‘Don’t touch Juliet’: Clarke blasts Golding for being ‘unprincipled’ Loop Jamaica

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Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke has accused Opposition Leader Mark Golding of being “unprincipled” for questioning the independence of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Juliet Holness, who is also the wife of Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Golding criticised Juliet’s appointment on March 19 during his contribution to the Budget Debate, a move that saw the prime minister leading a walkout of government members after he accused Golding of being “low and desperate”.

Golding had argued that it was bad practice for the head of the Parliament (the speaker) to be the spouse of the head of Government (the prime minster).

On Tuesday, Clarke used a significant portion of his closing Budget presentation to not just respond to points raised by Golding and Julian Robinson, the Opposition Spokesman on Finance, during their contributions to the Budget Debate, but to also attack the opposition in general, and Golding in particular, over his comments about the speaker.

Said Clarke: “When the leader of the Opposition made his contribution to the Budget Debate, he included the words, ‘When the former Speaker (Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert) was forced to resign as a result of the Integrity Commission investigation, the move to replace her with the wife of the prime minister so that the head of Parliament is now the spouse of the head of government, does not sit well with the tradition that the speaker must act independently of the government of the day’.

“As others have pointed out, we on this (the government) side, and there are others on the outside, who thought that that was low,” added Clarke.

He pointed out that the speaker, the two-term Member of Parliament (MP) for St Andrew East Rural, served as deputy for three years, during which time she acted as speaker on occasions.

“So it was the deputy speaker who was elected to replace the outgoing speaker, not simply the wife,” said Clarke, who appeared to still be seething from the previous week.

He told Golding: “The fact that in the speech you referred to her as ‘the wife’, not recognising her three-year tenure as deputy speaker and, therefore, the natural successor, is, in my view, disrespectful to the highest degree”.

“Women, like men, are individuals in their own right who ought not to be defined by their relationships. It does not sit well to talk about the speaker’s relationship with her husband,” he insisted.

“By all means, talk about the speaker’s decisions, criticise them if you must, but leave the wife alone. It was out of order and the opposition leader can do better,” Clarke declared.

The finance minister reminded that when Ann-Marie Vaz, the wife of fellow MP and government minister Daryl Vaz was campaigning for the Portland Eastern seat in 2019, she was referred to, in a derogatory way, as the wife of Mr Vaz.

“And that she won’t be anything but the wife of Mr Vaz”.

Clarke accused the PNP of having a pattern of disrespecting women.

“It would have been better had the opposition leader said, ‘The move to replace her with the deputy speaker of the House, who happens to be the wife of the prime minister, etc, etc, etc. But completely ignoring her position in this House was reducing her to only one component, that of wife, was disrespectful and should not be repeated,” said Clarke.

Telling Golding, “Don’t touch Juliet”, Clarke also reminded that her nomination as speaker was seconded by the Leader of Opposition Business in the House, Philip Paulwell, and that former Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips also endorsed her appointment.

He asserted that the Opposition, having welcomed her appointment with no objections, Golding acted last week in an unprincipled manner.

“Principle is not something that changes when circumstances get tough. Principle is not something that changes when you disagree, principle is not something that changes because of political opportunity; principle is principle,” Clarke said.

He charged that given Paulwell’s “full-throttled endorsement of the deputy speaker’s elevation, the Opposition leader’s statement last week publicly undermines and emasculates the member (Paulwell), and sends the unmistakable message that we cannot trust what any of them over there says”.

Since the brouhaha erupted over Golding’s statement, at a point when he was arguing that the government lacked transparency and accountability, Paulwell and the PNP have moved to clear the air about the supposed endorsement of Juliet Holness’ appointment to the speakership, noting that it was merely based on tradition and that the parliamentary opposition never opposes the person selected by the governing side.