THE USE OF POINT OF ORDER AND POINT OF CLARIFICATION AS PROVIDED UNDER THE REVISED STANDING ORDERS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF THE GAMBIA, 2019
By Alhagie M. Dumbuya, the Director of Research and Library Services at the National Assembly of The Gambia
The surge of public interest in The Gambia in matters and proceedings of the National Assembly calls for the need to highlight some issues of parliament for the ease of general understanding of the procedures of the parliament by the public, particularly during plenary or committee discourse. The paper, therefore, briefly attempts to use the revised Standing Orders (2019) of the National Assembly of The Gambia to highlight the use of interjections such as Point of Order and Point of Clarification by parliamentarians during a sitting of the Assembly in plenary or at Committee.
As a matter of norm, every society, organisation or institution, has rules that guide and dictate its conduct, culture, operations and patterns of behaviour. Parliament is no exception. All over the world, parliaments have what it calls Standing Orders. This is a rule book that consists of rules, regulations and principles that are designed to guide the operational conduct and procedures of the parliament. The name may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, however, its object and purpose are (almost) the same.
Therefore, let us first look at the operational definition of a ‘point of order’. The UK Parliament, where most commonwealth parliaments take cue from, defines a point of order as an appeal to the Chair or Speaker for clarification or for a ruling on a matter of procedure, adding that the MP must explain their reasons for believing the rules of the House have been broken and the Presiding Officer (Chair or Speaker) decides whether it is a valid point of order or not. Merriam Webster online dictionary describes the term as a question or statement about the way things should be done at a meeting, debate, etc. For David Julian Price, a point of order is a tool, which is used to draw attention to a breach in rules, an irregularity in procedure or the breaching of established practices.
In essence, a Point of Order, when used with parliament, refers to the (permissible) interruption of a Member by another during a ‘debate’ in plenary or at committee, directed at the Presiding Officer who must first rule on its validity or otherwise. This is to say that a point of order is not just raised because you disagree with or do not like what is being said, but must be valid and based on guided provisions that must be cited for the Presiding Officer to determine the justification of the interruption.
Order 18 of the Standing Orders (SO) of the National Assembly of The Gambia, which speaks exclusively on the Point of Order in the National Assembly, states that any Member deviating from these Standing Orders may be immediately called to order by the Speaker or by any other Member rising on a point of order. It further elucidated that a Member rising on a point of order, in accordance with SO 32(1)(a) [Permissible interruptions], shall direct attention to the point he or she desires to bring to notice and submit the same to the Speaker for decision. This is to say that it is allowed to interrupt a Member at any point in his deliberation, unless it is considered “unseemly interruption”, which is frowned at by SO 17(f). However, it behooves the one making the interruption to prove the need for such interruption, citing the relevant provisions of the SO.
Another method of interjection used in the National Assembly of The Gambia is Point of Clarification, widely referred by most Members as point of observation (note that there is no such term in the SO as point of observation). SO 32(1)(b) states that no Member, except the Speaker, shall interrupt another Member except to expound, on a point of clarification, some matter raised by another Member in the course of his or her speech, provided that the Member speaking is willing to give way. This means that aside from a Point of Order, a Member may interrupt another on a point of clarification provided that the Member that is being interrupted accepts to be observed.
Therefore, while the acceptance or otherwise of a Point of Order is reserved for the exclusive discretion of the Presiding Officer guided by relevant provisions, a Point of Clarification is for the Member speaking to decide whether he would accept to be interrupted on such order or not. If the Member accepts, then he would have to take his seat and allow the one intending to make the clarification to proceed with his observation.
The instances that induce a point of order are usually different from those that would call for a Point of Clarification (or observation). Rising on a Point of Clarification (or observation), the Member is not placed under any obligation to cite any section of the SO before his wishes could be granted as the clarification could be based on anything that the Member being observed would be making at the given time. However, when a Point of Order is raised, the first litmus test it must pass is validity, citing the relevant provisions, and this must be determined by the Presiding Officer (i.e. Chair or Speaker).
To conclude, interjections such as point of order or point of clarification are very important in parliamentary debates. They are a very useful tool that serves to check on the speech or deliberations of a Member to stay on track at all times. In other words, the interjections allow Members to stick their deliberations on the subjects under discussion and avoid rambling. Imagine a parliament where such rules do not exist and everybody was to speak as they chose, what a chaotic house that would be!