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Turnquest, Moultrie clash over claim against ‘atheist’ civil servant

Tensions rose in the House of Assembly yesterday between former Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest and House Speaker Halson Moultrie after Turnquest attempted to defend the acting financial secretary from certain comments made by the speaker on Tuesday. 

On Tuesday, Moultrie said he met with a man, who publicly said he does not believe in God, who gave him “all reasons why no food will be coming into this Parliament for the members of this Parliament last year”.

 “The circumstances have deteriorated since then, but I see food in the Parliament this year,” he said. 

Last year, as a means to reduce the expenditure in all non-essential areas, the government ended the practice of the House of Assembly providing breakfast and lunch for members.

During debate on the 2021/2022 budget, Turnquest said he felt compelled to address the matter “raised by you, Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday afternoon here in this honorable House in respect to the acting financial secretary and a decision made by this government that was incorrectly ascribed to him”.

“Mr. Speaker, I hope you will take my comments in the manner in which they are intended as I have respect for you and your views in general regarding the need for the House to operate as a cost center, semi-independent of the executive, but I have grave difficulty in any elected official taking unfair aim at any civil servant in the execution of their duties,” Turnquest said.

“In your commentary, Mr. Speaker, you unfortunately, inadvertently misled the House when you chastised the acting financial secretary for discontinuing …”

But the speaker cut him off. 

“Honorable member, before you go any further, first of all, I did not from the chair take aim at any civil servant,” Moultrie said. 

“Secondly, I don’t think that anything that I said was unwarranted because I simply reported the facts.

“Those facts haven’t changed. They remain the same. So I don’t want you as you proceed to attribute anything to me in your efforts to protect, and I guess I can assess it that way, any member who might be a civil servant.

“The remarks I made with respect to the person that I addressed, I thought about those remarks before I made them and I stand by them. I don’t see them as an attack on a civil servant.

“He expressed his beliefs publicly. I have issues with those beliefs because they are inconsistent with mine. I expressed my view with respect to those beliefs.”

Acting Financial Secretary Marlon Johnson has publicly said that he is an atheist. On Wednesday, Johnson joked about the speaker’s comments.

Moultrie continued, “I am satisfied that when I sat and met with the individual, he presented information to me as the presiding officer and head of the legislative branch; he was disrespectful because he did not, first of all, even have the courtesy to consult with the speaker or anyone else in this Parliament before decisions were taken that would affect the Parliament.”

Referring to proposed upgrades to the Hansard and Parliamentary Channel, Moultrie said, “In the second instance, he made allegations that the documents that were presented to him were inflated and I asked him to produce the evidence. He was unable to produce one scintilla of evidence to justify that claim. That claim was offensive to me …

“He had the audacity, in my estimation, to come and sit before the speaker and suggest that it was inflated and I asked him to produce some evidence and he indicated that he was not at liberty to produce the evidence.”

 Moultrie added, “I think what he did was insulting and disrespectful to this Parliament and to the speaker.”

Turnquest then stood and said that “it would have been helpful if you had let me finish” but the speaker cut him off again. 

“Honorable member, you started off wrong,” Moultrie said.

“You started off accusing the chair of attacking a civil servant.”

Turnquest told the speaker that he is entitled to state his opinion and the speaker likewise has the same right. 

The speaker retorted that Turnquest’s opinion “cannot infringe on my rights”. 

“I am not going to argue with you,” Turnquest said.

“I will say this . … What I do know is that last Tuesday a statement was made in this house that the acting financial secretary …”

But the speaker interjected, “I didn’t make a statement that the AFS did anything. Let’s get that straight.”

Turnquest said, “Please, Mr. Speaker, allow me.”

“I cannot allow you to put on the record something that is not true,” the speaker responded. 

Turnquest explained the decision to cancel food in the Parliament was a decision he made with the consent of Cabinet. 

“It would have been unfair [and] insensitive in my opinion, and so I insisted on canceling that perk for both the Cabinet and legislative branches,” Turnquest said.

“The point, Mr. Speaker, is that the acting financial secretary made no such decisions. This minister made the recommendation to the Cabinet, that to be honest was reluctantly accepted and we made the decision. That’s the point I was trying to make.”

Turnquest added that he has respect for all of the professionals in the Ministry of Finance, “regardless of their religion or the lack thereof”.

“It makes them no less patriotic and no less citizenry of this country and entitled to all the respect that their position demands,” he said.

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Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018. Education: College of The Bahamas, English

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