By ADRIAN GIBSON
SO, I have decided to grade the PLP—after one year in government—next week. And yes, the ministerial report card will be completed for publication in a few weeks.
In the meantime, the people’s House of Assembly is becoming a national disgrace. For some reason or the other, a line in Michael Jackson’s song “They don’t care about us” keeps coming to mind, it says “all I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us.” The Bahamian public is losing faith in our so-called leaders and we are tired of the personal politics, tired of the idle vapourings and woeful outpourings of mind-numbing drivel, tired of speeches that lack content and quality, tired of some elected representatives seeking points of order and points of privilege on bizarre grounds and tired of debates degenerating into allegations and aimless blathering. I am tired of certain ineffectual timeservers wasting our time whilst our ship of state flounders!
Are we electing village idiots to Parliament these days?
Indeed, I was appalled to hear about the fracas in the House of Assembly on Wednesday. Whilst in the precincts of the Parliament—on the House’s adjournment for lunch—Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner slapped Fort Charlotte MP Andre Rollins after he made “nasty”, disparaging remarks towards her and she had requested him to remove his arms from around her. She admitted to it. On Wednesday, the House of Assembly must have been like a R-rated version of Girls Gone Wild—Rawson Square style!
To be quite honest, the comical side of my mind ran away with me after I initially heard about “slapgate”, as I started to wonder how far she “hauled” back before delivering the slap; was it an open palm slip or backhanded; was the shock overwhelming and was the “taste” also lost in the receiver’s mouth? My mind then recalled a mass Blackberry message that I had received on the way to Long Island’s regatta last week, which spoke about a gang initiation. And, slipping into another spell of rib-tickling thoughts, I wondered whether the slap was a sort of political initiation! Butler-Turner certainly appears to have a lot of cojones.
Whilst not funny when put in its true perspective, the “pimp” slap—heard around the archipelago – made me think about the behaviour shown on reality TV series on the Oxygen Network, except that it occurred in our Parliament. Perhaps, Oxygen could still send their cameras and do follow-up interviews with eyewitnesses!
Seriously though, Andre Rollins is an agent provocateur (I know first-hand) and there are many who would posit that the brother has a chip on his shoulder, that he got his “t’ings” and that his comeuppance was long overdue. However, the violent display between two of our country’s supposed leaders is unacceptable. Indeed, Mr Rollins had no right to put his hand on Edward Turner’s wife and, even worse, proceed to whisper in her ear. His actions were totally disrespectful, inappropriate and at least we know that if she had hit him harder— and he had lost a tooth—as an orthodontist, he has the ability to rectify the situation!
Mrs Butler-Turner’s apology in the House of Assembly on Thursday appears to have been genuine when contrasted to Rollins who told Parliament that he felt “compelled” to apologise to his constituents for any “perceived embarrassment” for his part in the matter. I am your constituent, sir, and nothing is perceived about how disgraceful and embarrassing I found your behaviour—my perception is quite real.
As usual, Rollins appears to be disingenuous, searching his mind for the most fitting word/s that only obfuscates and insults the intellectual capacity of the Bahamian people. I accept Mrs Butler-Turner’s explanation when she stated that she is human and fallible, and that the position she was placed in on Wednesday was not a “good one”. The fact that she said that she does not want that to be the kind of representation she wants to present to the people makes her apology unpretentious and acceptable. I hope that she learns from her mistake and that future slaps would be off the table!
In total fairness, Loretta Butler-Turner is a Member whose behaviour has frequently come under the microscope, particularly as Speaker Kendal Major has rightly warned her—on repeated occasions—about her conduct in Parliament. I have been told—by fellow parliamentarians—that Mrs Butler-Turner makes some of the most ridiculous utterances that they have ever heard, mostly while seated.
However, had this incident occurred in the United States it is likely that Dr. Rollins could’ve been accused and charged with sexual harassment and/or forced to resign. And, relative to Mrs Butler Turner, she perhaps would have had to prove that she acted in self-defence in order to avoid being charged with assault. Having had my own experience with being provoked by Dr Rollins, I truly believe that Mrs Butler-Turner was defending her honour.
