By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
HOUSE Speaker Halson Moultrie, pictured, stopped short yesterday of offering an apology for the personal attacks he launched at Progressive Liberal Party members and former parliamentary clerk Maurice Tynes Wednesday, but admitted he now regrets how his words may “affect the operations of the institution” moving forward.
His comment came as former Free National Movement parliamentarians have criticised his conduct, arguing his rush to suspend opposition members and his personal attacks from the chair were without precedent in the modern history of the Bahamian Parliament.
One by one, sitting elected FNM MPs lavished praise on him Wednesday and justified his actions, but former FNM officials, including some who spoke to The Tribune anonymously, described Wednesday’s House sitting as a departure from tradition in several lamentable ways.
While it is not unusual for parliamentarians to engage in disagreeable behaviour from their chairs or when they take the floor, House speakers have often sought to gain respect by remaining above the fray, observers said.
Asked if he regretted his statements, Mr Moultrie said: “Only to the point of how it may affect operations of the institution in terms of us moving forward. If we don’t put it behind us, naturally it would be difficult to proceed in an environment that is so adversarial.”
After Mr Moultrie took a swipe at the foreign-born status of his wife, PLP Leader Philip “Brave” Davis called him a “bullying buffoon” and described him as “unprincipled and disgraceful” during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
PLP Senator Fred Mitchell said he was unbothered by derogatory references to him, but was happy to meet Mr Moultrie “in the street.”
Asked if he can maintain a working relationship with the opposition in view of the personal nature of the back-and-forth attacks, Mr Moultrie said: “I have broad shoulders. I am prepared to absorb whatever is thrown at me in the spirit of the occasion. I was always of the view that we should find ways to agree and disagree and move on as professionals who have been elected to advance the interests of the country.”
Nonetheless, Mr Moultrie declined to directly address his veiled references to Mr Davis’ wife, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and to Mr Mitchell after accusing the PLP leader of relying on the advice of “reprobates” and “perverts.”
“I won’t make any further comments on this matter in the press,” Mr Moultrie said. “I’m focused on the proceedings in Parliament. I don’t see how pursuing this matter will be beneficial to the country.”
Former Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson, however, told The Tribune he couldn’t remember “something like (those personal attacks) ever happening” in Parliament from a speaker.
“He has to maintain neutrality while carrying out his duties,” Mr Watson, a member of the FNM, said. “He can’t become personal. It was sad to see the situation sink to that level. I don’t think we need that in our politics.”
Mr Moultrie also declined to discuss his decision to suspend Mr Davis, Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes after they left the chamber despite his demand that they not do so.
He said: “I won’t comment on those matters further. I’m waiting to see how the opposition will behave as a consequence and hopefully both sides can come to an amicable resolution.”
Former FNM officials, however, said the Speaker’s suspension of the opposition was an impulsive decision for an institution with a traditional standard of suspending members only as a matter of last resort.
One former FNM official, speaking anonymously to The Tribune, said: “In an unprecedented move, he suspended all members of the Official Opposition on what appears to have been a whim. A first in our parliamentary democracy which dates back to 1729, which has progressed through the establishment of political parties beginning in the 1950s and further experienced four changes in governing parties since 1992.”
Meanwhile, Mr Watson said: “You can’t suspend a member for leaving the chambers. They have a right to leave when they want to. It’s unfortunate that he would suspend them for that. It’s a bad decision. Hopefully calmer heads will prevail.”
Mr Watson chalked the Speaker’s actions up to inexperience, though he questioned why senior officials did not intervene.
“It’s a little bit of getting to know what you ought to do and a lack of experience showing,” Mr Watson said. “But perhaps senior people in there who know more than he does should’ve intervened.”
Former State Minister for Finance Zhivargo Laing also criticised the Speaker, calling his attacks “inappropriate.”
On his 96.9 FM talk show yesterday, he said: “That a Speaker of the House of Assembly feels in kind to say some of the things he said about a member’s wife and the innuendos about another person, it just hasn’t happened before.”
Mr Laing said not only was Mr Moultrie at fault, but also Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis. He said Dr Minnis should have intervened in the matter last week before Mrs Hanna Martin was suspended to resolve that controversy; he also criticised PLP members of Parliament, including both Mr Davis and Mrs Hanna Martin, for not doing the same.