The Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie. (File photo)
By Khrisna Russell
Deputy Chief Reporter
HOUSE Speaker Halson Moultrie has ruled that visitors will be prohibited from carrying cell phones into the gallery after videos of a disturbance in Parliament last week went viral on social media.
The recordings, Speaker Moultrie said, posed a very serious threat to the security of the House of Assembly.
His announcement is more of a reinforcement of an existing and practised rule, which now requires visitors to leave cell phones at the door with Royal Bahamas Police Force guards.
It does not apply to members of Parliament, technocrats and the media.
However, he said the media will have to seek permission from the House through Chief Clerk David Forbes to capture cell phone video.
Last week scores of people in the House gallery took video and photographs of Fontella Chipman-Rolle’s surprising outburst, which disrupted the Minnis administration’s budget communication. This caused the proceedings to be suspended briefly.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest had just begun to table an amendment to value added tax regulations when Mrs Chipman-Rolle, sister of Centreville MP Reece Chipman, stood in the gallery and threw several white wrist bands onto the floor of the House of Assembly.
Speaker Moultrie said the matter is being actively looked at by police who want to speak to two members of Parliament before wrapping up the investigation.
Speaker Moultrie said: “The chairman and presiding officer of the Parliament having given a statement to the Royal Bahamas Police Force on yesterday (Tuesday) and the clerk of this Parliament (David Forbes) having given a statement to the police on yesterday (Tuesday) and the police indicating that they intend to take two further statements - a statement from the member for Golden Gates (Michael Foulkes) where one of the missiles that were thrown landed on the desk and a statement from the member for MICAL (Miriam Emmanuel) where one of the objects also landed on the desk that were tossed by the stranger from the gallery.
“With respect to reports and the broadcast of the events from this Parliament, the rules are clear whenever a disturbance occurs within the precincts of this Parliament. The camera, particularly those of the Parliamentary Channel are to be directed on the chair and not to roam the gallery and broadcast the events nor should there have been any cell phone recordings of the events that took place and was distributed on social media.
“The reports that I received based on that breach of the rules and the broadcast on social media has resulted in my estimation to a very serious threat on the security of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and on its senators and members.”
He continued: “As a consequence of that, the ruling of this chair with respect to cell phones are as follows: no stranger will be permitted to bring a cell phone into the chamber of the this Parliament without first receiving permission of the Speaker via the clerk of this Parliament.
“Technocrats of the government will be permitted to bring the cell phones into the chamber of this Parliament, the media will be permitted to bring cell phones into the chamber of Parliament and of course members are permitted to bring their computers and cell phones into the Parliament.
“But under no circumstance should any recording of the proceedings of the Parliament by cell phone be broadcast without first receiving clearance of the presiding officer of the Parliament.”
He prefaced his ruling by reading into the record provisions of the Powers and Privileges (Senate and House of Assembly) Act, which outlines a range of actions by visitors that are punishable by summary conviction of a fine not exceeding $600 or a prison term of no more than six months or both.