THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE: Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle, in his capacity as Provost Marshall, read a proclamation from Governor General CA Smith this morning dissolving Parliament. The next session of Parliament will be on October 6.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
ACTING on the advice of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, Governor General Sir C A Smith may dissolve Parliament as early as today in preparation for an early election, sources said yesterday.
This comes after Police Commissioner Paul Rolle announced at the House of Assembly yesterday that the Governor General has prorogued Parliament until September 22, 2021.
The Tribune understands that before Parliament reconvenes on September 22, a general election is planned. An announcement of Parliament’s dissolution could come today, the anniversary of the Free National Movement’s first general election victory in 1992. While only Dr Minnis knows for certain when Parliament will be dissolved and when an election will be held, insiders nonetheless anticipate an election date of around September 16.
Speculation about an early election has been rampant this term. Some FNMs expected Dr Minnis to announce the election last month but believe a surge in COVID-19 cases disrupted his plans.
Multiple FNM rallies that were planned for dates in July and August were put on hold. One source yesterday said the party is ready to go: its posters, T-shirts, masks and other paraphernalia are in the country.
The FNM’s internal polls are a factor driving Dr Minnis’ move to possibly call an early election.
Given the COVID-19 situation, traditional rallies are unlikely; it is unclear how rallies will take place, though an option for drive-in events is on the table.
Many braced for an announcement that Parliament would be dissolved yesterday after police informed the media at 8.37am that Commissioner Rolle, acting in his role as Provost Marshal, would read a proclamation from the Governor General.
Standing in front of the House of Assembly around 9.30am, Commissioner Rolle announced that Parliament would simply be prorogued. This signified the end of the parliamentary session. When Parliament is dissolved, meanwhile, a general election must be held within 90 days, according to the Constitution.
Commissioner Rolle returned to Parliament at 2pm to read another proclamation announcing the date when Parliament is scheduled to reconvene.
The two separate announcements confused many observers. Sources in the government and the FNM claimed the commissioner had failed to read all of the Governor General’s proclamations the first time around and had to return to Parliament to complete the exercise.
However, Commissioner Rolle told this newspaper yesterday: “One is the prorogation and the second is the date of return. There is no mix up. They are different and it really doesn’t matter when they are read as long (as they are read) before the date.”
The prorogation of Parliament came as House Speaker Halson Moultrie held his first “open Parliament” session in Parliament Square. Speaker Moultrie has said his events, which are scheduled for every Wednesday, are a chance for Bahamians to learn about the legislative branch of government and to deepen democracy in the country.
His event yesterday mostly attracted supporters of third parties. There was minimal social distancing and the rowdiness of the crowd created a dynamic scene as Commissioner Rolle read proclamations and police officers swarmed the area.
After the commissioner left Parliament the first time, several senior officers visited Speaker Moultrie inside the House of Assembly.
Speaker Moultrie later denied rumours that they wanted him gone from the premises and were prepared to forcibly remove him from the House.
“There was no indication from the police of an intent to move the Speaker from Parliament,” he told reporters. “There was some indication from the police that they were advised that because the House was prorogued the Speaker no longer has jurisdiction over Parliament Square. I told the police that is nowhere in law, nowhere in the rules and nowhere in the Constitution. The police returned and they were unable to convince me or themselves that such a position exists. The Speaker is the principal political officer of the legislative branch of government and the Speaker’s power continues until the Parliament dissolves.”
In a statement yesterday, PLP Leader Philip “Brave” Davis accused Dr Minnis of “playing games while the country burns” and avoiding tough questions.
“So if you want to know why this government suspended this Parliament, the answer is simple: because they don’t have a choice,” Mr Davis said.
“As the head of the Public Accounts Committee, I have asked the government to provide to the public the details of that hidden pandemic spending. They have been using Emergency Orders to hide these secrets. The food assistance contract – how much went to food for the people, and how much went to wealthy FNM donors?
“This government cannot afford to have an independent Speaker of the House who is willing to require that they comply with the law and answer questions like that one. That is why they do not want Parliament back in session.
“But the country cannot afford any more chaos and dysfunction and uncertainty. The government is playing games while the country burns. Stop playing games, man. Things are falling apart. People are hurting.
“Ring the bell – it’s the first step to better days,” Mr Davis said.