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Saunders: Speaker was on point

Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Don Saunders said he supports the comments made by House Speaker Halson Moultrie and noted that the comments echoed discussions that he and other backbenchers have had before.

In a contribution to the House on Wednesday, Moultrie claimed that the executive has increasingly been encroaching on the independence of Parliament.

He said this practice is unacceptable and it is time to move beyond it.

He further called on the prime minister to ensure that in making appointments to the executive there are sufficient backbenchers remaining to allow Parliament to hold the government accountable.

“Well, I think the speaker was on point,” said Saunders, outside Parliament on Thursday. 

“I think it is an issue that we as backbenchers certainly had had discussions about.

“We felt that the speaker’s comments were on point, it was timely. Definitely whenever I speak I always try to incorporate in some way the importance of progressing and reforming our political process here. The necessity for us to have a more autonomous Parliament or a more autonomous speaker, in the sense that the speaker is the head of the legislature. 

“Unfortunately, the way that the House is operated the speaker does not have that autonomy that I would suggest is needed. 

“And, so, as we look to have a more balanced Parliament, in terms of the Cabinet and backbenchers, we also have to be cognizant of the necessity to also have an autonomous House of Assembly via the speaker of the House of Assembly. 

“And, so, what the speaker did, was really brought it to light.

“At least I think it’s going to be in the heads of the Cabinet.

“It’s definitely going to continue to be in the heads of the backbenchers and, so, I definitely support the views of the speaker and I think if you speak to most other backbenchers, certainly you would see that they agree, even if they don’t want to put it on record, I could guarantee that they would agree.

“I think that we have to look at moving our democracy forward. We can’t continuously remain the way we have been operating for the last, at least, 20 years.”

Moultrie also raised concerns over the size of Cabinet, suggesting it is much too big.

He recommended an amendment to the constitution establishing a cap on the number of appointments of ministers to eliminate what he called “supersized Cabinets”, which he said The Bahamas has become accustomed to.

The speaker recommended the size of Cabinet and parliamentary secretaries should not exceed 17 or 43 percent of the elected members of Parliament.

He said as long as the status quo remains it will demonstrate a lack of commitment to the ideals of accountability and transparency.

Noting that the number of Cabinet ministers has almost tripled over the constitutional minimum of eight while there is only one more seat in the House over the constitutional minimum of 38, Moultrie asked how can there be accountability and transparency when the number of Cabinet ministers outnumbers the backbenchers and opposition combined.

There are 23 Cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries combined.

Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine on Wednesday called Moultrie’s comments “a breath of fresh air”.

He noted Moultrie’s speech pointed to the need to strengthen democracy and the government’s transparency.

“You can’t declare to be democratic but yet you tend to move in an undemocratic fashion and so he spoke to that,” McAlpine said.

“He also spoke to strengthening the voice of backbenchers and I think this [all bodes] well for what we originally came in and campaigned on, transparency.”

Sloan Smith

Staff Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Sloan covers national news for The Nassau Guardian. Sloan officially joined the news team in September 2016 but interned at The Nassau Guardian while studying journalism at the University of The Bahamas.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications

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