Moultrie claims dissolving House before boundaries report would create a crisis

The dissolution of Parliament before the resumption of the House of Assembly on September 22 can potentially create a constitutional crisis, Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie said yesterday.

“They say timing is everything,” Moultrie, who chairs the Constituencies Commission, said during a virtual meeting with The Bahamas Trade Union Congress.

“This meeting is being held the day after the House of Assembly was adjourned for three months until September 22, 2021. What is interesting about this date is that it exceeds the validity time of the COVID-19 resolution, proclamation, and protocol orders, which expires [on] August 13, 2021, and the adjournment came prior to the Constituencies Commission’s report to the governor general. 

“Should the Constituencies Commission present a report, which the prime minister rejects or seek to modify, this would require compliance with Article 70 (4) through (8) of the constitution which in essence says that whenever the commission submits a report recommending modifications, which is rejected or modified by the prime minister, “the prime minister shall lay before the House of Assembly together with the draft a statement of the reasons for the modifications”, for approval by resolution.

“In such circumstances, [the] dissolution of Parliament before September 22, 2021, has the potential to create a constitutional crisis.”

Attorney General Carl Bethel rejected Moultrie’s claim.

“The Constituencies Commission, howsoever constituted, must go through within a five-year period and make a report to the governor general of its recommendations, which the governor general sends to the House to ensure, as far as possible, the equality of seats,” he said when called for comment.

“That can happen at any time so as long as it’s within the five-year period or cycle, if you will, that the constitution mandates. In my view, there is no constitutional crisis, etc., and none to be anticipated.”

Bethel cited Article 66 of the constitution which states that the governor general, acting in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, can at any time dissolve Parliament.

He also cited that Article 69(4) of the constitution which states that the governor general is allowed to fill any vacancy that may arise in the membership of the Constituencies Commission if for any reason a member is unable to perform the functions of his office or if his office is “vacant”.

Bethel said the commission does not need to submit its report in order for an election to be called.

“Should there be any intervening event within the five-year period, such as a vote of confidence which a prime minister might lose, in such a case an election would be mandated, should the prime minister choose not to resign,” he said.

“The commission can always be reconstituted within the five years period to continue its work.”

Bethel said the commission could return on September 22 and submit its report because it has until February 2022 before the five-year period expires.

The Constituencies Commission, which is always chaired by the speaker of the House of Assembly, reviews constituency boundaries throughout The Bahamas. The constitution mandates that a revision is done at least once every five years and that the commission report any recommended changes.

The last commission was reported in February 2017.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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