The free COVID-19 testing offered to parliamentarians and parliamentary staff at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) on Friday was “a purely political exercise of damage control and saving face”, according to Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie.
Moultrie said he was not notified well enough in advance about the testing.
“As a consequence, I had members calling me trying to determine whether or not, if they did not attend at OPM this morning, whether they would be allowed to enter Parliament on Monday,” he said on Friday.
“I had no knowledge of what they were talking about. It wasn’t until about 6 p.m. that I got a call from the Cabinet Office indicating that there was some exercise occurring at the Office of the Prime Minister and that I was invited as a member of Parliament to come and get a free test.”
Moultrie said he did not participate in the exercise because he does not need the prime minister or the Cabinet to pay for his COVID-19 test.
He said he got his own test.
“The question and the issue was for the assistance for members of staff of the House of Assembly and the Hansard (office) who had expressed that they were challenged in paying for the test,” Moultrie said.
“And so, I did not attend that session this morning because, in my opinion, it was a purely political exercise of damage control and saving face and the speaker should not engage in such political exercises.”
Moultrie said a number of his staffers had already taken their COVID tests.
“[For] those who had not taken the test, I would expect that they would have gone to the Office of the Prime Minister to receive the free testing,” he said.
“My question is: why the Office of the Prime Minister for the test? Why not an independent institution? Why not Doctors Hospital? Why not Princess Margaret Hospital or one of the private labs? Why the Office of the Prime Minister for the test?
“Is this yet another incident of the prime minister having to have everything revolve around him?”
The testing was offered after the clerk of the House of Assembly tested positive for COVID and the speaker lambasted the government last week after someone instructed a parliamentary staffer, who was supposed to be quarantined, to go to work on Wednesday for House proceedings.
Moultrie said in Parliament last Wednesday that he had made numerous attempts to reach out to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and Minister of Health Renward Wells a day earlier about how the House would proceed given the clerk’s positive COVID-19 result.
“Staffers of Parliament were assembled in these very chambers waiting for answers,” he said.
“We got one response in one word from the member for Killarney (Minnis), and that was ‘noted’.
“We wanted to find out how we should proceed today and we wanted to find out whether or not the staff who were in a challenged position financially to take the [COVID-19] test would be able to go to a government clinic to take those tests, or to have those tests paid for in a private institution by the government.
“And we waited, and we waited, and we waited, and got no response.”