By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FORMER Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Raynard Rigby yesterday termed last week’s dramatic conclusion to the 2015/2016 budget debate in the House of Assembly “amateurish” and “short-sighted” on the part of the government.
Mr Rigby went on to call the attempt to abruptly end the debate ahead of major contributions by senior Cabinet members “politically immature,” and questioned the motive of some government MPs.
“I sat down and I thought, what was the motive? It came across as being amateurish, it came across as being politically immature in my view,” said Mr Rigby, as a guest on Star FM’s radio show “Jeffrey” with host Jeff Lloyd.
“What were you hoping to achieve, because if it was isolated to prevent Dr (Andre) Rollins from speaking that was short-term, it was short-sighted.”
He said: “Because even if he had said something controversial, you had three ministers that were coming after him. He may have garnered the headlines in the newspaper the next day, which is not new to him, which is not new to us in the PLP.
“We read about him all the time, he’s that kind of fellow. So I couldn’t understand what was their rationale and from a political standpoint they could not have expected Dr Rollins to sit there and agree to it.”
During the evening session of the House of Assembly last week Wednesday, Minister of Works Philip “Brave” Davis put forth the question to close the Budget debate early, although neither he nor National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage had given their contributions. Prime Minister Perry Christie also failed to wrap up the Budget debate as is customary.
The closure motion was seconded, however Dr Rollins, Fort Charlotte MP, rose in protest and accused the government of trying to muzzle him.
Mr Christie said Dr Rollins missed his allotted time to speak earlier, but had decided “he would do it on his time.” Mr Christie said he would not let the government be held “hostage” by Dr Rollins.
Mr Davis also denied that this was his motive, however, saying he was only concerned with government efficiency, not with stifling Dr Rollins.
He said he felt the budget had been sufficiently debated, with 40 hours devoted to discussing it in the House during the last two weeks. There was also the suggestion that Mr Christie had urgent matters to deal with relating to Baha Mar, fuelling the need for the abrupt closure of the debate.
Nearly an hour later, House Speaker Dr Kendal Major ruled in Dr Rollins’ favour. The MP ending his speech, a scathing rebuke of the government, by quitting the PLP.
Mr Rigby acted as Dr Rollins’ legal counsel when the Fort Charlotte MP was called before the party’s disciplinary committee for his derisive criticisms of Mr Christie.
Yesterday, he said: “They must have expected him (Dr Rollins) to fight for his right to speak, and based on the track record of the Speaker when he dealt with the issue with the leader of the Opposition involving the matter with Minister (V Alfred) Gray, they couldn’t expect the Speaker to sit there silently and allow closure to be brought when he had a discretion in the rules and he would have erred on the side of allowing Dr Rollins to speak.
Mr Rigby suggested that the move for immediate closure must have been triggered by something, pointing out that Mr Davis had sent out an electronic copy of his contribution to the media earlier that day.
He said the matter was unfortunate, and that he hoped his party “sits back and learns from it”.