hylton were “inflammatory” and did not do justice to the Speaker’s “significant” effort to balance the discussions on the subject.

Chuck said that he was very disappointed that Hylton had insisted on bringing the motion to suspend Wright from the House of Representatives, even while other measures had been taken, and suggested that the motion was “outrageous” and only sought to bring the House into disrepute.

He said that the Opposition knew that it is in the Speaker’s total discretion to make the judgement, and she shouldn’t be questioned as to why a member was asking her for leave of absence.

Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding, while applauding the way that the Speaker had handled the matter, pointed out that the matter had been “highly politicised”.

He said that request for an explanation of the leave of absence was not improper, as there were strong feelings about it being granted.

“You didn’t have to make an explanation, but you chose to do so, quite rightly, in my opinion. However, I do not accept what the MPs have said. But you have acted absolutely properly in responding to the request for information,” he said.

“From where I stand, the whole question about this leave of absence is still one over which there is a cloud. But I accept that, in your discretion, you have applied the standing orders, I believe, in a manner that you think is right, and I just want to commend you, again. The public wanted to know, and you were right to do it,” he told the Speaker.

Wright, the MP for Westmoreland Central, was elected among 49 MPs on the Jamaica Labour Party ticket to the House of Representatives. However, he has been facing strong criticisms and calls for his resignation after allegations that he is the subject on a video captured by a closed-circuit television system showing an altercation between a man and a woman in Westmoreland, recently.

Despite the refusal of the pair to give further statements to the police, who have since aborted pursuing the matter, a number of national organisations, civil society groups, and politicians have been urging Wright to tender his resignation.

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