Opposition clashes with govt. MPs over mid-year budget debate

Opposition clashes with govt. MPs over mid-year budget debate

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Reminiscent of the shouting match that ensued between government and opposition members in Parliament earlier this month, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis and other members of the Progressive Liberal Party’s parliamentary caucus had a brief, but heated exchange with governing members and Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie yesterday over when debate would commence of the mid-year budget statement.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest delivered the mid-year budget statement yesterday, which outlined the government’s fiscal agenda, revised fiscal projections for 2018/2019 and spoke to the overall performance of the government.

Following Turnquest’s contribution and numerous statements from MPs, St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette motioned to adjourn the House to next Wednesday.

He advised that Parliament would debate the Investment Fund Bill at that time.

However, Davis asked the speaker if and when Parliament intended to debate the mid-year budget.

In response, Turnquest said there was no resolution for borrowing and “debate is not considered necessary”.

He added, “The leader of opposition and the leader of government business, I am sure will have a conversation about that.”

Davis sought clarity of whether the absence of a resolution negated the need for debate.

“The issue is that it would be in the ordinary course of business, which has been the practice of this House…, which started from 2010, once the mid-term budget statement has been laid, there is an opportunity to have [it] explained; a debate ensues following that.

“I am hearing things have changed. I need to know that.

“We just need to know Mr. Speaker, are we going to have a debate on the mid-term budget and will that be next week.”

Rising to his feet, Symonette said the leader for government business, Renward Wells, was off the island and while it was the government’s intention to deal with the Investment Fund Bill next week, there was an expectation for Wells and Forbes to meet to discuss the way forward.

With objection from opposition members, Symonette retorted, “Number one, the members of the opposition were not here to deal with it, so therefore we can deal with this with the two leaders and come back to the House…”

Moultrie said he was satisfied, especially due to the “circumstances that we met”.

“We arrived at an irregular circumstance to get to this point,” the speaker said.

“The irregular circumstance is the opposition was not present for a period of time.

Davis continued to press the matter for several more minutes, despite repeated admonishments from the speaker to resume his seat.

His comments made to the speaker during that period were struck from the record.

The PLP returned to the House of Assembly yesterday after boycotting parliamentary proceedings earlier this month.

The move was the result of the government refusing to address calls from the opposition for the resignation of Minister of National Security Marvin Dames and Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands related to their involvement in the former Progressive Liberal Party Frank Smith’s bribery and extortion trial.

In a statement Tuesday, the PLP advised that while it planned to end its boycott, it wrote to CARICOM and the Commonwealth Secretariat on the matter.