NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Government and opposition parliamentarians clashed in both houses of Parliament yesterday over allegations of East Grand Bahama MP Peter Turnquest’s involvement in a $30 million “bogus loan” scheme.
Turnquest, who has denied the allegations and said legal proceedings will vindicate him, resigned as a Cabinet minister yesterday afternoon.
During debate on amendments to the Penal Code in the House of Assembly, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis raised the allegations, which drew an immediate rebuke from the governing side, which called for the Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP to withdraw or have the statement expunged from the record.
At the time Davis made the remark, he argued that the government, which has the majority in Parliament, continues to have its way, but the opposition has a right to have its say.
Rising to his feet, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said: “The deputy prime minister cannot stand, so I stand on a point of order.
“No member of this House in accordance with the rules ought to have made a statement like that about another member.
“We are not going to put the deputy prime minister in the position where he is going to be the one to start.
“The member from Cat Island, you ought to have the decency. If you don’t have the decency to withdraw that, Mr Speaker, that must be struck. That is unacceptable.
“He cannot make aspersions about the character, conduct of members of this Parliament.
“You know that and it is deliberate and the rules specifically prohibit it.”
Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie intervened and struck the comment from the record.
In his ruling, Moultrie said he agreed with Davis’ statement about the government having its way, and the opposition having its say.
However, the speaker said Davis’ remark made on the matter before the court was “grossly inappropriate” and “appeared to be deliberately, politically mischievous”.
He reminded parliamentarians that the matter was subject to the sub judice rule.
He also cautioned members against impugning the credibility of another member.
“The rules prohibit certain comments even with respect to the opportunity to have your say,” he said. “You just cannot say anything.”
He continued: “And further, honorable member from Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador, this matter is before the court and the chair will not tolerate any statements that could have the effect [of] prejudicing the matter that is before the court or impugning the reputation of any other member.”
Davis objected to the ruling.
His comment on the ruling was also expunged.
Hours later, in the afternoon sitting of the Senate, Senator Fred Mitchell called on Attorney General Carl Bethel to answer whether the government was able to confirm if the person named in the writ was one and the same as the minister.
He asked whether the government planned to make a statement in the public interest.
Mitchell also asked if the government could confirm if Michael Scott of Scott and Co, who filed the writ, was one and the same as Michael Scott, who sits as chairman of Lucayan Renewal Holding Limited — the government’s special-purpose vehicle to handle the sale of the Grand Lucayan resort.
Bethel offered an inaudible response from his chair.
Mitchell labeled him as “mute” and continued.
Rising to his feet, the attorney general said Mitchell was well aware the matter was subject to sub judice and under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
He said Mitchell, whom he called “the interrogator”, was well aware the allegations before the court could not be “canvassed or discussed around the table of either house of Parliament”.
Bethel called for the “improper reference” to be expunged, insisting the questions were intended to lay the foundation for interference in a court matter.
But Mitchell argued that his questions were simple “questions of fact” and did not interfere or offer commentary on the matter.
He pointed out that Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis advised the media on Monday that Cabinet was deliberating on the matter.
Speaker of the Senate said: “We will have the appropriate answers to the questions that you have asked, sir, at the appropriate time. This is not the appropriate time for these answers to be given and therefore we will continue with the order of business.”