Confusion in the Senate

Confusion erupted in the Senate yesterday as questions arose over whether Attorney General Carl Bethel tabled the most recent proclamation of emergency last week.

According to Bethel, the Senate clerk said he had not tabled the proclamation on Friday, even though he believed that he had.

“To my recollection, we clearly tabled the proclamation and I signed and dated it,” he said in the Senate.

“It was the proclamation of the new emergency. And I signed it in the morning, withdrew it in the morning and then tabled it in the afternoon. The minutes that I saw, the draft minutes, states that the meeting opened and the proclamation was tabled.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we’ll get the tape as quickly as we can, but as far as I’m concerned, the proclamation was tabled.”

Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Senator Fred Mitchell noted that the matter had the potential to call into question the validity of the state of emergency, as the document must have been tabled within five days of it having been declared by the governor general, which happened last Monday.

Bethel moved for the Senate to suspend, so that he could check the tapes to ensure he tabled the document. Soon after, Bethel confirmed that he did table it last week.

“I did table the proclamation of emergency, the regulations issued by the governor general and the gazetted copy of the governor general’s summons for the Senate to meet,” he said.

However, in a statement yesterday afternoon, Mitchell said the opposition does not agree.

“Late today, the leader of government in the Senate indicated that a tape he reviewed had resovled the issue,” Mitchell said.

“We do not agree.”

A state of emergency was declared on March 17, following the country’s first case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The prime minister as the competent authority then moved forward with emergency orders restricting the movement of residents, closed the borders and issued other provisions to stem the spread of COVID-19.

In the House of Assembly on June 29, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis gave notice of a resolution to extend the initial state of emergency from June 29 to July 31. The government planned to debate the extension the following day.

However, the emergency proclamation and accompanying orders expired midnight — hours after Minnis gave notice that an extension would be debated the following day.

Bethel accepted responsibility for the “procedural oversight”.

As a result, Governor General C.A. Smith declared a new state of emergency on June 29.

The new proclamation was tabled in the House of Assembly the next day on June 30.

Bethel had to withdraw the proclamation in the Senate on Friday after the opposition questioned whether the parliamentary session was properly constituted.

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