NASSAU, BAHAMAS- Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman and Senator Fred Mitchell yesterday called House Speaker Halson Moultrie a “joke” after the Official Opposition’s request for member discussion on the government’s management of Hurricane Dorian in parliament was defeated.
“In a back handed slap to democracy and freedom of speech, the House speaker and not surprisingly the government members of the House rejected a proposal for an open and frank discussion on issues surrounding and related to the recent passage of Hurricane Dorian,” Mitchell said.
“What a joke the speaker has become. Just days ago the speaker was boasting about 290 years of Parliamentary democracy, but when given the opportunity to defend democratic principles, he dropped the ball. The African ancestors are ashamed of him. The house speaker should be ashamed of himself.”
In a letter addressed to Moultrie and tabled in Parliament, Leader of the Opposition Philip Brave Davis requested, “a full and frank House discussion on the planning, management and execution of all phases of the operations surrounding Hurricane Dorian – including the contingencies and post Hurricane relief efforts to those affected to date”.
The request was made pursuant to rule 51, which would allow the debate to take precedence over scheduled government business.
However, Moultrie did not accept the request and put the motion to a vote. It was defeated after it did not garner the ten votes needed to establish a quorum.
In parliament yesterday, Moultrie explained he did not feel the allotted 90 minutes were sufficient to fully ventilate critical issues outlined in the opposition’s letter.
“I agree with the position that this is a time and this is an issue that is of critical importance,” Moultrie said.
“However, there are certain issues with respect to the submission and with respect to the rules under which we intend to proceed.”
Moultrie continued: “With respect to rule 51, the chair is of the opinion that to proceed under rule 51 will limit severely the participation of the Parliament to ventilate this very important matter of public importance in that it is restricted to 90 mins and each member is only permitted to speak for ten minutes.”
Davis rose to his feet to challenge the decision; however, Moultrie noted under the related rules the position of chair should not be debated or challenged and the comments were expunged from the record.
While Moultrie opted to table the document in a bid to “strengthen and deepen democracy”, he also struck out some seven paragraphs from the document he felt were “opinionated and not necessary”.
Mitchell also took issue with this, lambasting Moultrie over the decision in a press statement yesterday.
“His reasoning is wrong,” Mitchell said.
“The concerns expressed are not the opinions of the opposition but experiences and observations from persons ‘on the ground’ in the affected areas on Grand Bahama, Abaco and the surrounding Cays.
“His ruling on the ninety-minute time limit is silly and not grounded in law, the House Rules or practice. Further, Rule 51 provides for the representatives from all seven of the affected constituencies in addition to the prime minister and the leader of the opposition to speak for ten minutes.
“The fact is that the FNM members do not want to talk about Dorian because they are embarrassed about how poorly the government has managed and handled this process to date. The human-interest stories in both the local and international media attest to this.
“The PLP will continue to speak out for all affected Bahamians and offer alternative solutions while we continue to hold the government’s feet to the fire.”
When Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis stood to his feet, he noted that a full debate on the tabled Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill, 2019, will be done next week and all members will have an opportunity to address the matter.