Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis said yesterday that the deteriorating relationship between House of Assembly Speaker Halson Moultrie and the government is interfering with the people’s business.
He made the comments after the House suspended prematurely yesterday morning after Moultrie accused the executive branch of mishandling health protocols and “playing games with people’s lives” as it related to the House clerk testing positive for COVID-19 last week.
While Moultrie demanded Minnis provide an explanation for the “disturbing” issues plaguing the Parliament in recent days, the prime minister said he did not want to be contentious and refused to address the issues, effectively resulting in a standoff.
Davis said that while it is clear Moultrie feels disrespected, the relationship must be improved.
“Clearly, this is going to produce what I call an administrative impasse between the speaker and the government, which will impact, no doubt, the legislative agenda and other matters relating to House proceedings,” Davis told reporters outside the House.
“And they need to resolve that.”
He added, “Clearly, the prime minister has been taking the speaker for granted in the sense that from what he had to say he obviously was disrespected.
“He found himself with somebody filling in for the clerk without any notice to him.
“… He is concerned about the COVID rules and obviously, what he is reminding the prime minister is that this pandemic is serious and he is not taking it seriously and the Bahamian people want to hear how is it that he as the prime minister and the competent authority – recognizing what has happened with the clerk of the House – is just seemingly disregarding all the COVID rules. And he just needed an explanation, which was not forthcoming.”
Last Wednesday, Moultrie abruptly suspended the House after berating the executive, claiming the executive insisted on meeting in the House and ignored the safety measures he suggested be implemented after the clerk of the House tested positive for COVID-19 a day earlier.
While Moultrie had indicated the day before that he and House staff would go into quarantine, he said that a key staff member, Asharan Lightbourne, had been ordered to return to work on Wednesday morning, and suggested that the order was handed down by someone in the executive.
He said the staffers were not able to be tested at a government clinic and that efforts to have the government pay for private testing were unsuccessful. He also noted that the House of Assembly had not been sanitized.
On Friday, testing was carried out for House staff and MPs at the Office of the Prime Minister in an exercise Moultrie labeled as “a political exercise of damage control and saving face.”
However, Moultrie’s comments yesterday came as a surprise to many because when the House met on Monday, he noted that the issue between him and the executive had been resolved.
Davis said he was also shocked by the turn of events, and said he believes the conversation between Moultrie and Minnis should have been a private one.
“I would have expected that that discussion ought to have been held behind closed doors,” he said.
“And if it was not resolved behind closed doors, then the public could be engaged.”
In February 2018, the Minnis administration thwarted a no confidence vote in the speaker that was brought by the opposition by amending it, with the House ultimately passing a vote of confidence in Moultrie.
Moultrie resigned from the Free National Movement (FNM) in February of this year after he was told he would not receive the nomination to run for the Nassau Village constituency. He has repeatedly petitioned for the independence of the legislative branch. He also said upon announcing his resignation that he believes the House speaker should be an independent member.
Davis said yesterday that the government is now facing the same challenges the opposition faced with the speaker.
“All I can say is this – we have had our concerns with the speaker,” he said.
“I brought it to the speaker’s attention, personally. I also brought it to the prime minister’s attention personally.
“And I think what is happening is a manifestation of the challenges that we were seeing for quite some time.
“But we are not going to get into the issue between the speaker and the government at this time.
“Because this government has expressed their confidence in him and as such, they need to ride it until its come to its conclusion, whatever that conclusion may be.”