By KHRISNA RUSSELL

Tribune Chief Reporter

krussell@tribunemedia.net

HOUSE Speaker Halson Moultrie accused the government of disrespecting Parliament by ignoring and refusing to implement his COVID-19 preventative measures, leading him to abruptly adjourn yesterday’s sitting until May 3.

As he chided the Minnis administration, Mr Moultrie urged members of the governing side not to “pick fights or wars,” adding “if you want a war, you can get a war”.

His rebuke was sparked yesterday by confirmation on Tuesday that a senior House of Assembly staffer had tested positive for COVID-19.

Despite this, Mr Moultrie revealed that not only was the House not sanitised before parliamentarians attended yesterday’s sitting, but he suggested that concerns were ignored by Leader of Government Business in the House Renward Wells and brushed off by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.

He said against his orders that staffers self-isolate due to possible exposure to the positive senior Parliament employee, another staffer was ordered out of quarantine and into yesterday’s session.

He reiterated that his previous recommendation for less seats in the House of Assembly and to adjust to a virtual setting had been blatantly ignored.

“This day is indeed a sad day for me,” Speaker Moultrie told the House. “Firstly, because the closest person in this Parliament to me as Speaker is not well today and we pray for his speedy recovery from this COVID-19 coronavirus.

“Honourable members today causes me to reflect on the circumstances that lead us here to this point today in that, one year ago approximately, we began the protocols based on the proclamation of emergency with respect to this COVID pandemic.

“Whenever we accept leadership positions the first thing we must do and recognise is that we should lead by example and so if we put protocols in place, we should be prepared to live by the established protocols because if we fail to do so, the general public who we represent cannot be expected to abide by those protocols.”

He continued: “Now if we look around this assembly today, we would note that we are in breach of our own protocols. We established a certain physical distancing within this Parliament.

“The Speaker announced those protocols and some authority, who believes that they have jurisdiction over the Speaker’s jurisdiction in this legislative branch, has caused numerous chairs to be added to this assembly in breach of the physical distancing protocols. Yet, we expect the public to abide by such protocols.

“In September last year the Speaker suggested to this Parliament that we should pass a resolution, like many other Parliaments in this Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (have) done to this point and time, so that this Parliament can meet in a hybrid form either face-to-face or virtually, but then again the Speaker’s recommendation was either ignored or refused.”

He said it was possible that the House was contaminated as it had not been sanitised and revealed what transpired on Tuesday upon confirmation of the senior staffer’s condition.

“So, we find ourselves today meeting in a Parliament that can be contaminated as a consequence of the coronavirus, in a Parliament that has not been sanitised since we discovered that the clerk of this Parliament has been affected.

“The most challenging matter to me was yesterday –  in the process of dealing with this matter with the staff of this Parliament – I made numerous attempts to communicate the situation with the member for Killarney (Dr Minnis) and with the member for Bamboo Town (Mr Wells).

“The staffers of Parliament we assembled in these very chambers waiting for answers. We got one response in one word from the member for Killarney 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 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.”

He said the matter was further exacerbated by the lack of independence of Parliament with an anomaly over the pay of the chief clerk.

“This matter is further exacerbated by the fact that with the lack of the independence of this institution an anomaly has been created in the appointment of the clerk where the clerk’s salary is below that of subordinate staff.

“Any person in management would tell you that this is a grave anomaly that would undermine the very morality and administrative authority of the clerk of Parliament and for two years we have been trying to get this anomaly corrected,” Mr Moultrie said, adding they had also been trying for two years to have the deputy clerk’s position confirmed.

“The Cabinet Office, which seems to think that it controls the Parliament and the legislative branch of government, has refused the confirmation—refused.”

He added that despite indicating that the staff go into quarantine as they could not take COVID tests, another senior staffer was called upon to report for duty against his instructions.

“Now this to me was my final straw when it comes to the disrespect of this institution and the disrespect of the Office of the Speaker. I see it as a grave disorder and according to the rules of this Parliament if, in the opinion of the Speaker the behaviour of any member is creating disorder, level of disrespect to this Parliament, the Speaker is authorised by Rule 88(9) to have that circumstance corrected and to adjourn this Parliament until such circumstance is corrected.

“Now I don’t necessarily pick fights or wars, but if you want a war, you can get a war. They say if you don’t want a war don’t start one.

“So, don’t come in this Parliament talking about reading books of war because more than one person in this Parliament reads books of war and as a consequence, pursuant to Rule 88(9) this Parliament is hereby adjourned to May 3 at 10am.”

The normal practice is for a member of the governing side in Parliament to move a motion to adjourn the House until a specified date.

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