Two days after he declared that his recent issues with the executive had been resolved, House of Assembly Speaker Halson Moultrie yesterday lashed out at Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and his Cabinet, accusing them of mishandling health protocols and “playing games with people’s lives”, after the House clerk tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
“I’m concerned because we are dealing with COVID-19 and we cannot be playing games with people’s lives,” said Moultrie at the start of House proceedings.
Last week, Moultrie abruptly suspended the House after claiming the executive had insisted on meeting and ignored the safety measures he suggested be implemented as a result of the COVID-positive result.
On Friday, testing was carried out for House staff and MPs at the Office of the Prime Minister. But the speaker labeled this “a political exercise of damage control and saving face”.
Speaking from the chair yesterday, Moultrie said that testing exercise revealed discrepancies in the government’s handling of contacts of COVID cases.
He said that last week, a House staffer had been told it was safe for her to return to work because she had contracted COVID last year, and should therefore have antibodies to protect her.
However, he said despite that same staff member testing negative for COVID-19 on Friday, she was told she must still quarantine.
But MPs and Cabinet ministers, whom Moultrie said also had contact with the House clerk, have not been required to quarantine.
“The most disturbing part for me was to discover that certain persons were called and were notified that they were negative with no conditions attached while other persons were called and informed that they were negative but that they should not attend work or this Parliament until the contact tracing process was complete,” he said.
“There again, no one contacted the speaker or the clerk in respect to this process.”
Moultrie said the issues are representative of “the level of disrespect and dishonesty” he has been faced with.
“The level of disrespect and dishonesty is something that I am severely challenged with because we are dealing with COVID-19,” he said.
“Now, the result of telling that individual that she cannot attend this Parliament, is that the two persons who are considered loyal to the speaker are denied the right to be in this Parliament, while…members of the Cabinet are allowed to come with no condition after the test.
“But staffers who are loyal to the speaker…are forced out of this Parliament and I’m supposed to just sit idly by and accept such a circumstance.
“We are dealing with COVID-19. We cannot appear or be seen [to be] functioning this way.
“How could you call someone and tell them that they are protected because they have the antibodies one week, and the next week you call them and tell them that, even though they tested negative, they cannot attend this Parliament and the speaker is not appraised on that decision? The speaker has to go and dig and question.
“And thank God for some of my legal training. I was able to glean answers out of persons as to what is really going on.”
Moultrie explained that while the issues of the sanitization of the House and the free testing of House staff had been resolved, other problems had come to his attention since then.
He said that in addition to the fact that not all contacts of the House clerk were required to quarantine, the results of the tests performed on Friday were only given by word of mouth, with no documentation to verify the results.
The speaker said there are many unresolved issues.
“As a matter of fact, it is time for the staff of this Parliament to be paid their overtime, for four years now,” he said.
“It’s time for this Parliament to pass a resolution so that we can meet in hybrid form, face to face, or virtually.
“It is time for the independence of this Parliament and for the government to stop dragging the Parliament around like a dinghy boat.”
“…I don’t want anybody to misconstrue my statements.
“…As far as I’m concerned this is an Ephesians 6 and 12 moment in this Parliament. This is a matter of light and darkness, good and evil.”
Moultrie called on Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis to address the various “disturbing” issues.
Instead of responding to the speaker’s claims, Minnis attempted to move on with the business of the House, but Moultrie demanded that he explain the events of the past week.
The prime minister, however, said he did not want to be contentious and refused to address the issues, effectively resulting in a standoff.
After a brief exchange between Moultrie and Yamacraw MP Elsworth Johnson, Acting Leader of Government Business Frankie Campbell requested a 10-minute suspension of the House.
The House resumed about 40 minutes later with no mention of the events that led to the suspension, and the debate began on the Securities Industry (Amendment) Bill, 2021.