By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Deputy Chief Reporter
BRENSIL Rolle, State Minister for the Public Service, did not depart from his assertions yesterday regarding public sector hiring and the ballooning of the government’s payroll under the Christie administration despite Official Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis insisting the claims were unfounded.
Mr Rolle, who also has responsibility for the National Insurance Board, said the rebuttal from Mr Davis was a breach of his parliamentary privilege.
Last week in the House of Assembly, Mr Rolle told parliamentarians that 6,500 new public service workers were employed under the former administration and that the government’s payroll increased by $10m in that administration’s final five months through new employment.
But on Sunday, Mr Davis sent The Tribune a written statement in which he forcefully rejected the assertions calling them “untrue” and “groundless”.
The remarks led members of Parliament to engage in a lengthy back and forth during the morning session yesterday, ultimately leading House Speaker D Halson Moultrie to rule that the matter would be placed before the Committee on Privilege.
Five MPs make up the Committee on Privilege. These are: South Beach MP Jeffery Lloyd, Yamacraw MP Elsworth Johnson, Mt Moriah MP Marvin Dames, Mr Davis and Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin.
“Mr Speaker, I was really pitching the member for Cat Island a ball so that he could hit it out of the park,” Mr Rolle told parliamentarians. “Because he will have to explain to this House, Mr Speaker, how come it took all of the governments from Woodes Rogers to 2012, think about that now from 1729 to 2012 to raise the recurrent expenditure of The Bahamas, which in 2012 was $1.632bn. That’s the recurrent expenditure and doesn’t include capital works by the government.
“By this year, in five short years the Progressive Liberal Party has moved the recurrent expenditure from $1.6bn to $2.67bn in five years and it took us from Woodes Rogers to the present over 200 years (to get there).
“So I was pitching him a softball to give him some leeway so that he could explain to the Bahamian people why the PLP has moved the recurrent expenditure almost $200m every single year from 2012 to 2017.
“So if anyone wants to see a pattern of spending, the $10m that I assert that the PLP has spent from December to May, if you project that over a year in salaries and you know in the recurrent side the highest expenditure is salaries, perhaps that could have given them some longitude to say well listen of the $200m a year that we have ballooned the country’s expenditure.”
He continued: “The PLP has doubled (this spending) in five years with nothing to show. Not one hospital, no new roads, no new port, but every single year that God send from they were elected they increased the recurrent expenditure by $200m.
“So, Mr Speaker, I am sure that before this budget ends, we’re going to present to this House an account of how and we could show easily how the PLP payroll has increased by $10m from December to May. Including the millions that were spent on the 7th, 8th, and 9th (of May), millions.
“This House is obligated to know and I will be obliged to present to the leader the opposition the statement which showed the spending of this government. They used to say spending like a drunken sailor but what I can say as a statement of fact that never before in the history of the Bahamas has any government ballooned the recurrent expenditure of this country by $200m every single year, never before. It’s not only historic, it is unconscionable, Mr Speaker.
“So, Mr Speaker, the leader of the opposition can say whatever he wishes to say. I will then provide him with the facts as we go along.”
In response, Mr Davis did not deny making the statements and criticised Mr Rolle for what he considered to be his failure to make a case for a breach of privilege. He also accused Mr Rolle of failing to make clear the composition of recurrent expenses.
Mr Davis said: “First of all I expected to have an understanding as to why the member suggested that his privilege was breached. All we heard was a rehash of the same old, same old against the Progressive Liberal Party.”
Having established that Mr Davis had owned up to the remarks he made to this newspaper, the Speaker ruled that there were grounds for a prima facie case and that the matter was fit to be turned over to the Committee on Privilege.
Both Mr Davis and Mrs Hanna Martin questioned this decision.
Speaker Moultrie explained: “The particulars are as that you adopt the statement that are in quotes, you are adopting that you said the statements made (by Mr Rolle) are untrue in effect lies and groundless.
“Those are the particulars that I rely on and order that a prima facie case was made out and that the matter should be sent on to the Committee on Privilege,” he said.
Mrs Hanna Martin suggested that there was bias in the Speaker’s decision.
“We are being told that somewhere down the road through the corner we will get proof of allegations and assertions made in the House. This member has said those verbal assertions are not correct. So I’m just wondering, we are leaning in favour of what here now?
“If the member asserts that his privilege has been violated and he has evidence to establish that then he should do so, but I am trying to understand why we have a prima facie case where the foundation has not yet been made even by the member who is saying his privilege has been breached,” she said.
However, the Speaker said the evidence will be produced before the Committee on Privilege.