If the lady repeatedly asked Dr Rollins to remove his hand from her person, there is absolutely no reason why he should not have done so. Immediately! Multiple sources have stated that Mrs Butler-Turner was heard asking Mr Rollins to take his hands off her. By any stretch of the imagination, one would posit that he cannot possibly believe that unwanted physical contact is acceptable—and that fact that she is a woman makes it worse. The fact that Rollins chose not to press charges lends credence to the notion that he boorishly crossed the line. I’ve been reliably informed, by sources close to Butler-Turner, that the inane statements uttered was hardly “sanitised.”
If Parliamentarians cannot resolve their issues in an amicable manner, is there any wonder why our society is degenerating and becoming so violent? If these “educated” elected leaders and supposed pacesetters cannot resolve conflicts without behaving boorishly, what is the point of the Urban Renewal project and other so-called “anti-violence” initiatives?
Maybe urban renewal should begin in Parliament!
When will an Integrity in Public Life Act ever be enacted in the Bahamas? Will the Bahamas ever follow Trinidad and Tobago’s lead and pass such legislation in my lifetime, or will our leaders continue to operate in an environment that is quickly becoming disreputable? In Trinidad and Tobago, such an Act identifies regulations and guidelines for the conduct of persons exercising public functions. The Trinidadian Act further establishes an Integrity Commission, which has an oversight role relative to the ethics and integrity of two classes of public officials—i.e. persons in public life and persons exercising public functions. The Act attempts to promote openness, transparency (anti-corruption) and accountability with the commission serving as its enforcer and watchdog.
Politically, Andre Rollins must be wearing ankle weights. He is merely a once overhyped, underachieving politician who has gone bust. At this rate, Andre Rollins is on the treadmill to political oblivion.
Frankly, Andre Rollins had a lot of potential but in recent times he has demonstrated that he has no convictions and vacillates in the wind according to expediency. Seemingly, he switches his fundamental beliefs if it suits him. Dr Rollins emerged as an anti-establishment figure—the then chair of the National Development Party—and got people to buy into his so-called “passionate” belief in the Bahamian people and his “hunger” to serve his country. Not long after, he quickly became a nondescript political journeyman who jumped ship, abandoned his political shipmates in his overeager pursuit of power and self-aggrandisement and is today defined by seemingly myopic thinking and belligerent behaviour in the House of Assembly. Frankly, the first-time MP has a political record that seems steeped in self-interested pursuits. It seems that the NDP was used as a vehicle to propel the now-MP to greener political pastures and then the fledgling political outfit was dropped like a hot potato!
Honestly, I am disappointed in Dr Rollins and have noticed that he doesn’t seem to have any principles that he’s prepared to defend. How can one respect any politician who doesn’t seem to be prepared to stand—even if it means falling on their swords—but standing because they truly believe in something (and I don’t mean believe until the next best thing comes along)? He is recklessly hotheaded, insufferably pompous and impetuous. Andre Rollins has fallen so far from grace, it’s pathetic! Wasn’t he supposed to be one of the new generation of leaders?
Indeed, the once hallowed halls of the House of Assembly—our elected body—is being used by a handful of petulant and thin-skinned politicians to engage in “girlie” fights and dishonourable petty skirmishes rather than a thorough examination of the issues and truly representing their constituents. The Parliament—that is, both the House of Assembly and the Senate—is supposed to be at the vanguard in its display of best practices (debating, civility, etc) and the standards of behaviour expected of these public office holders should be one above and beyond reproach.
Why didn’t the FNM’s Parliamentary caucus rally around Butler-Turner in a show of solidarity, decrying what happened—not necessarily in an accusatory manner—but in attempting to demonstrate that such a fiasco is unbecoming of Parliamentarians whilst taking an opportunity to address the concerns of the majority of the electorate—women?
The unparliamentary behaviour seen on Wednesday has long been in the making. A few years ago, then St Thomas More MP Frank Smith (now senator)—on the floor of the House—brushed past and seemingly grabbed at former Pineridge MP Kwasi Thompson. That was totally out of order.
In 2009, Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes’ exclamation at the PLP convention led to the mistrial in the high-profile Travolta case. Mr Forbes’ premature assertion that former MP Pleasant Bridgewater had been acquitted in the John Travolta attempted extortion trial led to joyous singing and gyrating by PLPs and ignited a spark that has set the justice system, or at least the five-week long Travolta attempted extortion trial, ablaze.
