Thu | Jun 20, 2024

Gov't MPs, Speaker pay glowing tributes to Curtis

Published:Wednesday | April 24, 2024 | 12:14 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter

GOVERNMENT LAWMAKERS paid tribute to former clerk to the Houses of Parliament Valrie Curtis in her absence on Tuesday, but the parliamentary Opposition reserved their accolades for a future event when they can commend the former administrator of the legislature face to face.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Juliet Holness, Leader of Government Business Edmund Bartlett and Everald Warmington were among Government MPs who lauded Curtis for her contribution to the legislature.

In her remarks, Speaker Holness said the former clerk’s commitment to duty saw her being elevated to the position of clerk to the Houses in 2021. She said since that time the former administrator of the legislature “commendably led her staff in providing the necessary procedural and administrative support to members of both Houses”.

According to the Speaker, Curtis displayed a commitment to upholding parliamentary ideals even as she displayed a people-centred approach to parliamentary administration, while overseeing several initiatives aimed at modernising parliamentary operations.

The Speaker also commented on the letter of reprimand she issued to the former clerk but did not yield to a chorus of calls from civil society and the parliamentary Opposition to apologise.

“Our differences in perspective on a particular administrative matter and the resulting procedural communication to her, which was never placed on her HR record, but which has unfortunately been circulated in the public domain, was never intended to detract from her years of service and valuable contribution to the Parliament,” the Speaker said.

Speaker Holness said she continues to “hold the retired clerk in high regard and acknowledge her contribution and not allow that to be overshadowed for any reason”.

In his comments, Phillip Paulwell, leader of Opposition business, said he was concerned that the former clerk went into retirement with a cloud hanging over her head.

He said the parliamentary Opposition could not pay tribute to the former clerk without the issue of the reprimand letter being addressed.

“Our position is that it was an unfortunate letter and we believe that the letter should be withdrawn but more so and based on her own words. It was a tremendous embarrassment to her, to her family and friends. In addition to the withdrawal of the letter there should be a public apology proffered,” he said.

“It is with some regret and sadness that I rise to make these brief remarks. We are going to try and find an occasion where we can be much more fulsome in our comments to the former clerk in front of her,” he added.

In his tribute, the prime minister said he benefited immensely from the guidance and assistance from Curtis from when he entered the Lower House and even in his capacity as head of Government.

He agreed that there should be another event where lawmakers could get the opportunity to speak directly to the clerk. He requested that the event be arranged in short order as soon as Curtis is available.

“The clerk has given yeoman service and nobody can question that,” he said.

The prime minister also commented on the controversial letter highlighted by Paulwell.

“We can all agree that what has transpired in the public domain is indeed unfortunate,” he said. “I would say, however, that in the course of professional relationships there will inevitably be differences in perspectives. There will inevitably be administrative and procedural differences but as the Speaker has said when it comes to assessing the overall contribution of the individual … that we must be fulsome, that we should be forthright.”

Curtis told The Gleaner in an exclusive interview that she would accept nothing less than a withdrawal of the letter of reprimand from the Speaker.

In that letter, the Speaker accused the former clerk of “gross dereliction of duty” and bringing the Parliament into disrepute for failing to carry out the Speaker’s ruling in relation to the tabling of reports from the Auditor General’s Department.