The Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie. (File photo)
HOUSE Speaker Halson Moultrie said he is considering implementing a Prime Minister’s question and answer period in Parliament as he warned members of Parliament to be on notice that the practice of the governing party avoiding questions will not continue.
Last week, Mr Moultrie ruled that a House of Assembly policy that permitted the government to avoid the question time is unconstitutional.
House of Assembly Rule 39 (2) states that unless the House determines otherwise, the House shall proceed, on the second Wednesday in each month, with the agenda that allows for question time. Governing parties have traditionally proceeded with their own agenda, however, thus not making time for the question period.
Yesterday, Mr Moultrie noted that while next Wednesday is the second Wednesday in the month, the mid-year budget debate is expected to continue. But he stressed that the question period will be upheld.
“What just transpired is the deepening of democracy that this Parliament for a long time needed,” he said, after a governing member answered a question from the side opposite.
“Not only this session of Parliament, but previous sessions, where questions have gone unanswered for five years. Last week I made the announcement that that must come to an end. “And I am so happy that we have set a precedent here today where voluntarily the members have agreed to answer questions.
“This is the first Wednesday in the month and next Wednesday would be the second Wednesday but this debate (mid-year budget) is expected to continue into next Wednesday.
“So I want to put everyone on notice that the questions that are on the agenda, be prepared to answer them. As a matter of fact, the chair is also minded to introduce a Prime Minister’s question time so that the Prime Minister will be obligated to answer questions put to him by any member, not necessarily the opposition.”
In February, Free National Movement MPs voted against answering questions from members of the opposition in the House of Assembly, choosing instead to move forward with their own agenda. That sitting marked the first where Mr Moultrie presided as an independent speaker after resigning from the governing party.
Yesterday, Speaker Moultrie also admonished the Public Accounts Committee, which is made up of a majority of opposition members, to not shirk its responsibility.
“That does not exempt the opposition who has responsibility of the Public Accounts Committee. The Public Accounts Committee needs to answer to the Bahamian people why there has been no review or investigation of the close to 50 auditor general’s reports that have been tabled by this Speaker and referred to that committee?
“Moving forward I expect to hear from the Public Accounts Committee with respect to those documents that were tabled that raises questions of impropriety, malfeasance, corruption, plunder - they have all been tabled in this session. And I also expect the executive branch of the government to be responsible to the Bahamian people by answering questions put to the government.”
In response, Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper said the PAC is working vigorously since Speaker Moultrie overturned a previous ruling that had limited the group’s scope of investigation.
Mr Cooper said the PAC met on Tuesday and will be requesting certain information to continue its work.