Several parliamentarians support virtual Parliament, health minister remains silent

Several parliamentarians support virtual Parliament, health minister remains silent
The House of Assembly.

Govt. has yet to address resolution for alternative parliamentary proceedings

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — While Leader of Government Business Renward Wells yesterday declined to comment on Parliament transitioning to virtual sittings, several governing parliamentarians expressed support for the measure.

In an interview with Eyewitness News on Monday, Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie expressed disappointment with the government’s apparent resistance to move parliamentary proceedings to a larger venue or allow virtual proceedings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Outside the chamber of the House of Assembly yesterday morning, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said: “I’m for it.”

Minister of National Security Marvin Dames also expressed support for the move.

Minister of National Security and Mount Moriah MP Marvin Dames (FILE PHOTO)

“These are the times that we are living in,” he told Eyewitness News.

“First and foremost we have the sanctity of human life.

“And in times like these, with a pandemic, we have to be smarter.

Meanwhile, Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper said the move was in keeping with the times and the “right thing to do”.

Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper (FILE PHOTO)

“I support the virtual Parliament,” the PLP deputy leader said.

“I think it is practical and I think we have to change with the times.

“There was a time in the country when we didn’t support working from home, but times have changed and we have to evolve.

“We’ve seen many persons impacted in the House of Assembly through having contracted the virus — staffers as well as members of Parliament.

“We’re in a small tight space. This Parliament is an old building.

“There is not a lot of facility to social distance and virtual Parliament is, therefore, the right thing to do and this is the right time to put in place the framework by which to do it.”

Centreville MP Reece Chipman said he was undecided, but would consider the matter.

Renward Wells, Minister of Health (FILE PHOTO)

In the foyer of the House yesterday, Wells was asked whether the government had considered the resolution and whether he supported the recommendations.

He said: “I have no comment.”

In a draft resolution in September, following a House of Assembly staffer contracting COVID-19, the speaker recommended hybrid means to continue parliamentary proceedings.

Two House of Assembly staffers tested positive for the virus in September.

At least five parliamentarians, including two Cabinet ministers, have contracted the virus since March.

Parliament has limited the number of MPs attending sittings to form a quorum and implemented social distancing protocols, including using the gallery to sear some backbenchers.

When Parliament debated the extension of the emergency orders to the end of the November, 24 members were absent.

The majority of the Cabinet was in quarantine after Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister tested positive for the virus.

The resolution passed with 14 MPs voting in favor.