Then Senior Justice (now Court of Appeal President) Anita Allen rightly decided to declare a mistrial, telling the jury:
“We are very concerned, in the interest of justice, that it does not appear that there has been a communication from the jury room. Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done.”
“I am very very reluctant to discharge you but in the interest of justice, having heard the views of counsel, we are concerned. It leaves the impression that there may have been a communication from the jury room,” she said.
On the convention floor, Mr Forbes exclaimed:
“Pleasant is a free woman PLPs! Pleasant is a free woman PLPs! God is good PLPs! Pleasant is a free woman! God still reigns PLPs!”
When the Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP made his proclamation, there was a wild outburst as the crowd chanted “PLP all the way.” This episode made international headlines. Mr Forbes’ remark was a terrible miscalculation and can only be summed up as the crudest form of political gamesmanship (something Dr Rollins should be very familiar with).
In 2006, (then PLP MP for Kennedy) Kenyatta Gibson and former Mount Moriah MP Keod Smith were combatants in the infamous Cabinet Room brawl. After the melee, it was claimed that two windows were smashed and the glass table top of the large mahogany table in the cabinet room was shattered. The difference between Andre Rollins and Kenyatta Gibson is that Kenyatta “unreservedly” apologised and sought forgiveness for conduct that even he referred to as regrettable and unacceptable. I have heard no such thing from Rollins.
Back then, PM Christie then told the Bahamian public that the fight was “more apparent than real”. We’re certain that Wednesday’s squabble was very real. At that time, Mr Christie claimed that he and the skirmishing MP’s had met and “laughed together” at the media’s coverage of the incident. Jokingly, PM Christie said he hadn’t seen “any bruises or bite marks” on either man. I hope that he didn’t meet and “laugh together” with Andre Rollins this time! Moreover, dissimilar to the 2006 incident when he didn’t see “any bruises or bite marks”, one would posit that if he inspects Rollins, he would perhaps find “five fingers”— likely imprinted upon his cheek—and not courtesy of Bahama Hand Prints either!
All jokes aside, I believe that the Speaker can and should ensure an even stricter enforcement of civil decorum in the House. Frankly, we should follow the example set by Australia and seek to impose fines on MPs who display disruptive and unparliamentary behaviour. Moreover, the Speaker should move to suspend those MPs who engage in threatening or reprehensible verbal diatribes, formally condemn and reprimand a Member by addressing that Member by name as opposed to constituency (naming), by ordering the withdrawal of a Member from the House of Assembly for that sitting day, by sanctioning an MP so that they are unable to speak for the duration of a period and/or by allowing the House itself to take disciplinary action against a Member.
Gone are the days of brilliant parliamentarians like Paul Adderley and Sir Orville Turnquest who understood how to use colourful language to make a point, who understood the brilliance in coolly and effectively using the English language!
Rather than wasting time, MPs need to do the work of the Bahamian people and, as the 18 month mark of the current Parliamentary session approaches, seek to disclose their finances and investments as is annually required by law. Parliament is not the setting for anyone to behave like a flu-ridden orangutan in a china shop. Mr Speaker—as long as you’re fair—continue to use your extensive parliamentary powers to enforce the rules of debate and best parliamentary practices, so that there can be an orderly conduct of the people’s business!
It is my belief that most intelligent Bahamians are supporters of democracy and open debate, but are anti-idiocy—particularly, the idiocy that masquerades as common sense.
Christie has to give Andre Rollins a swift kick in his political hide! Quite frankly, the PM should ask for Andre Rollins’ immediate resignation from the Gaming Board and the House of Assembly. Dr Rollins has behaved like a loose cannon since he entered the hallowed halls of Parliament, uttering his “100% heterosexual line”, overtly criticising his leader and party policy (gambling referendum) and now engaging in brouhaha with Loretta Butler-Turner!
I was glad to see that, at least this time Mr Christie didn’t say he was “unaware” or “didn’t know.”
PM Christie has in the past promised accountability, transparency and a strict adherence to his much-hyped Code of Ethics. I believe that he means well and, moreover, he now has an opportunity to “put his money where his mouth is” and fulfil all those proclamations made eons ago.