By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
DEPUTY HOUSE Speaker Don Saunders has come out in support of House Speaker Halson Moultrie saying he needs to be more respected and the legislative branch of the government needs to be independent.
Mr Moultrie has expressed his displeasure several times in Parliament over the past few months regarding the fitness of his office and bathroom facilities. He said there was no running water in the bathroom, causing him to have to wash his hands in a bucket, and also complained of mould and a leaky roof. Police, he said, deemed the facility a security risk.
The situation became vexing when Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis made mention in Parliament last month that the Cabinet Office would be relocated because of a leaky roof. The Speaker took issue with this, asking why there was no plan made to facilitate him in the same manner. He threatened that if the situation was not corrected by October 31, he would turn in his keys for his office and not set foot in that facility again.
He made good of his promise this past weekend.
“I do sympathise with the Speaker,” said Mr Saunders, who is also the member of Parliament for Tall Pines. “It’s an issue that I am very well aware has been brought to the attention of the relevant authorities on several occasions even prior to when the Speaker made that initial announcement in the House about two weeks prior to the last time he brought it up.
“It is something that has been going on for at least two years. It’s a concern that we have had discussions about and we have approached the ministry about relocation of the office some time ago and have even provided a plan, however, nothing has really transpired. And, so I can sympathise with the Speaker in his response. Unfortunately, sometimes unless you publicise certain things it appears that you do not get the response that you deserve.”
Mr Moultrie spoke with The Tribune from his home on Sunday and said Minister of Works Desmond Bannister told him he would renovate an area in the Senate building to accommodate the Speaker’s office and bathroom facilities.
Yesterday, Mr Bannister told this newspaper that his ministry is “preparing a scope of works for the proposed renovations to the Senate building”. He added that the work will be priced and tendered as soon as officials are able to do so.
For his part, Mr Moultrie has said he is of the view that there is not sufficient focus being put on the development of the legislative branch of Parliament by the executive branch.
“Secondly, I agree with the Speaker with respect to his comments regarding how the House of Assembly as a legislative branch is treated,” Mr Saunders said. “I think more has to be done in terms of assuring that Parliament, as an institution is respected, Parliament as an institution is taking care of, in terms of its staffing, infrastructure and the ability of the institution to be able to help members of Parliament carry out their responsibilities.
“For example, we don’t have an adequate library, IT facilities and professional help as parliamentarians preparing for debates, like in other jurisdictions. We have staff who are sitting on top of each other, literally, and not being able to operate properly to carry out the very crucial responsibilities of the House.”
Mr Saunders said this is one of the reasons why he and the Speaker of the House have been advocating for the independence and autonomy of Parliament, which other jurisdictions are adhering to within the tradition of a strong democracy and in the tradition of the Bahamian Parliament’s Westminster system.
“It’s something that we as a party, through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, have agreed to in our various charters. Parliament needs to be independent,” Mr Saunders continued. “Parliament needs to have autonomy so that the Speaker and the clerk of the House, who should be the accounting officer of the House, would be able to carry out their responsibility more effectively. There is no reason in this day in The Bahamas, that the Cabinet Office should be managing the affairs of the House of Assembly.”
Mr Saunders thinks Parliament as an institution is being ignored. He said the Speaker is the head of the legislative branch and should be respected just as much as the chief justice who is the head of the judicial branch and the prime minister who is the head of the executive branch.
“The speaker and I, as I’ve said on many occasions, we have already drafted a Parliamentary Service Bill which has been sent out to the speaker’s legal team to review,” Mr Saunders continued. “We have already put it out there to our parliamentary colleagues – PLP, FNM and Independent members – for review. We have gone on several radio and TV shows to discuss our position with respect to the independence of Parliament and we continue to do so. The draft bill we are proposing should be tabled in the House and if it isn’t tabled by the government, we intend to have it tabled, even if it means that I would table it.
“I think what is quite interesting, despite the fact that we have been discussing this Parliamentary Service Bill for two years now the government has decided to table a bill that is going to bring about the autonomy and independence of the judiciary. So the speaker and I are arguing, why is it that we can’t bring these two bills as a compendium as we have done with other financial bills.”