Row erupts in Parliament over state of finances

Row erupts in Parliament over state of finances

•Speaker to PLP MP: “It is not your role”

•Johnson tells Cooper: “I represent myself, my family and my ‘ma”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — A bitter row erupted in the House of Assembly over the financial prospects of the nation and its risk of being downgraded.

Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry Elsworth Johnson and Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper engaged in a shouting standoff that required the intervention of House Speaker Halson Moultrie.

At one point, Moultrie had to caution Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes that it was not his role to challenge a ruling of the chair, as the leader of opposition business in the House sought to intervene on Cooper’s behalf.

Cooper’s criticism of the government for its political tactics while in opposition drew strong rebuke from members of the governing side.

After the PLP MP refused to withdraw a particular comment, insisting it was based on his perception and observations, the speaker ruled to have the remark expunged from the record.

Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest

Before the comment was expunged, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest called on Cooper to substantiate the claim or withdrew it.

He said Parliament protocols require honorable conduct, notwithstanding the “election season”

On his feet, Cooper shouted: “Don’t come with that today.”

The speaker ruled improper motive could not be assigned without substantiation.

But Cooper insisted he had an obligation on behalf of his constituents to express his views.

He claimed the government has repeatedly highlighted the previous downgrades and blacklisting under the previous administration.

“I want to be clear that I am not celebrating these things, that is the point,” he said.

“We have an obligation to work collectively on the issues that confront us.

“And this is why I’ve called for the assurances. And I won’t be sidetracked with side issues because I have asked for this administration to give us assurances that they have addressed the issues laid out by the EU, the FATF to ensure that we are not blacklisted on October 1.”

On a point of order, Johnson said Cooper was “misleading the House”.

He held up the photo of Cooper, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis, Attorney General Carl Bethel, and other financial services stakeholders.

From his seat, Forbes said Johnson was making a “mockery of the House”.

Johnson retorted that he ought not to get “overly excited”.

Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie

Rising to his feet to address Forbes, the speaker said it was “not his role to determine whether a matter is out of order in this Parliament”.

Johnson read the caption of the photo: “The Government of The Bahamas, Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and Financial Services Industry partners in an effort to deal with issues facing the financial services industry.”

The minister said the PLP deputy leader was present when dealing with the same issues he raised, but suggested he did not attend subsequent meetings — a claim Cooper disputed, calling it “blatantly untrue”.

Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry, Elsworth Johnson

Forbes also chimed in that Johnson was “abusing” parliamentary procedure in a “jocular mode”.

Turnquest said: “This is not the barroom where you jump up and make whatever noise. Nobody can bully no one in here, no matter how loud they shout.

“The point the member was making was that there was consultation.”

Cooper called on the government to be transparent and said he suspects The Bahamas could find itself on the European Union’s blacklist next month.

He said a downgrade would challenge the nation’s financial sector and further damage the country’s reputation.

Cooper said he had never failed to attend a consultative meeting concerning the state of the country’s finances.

But Johnson said he could prove it and had other photos.

“If you are part of these you would know what we are doing,” the minister said.

In response to inaudible remarks from Cooper, Johnson stood on his feet and shouted: “Mr. Speaker, I represent myself, my family and my ‘ma’, and I will not allow anybody to treat me that way.”

The speaker said it was regrettable that members had “arrived at this point”.

He cautioned them and expunged their use of unparliamentary words.