House Speaker Halson Moultrie was deeply critical yesterday of what he called the lack of independence of Parliament from the executive branch.
Moultrie called it a dinghy attached to the mothership, saying he cannot even buy a toothpick without Cabinet approval.
“I cannot accept that, in the year 2020, some 291 years after the establishment of the Parliament of The Bahamas, which is the first act of government, [it] is still being pulled along by the executive branch of government like a dinghy boat, hitched to the mothership,” he said.
“Honorable members, this state of affairs is untenable.”
Moultrie made the comments as he noted the fact that Tuesday marked the 291st anniversary of The Bahamas Parliament.
Despite its age, Moultrie said The Bahamas Parliament does not enjoy the same level of independence enjoyed by some of the youngest Parliaments in the British Commonwealth.
“Can you believe The Bahamas Parliament of 2020 does not have the level of independence enjoyed by some of the youngest Parliaments in the British Commonwealth?” he said.
“The Turks and Caicos Islands, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, they all have a greater level of autonomy than the Parliament of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”
Moultrie said The Bahamas Parliament is designed in a way that prevents it from functioning the way it should, as he reminded Cabinet members that they are supposed to be accountable to Parliament.
“The Cabinet must always be accountable and responsible to Parliament,” he said.
“And this can only happen in an atmosphere of distinction, exclusivity and independence, which in turn will only come about with the humble recognition of the equality of all members of Parliament, especially by those who for the time being are draped in the transitory privileges of the executive.
“This separation of powers should never be diluted, never be breached, or fused as it is today. And so, we are here, 291 years later, with a Parliament under the complete control of the executive, lacking even the basic tools to carry out the constitutional mandate.
“[We] have a situation where the committee system, the very heartbeat of Parliament, is designed to ensure that they do not function. And they have not functioned.
“Two hundred ninety-one years later, the Parliament of The Bahamas is operating under rules that are designed to deny members of their constitutional rights as members of Parliament, particularly the members of the opposition or minority parties and independents.
“That cannot be right and I cannot support it.
“Two hundred ninety-one years later, we have not come to terms with the fact that ministers are accountable to the Parliament for their stewardship and ministers must answer questions.
“Two hundred ninety-one years later, the concept of the separation of powers is held in such a brazen contempt that staff members of Parliament are actually listed as members of the Cabinet.
“And the secretary of the Cabinet is the accounting officer of the Parliament. The speaker cannot purchase a toothpick without the approval of the secretary to the Cabinet.”
Moultrie also highlighted plights within his own office as he revealed that one of his staffers quit after not being paid for months.
“In a democracy, power must be shared. Without the separation of power, spite, jealousy, revenge, pettiness and all the basal inclinations or traits of men will hold sway,” he said.
“That is why 291 years later, on September 28, the personal assistant to the speaker tendered her resignation after working some six months without pay. And our chaplain, having completed her term with this honorable chamber, has yet to be paid for her tour of duty.”
Moultrie also told Parliament that he has been asking for an office in the edifice of Parliament as he said he suffers the indignity of using an office where there are no bathroom facilities and no running water.
He also revealed that a police report determined that the speaker’s office is unfit and a security risk.
This was not the first time Moultrie decried the lack of independence in Parliament. Last year, he was critical of oversized Cabinets and their impact on the independence of the House.
Moultrie said he believes now is the time to build democracy and he said the first step he will take is reconstituting the house committees.