PROPOSALS were put forward yesterday in the House of Assembly for the construction of a new Parliament building – despite concerns over how the country could afford it.
While specifics were not revealed on how the Government would pay for a new facility, MP for Fort Charlotte Dr Andre Rollins said that even if such a facility cost $50million, the Government could find a way to pay for it.
According to Dr Rollins, the new Parliament could be used as a toursit attraction – with visitors charged $5 a time to tour the complex and appreciate the Bahamas’ “deep democracy”.
Some Opposition members were against the notion, citing the increasing debt of the nation.
Parliamentarians said that the current edifice is aged and does not meet modern standards. MPs have expressed concerns over the security and the structural soundness of the buildings that comprise Parliament.
The issue of a new complex has for years been discussed but none of the plans ever materialised. The first sitting of the House convened on September 29, 1729.
Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell, who headed the debate, said a new complex is long overdue.
“I do not like to work in this building,” he said. “It is cramped. It is inadequate. It is too intimate and too accessible. It has long ago outlived its adequacy.”
He wants the government to travel to neighbouring countries, including Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Antigua to observe their parliamentary complexes.
Parliamentarians also debated launching a select committee to review the benefits and allowances of MPs yesterday.
And while the government does make provisions for MPs to receive assistance and certain provisions to help their constituents, Mr Mitchell said the current system is not enough.
MPs now receive a $1500 per month allowance to foot constituency expenses which included utility bills and running community programmes. Members who have to travel to Family Islands constantly are given the same allowance.
“It is easy,” he said, “to simply argue that people are seeking to fix themselves up. But I say that this is a matter of such importance to the future of the country and its ability to attract people of quality to service here that it must be fixed.
“This is not an exercise about salaries.”
Mr Mitchell also insists that the pensions of MPs and Senators should be reviewed.
“Pensions for example ought to be reviewed regularly and members ought to know what the status of their pension is, how they can improve the worth of the pension. It is a contributory pension and the value of it might be improved by allowance purchases of additional benefits.
“When a Member or a senator retires, it is the House or Senate that should provide the services to that member to ensure that he is properly treated and deal with such items as support for health care.”
Opposition members, however, said that while the country is in need of a new complex, there are other pressing issues which should precede it.
Neko Grant, Central Grand Bahama MP said: “While this Parliament and building is not what I certainly would wish for us to have, having visited the parliament in Ottawa, I can only again question the timing of it.
“Should we not focus attention on matters more substantive that will enrich the lives of people who we serve? That we continue to say need attention and are suffering from closure and suffering from employment?”