Draft resolution recommends ‘hybrid’, and virtual parliamentary proceedings

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie has recommended that Parliament consider alternative and hybrid means to continue parliamentary proceedings.

This comes after a confirmed case of the coronavirus among a female staff member of the House.

A September 9 draft resolution obtained by Eyewitness News, pointed out that the Houses of Assembly, constructed in the 19th century, has limited capacity to allow for the required physical distancing because of its numerical composition.

According to the document, with new health protocols requiring a minimum 14-day quarantine for anyone infected with or exposed to the virus as a result of being a contact “the implementation of the new protocol could deprive honourable members of their constitutional right, and parliamentary privilege, to assume their seat”.

Noting that all members of Parliament have a constitutional right to attend proceedings, the draft resolution recommends the House “agree to a hybrid arrangement for the sittings of this House in the events of pandemics, emergencies and disasters, to accommodate the participation of members”.

“Be it further resolved that any sitting of this House pursuant to the said hybrid arrangement can take the format of a face to face, face to face/virtual, virtual, and designated locations whether in New Providence or any of the Family Islands,” read the draft resolution.

“And be it further resolved that all hybrid arrangements for the sitting of this House be agreed by resolution of this House.”

Speaking with Eyewitness News yesterday, Moultrie said additional protocols were being discussed. He said he drafted a resolution that was submitted to the leader of government business for the government’s consideration.

The speaker said that while he had not received a response, he expected the government and Parliament to consider its options and arrive at the best alternative moving forward.

Calls placed to Leader of Government Business in the House of Assembly Renward Wells were not returned.

Yesterday, Moultrie said he expected parliamentarians to voluntarily quarantine given the exposure.

In a statement, the Cabinet Office advised that anyone who came into contact with the infected House staffer for more than 15 minutes without following preventative measures such as wearing a mask and maintaining a physical distance will be required to quarantine.

The Cabinet Office also advised that the Ministry of Health had initiated contact tracing.

It said deep cleaning and sanitization will take place Tuesday.

The House will meet today for a “short session” with a reduced number of MPS — just enough to form a quorum of the House.

To date, at least three parliamentarians have tested positive for the virus and at least three more have had to quarantine due to potential exposures.

Last month, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis, the Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San San Salvador MP, Senator Dr Michael Darville, and Central and South Eleuthera MP Hank Johnson tested positive for the virus.

Following a potential exposure at the Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Centre, which houses both the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Health, both Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest entered voluntary quarantine out of an abundance of caution.

It was the second time Turnquest voluntarily quarantined, after his aid in Grand Bahama tested positive for the virus in late July.

Both the prime minister and Turnquest tested negative.

Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd also tested negative for COVID-19 following voluntary quarantine after he was exposed to a positive case last month.