NASSAU, BAHAMAS- A bitter row erupted in the Lower House over the alleged politicization of the government’s storm management and response, with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and Opposition Leader Philip Davis both standing while angrily shouting and pointing at each other for several minutes.
Minnis had accused the opposition of politicizing matters of “life or death” in a series of statements critical of the government’s handling of the crisis.
The prime minister reiterated his defense of response times, telling Parliament the only way first responders could have gotten to hurricane-ravaged areas faster would be to use teleportation.
He referenced the science-fiction TV series Star Trek, saying “beam me up Scotty”.
“This is the posture this opposition has taken to this government from the day after our election,” Minnis said.
“They seek to politicize everything, including, sadly, matters of life or death, which should be beyond partisanship and posturing.”
The war of words broke out during Minnis’ contribution on amendments to the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act.
Davis stood on a point of order, asking for Minnis to point to any matter or withdraw.
To this, Minnis said he would repeat his claim and then explain; however, Davis again rose to object.
Davis noted he did not hear House Speaker Halson Moultrie ask Minnis to justify his statements, adding if the speaker had done so, he would not have objected a second time.
Moultrie said it was not necessary for the chair to request a member to justify or respond unless the response is deemed inadequate.
“Now,” Minnis said, “explanation. The opposition said that we did not respond fast enough. Our response was quick to the affected areas to save lives and that we did.”
Davis rose to his feet to object again; however, Moultrie said he was satisfied Minnis’ claim didn’t identify a specific member.
Addressing Davis, Moultrie said: “Your point of order was to cite any specific issue where the member spoke to matters of life or death. He never spoke specifically to any matter of life or death so the chair is satisfied he never accused you specifically of (politicizing) any matter of life or death.”
Minnis continued: “Even in the midst of the heartbreak from Hurricane Dorian, some were engaging in political gimmicks and games.”
“Some were intent on displaying the flag and color of a single political party instead of the banner of unity and our national colors.”
Standing again on a point of order, Davis insisted it was Minnis that first introduced a political slant when he refused to take calls or meet with him to be briefed on the government’s efforts and offer the opposition’s assistance.
Davis said Minnis did not take his call until hours before his first press conference on the storm, and told him he was busy when he asked why the opposition was not involved in preparations for a potentially catastrophic event.
“You talk about wearing colors,” Davis said, “you wore the colors. We never wore the colors, all the way through, I called him.”
In response, Minnis held up a cellphone and pointed to a photo purporting to show Davis assisting residents in flooded sections of Pinewood Gardens that was posted to social media.
“And here you are in your big yellow jacket, and the PLP flag.”
“Allow me to answer you,” Minnis continued, “it is true the member asked, the member knows exactly why I did not follow up with him. I told the member in unhealthy language that I can’t repeat here, so he knows.”
On his feet, Davis said Minnis sent him a message, to which the prime minister angrily responded: “I told you to your face, I told you to your face.”
The pair began shouting and pointing at each other from across the floor.
“If you turn these TV’s off I will tell you exactly,” Minnis shouted, as the Lower House descended into chaos.
Moultrie stood to his feet to restore order, telling Parliament while he expected a lively debate, it could not descend into name-calling.
The House speaker said his only objection was a word Davis used to describe Minnis.
The Cat Island MP agreed to withdraw two adjectives he used to describe the prime minister’s behavior.
Notwithstanding the heated exchange, Minnis struck a lighter tone as he continued his contribution.
Minnis said: “If I knew you not being able to hear my voice in your ear…I would call you immediately afterward. I did not know you would get so upset. I like you a lot.
“A national crisis is a time for unity,” he continued, “not distractions…the opposition attacks for attacking sake.”
Minnis suggested the opposition had contradicted itself in recent statements expressing concern over the level of security in Abaco, while rebuking his plan to impose a curfew.
He continued to taunt the opposition in a joking manner, telling Davis he would use the rest of his time to irritate him.
“Let me see if I could have you jumping up and down,” Minnis said.
“…I now have seven and a half more years,” Minnis said, “then all these young men and women will carry the torch forward. I will then relax, I will do my farming and I hope no hurricane come and destroy my farm.”