HEALTH Minister Renward Wells. Photo: Donavan McIntosh/Tribune staff
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
HEALTH Minister Renward Wells yesterday suggested House Speaker Halson Moultrie does not have the sole authority to implement a Prime Minister’s question and answer period in Parliament, telling reporters “the rules of the House are set by its members”.
This comes after Speaker Moultrie on Wednesday said he was considering the matter and also warned members of Parliament to be on notice that the practice of the governing party avoiding questions will not continue.
Asked if the government will support such a move if it becomes implemented, Mr Wells, who is the leader of government business in the House of Assembly, did not directly answer. He said parliamentarians make the laws on proceedings in the House of Assembly.
“The constitution is very clear as to who sets the rules for the House of Assembly,” he said. “It says the House of Assembly - meaning the members - there is a rules committee which I am chair (of) and my simple comment is the rules of the House are set by members.
“There is no such provision made. The only time in the rules of the House and you ought to go back to the constitution — first of all, the constitution, I think as Article 52 speaks about the establishment of the Parliament and it says Parliament should make no laws other than the peace order and good governance of The Bahamas.
“Then the constitution gives to the Parliament the right to set whatever rules it wants for this place — the Parliament — meaning its members.”
Mr Wells also went on to reference the House of Assembly Rule 39 (2) which 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 Wells said even though the rule has never been “acted upon” by any government, the Minnis administration still answers questions during parliamentary proceedings — especially during debates — and added he wanted to end the perception that it doesn’t.
He said: “There is a rule in the rules of Parliament that speaks to the second Wednesday of the month. There’s a 30 minute question time or something like that which has been in the rules but it’s never been acted upon by any previous administration in The Bahamas.
“What members have done in the past is that questions are put to the leadership to the executive Cabinet ministers during courses of debates, stuff has been brought up and you would’ve seen where that happens where questions are put to various things that are taking place in their ministry, in the social sphere, whatever is going on in our communities and ministers then get up if they have the requisite answers, they answer and and then if they don’t then they tell the members, ‘listen I will get back to you on that matter.’”
He continued: “So, whereas the Wednesday (rule) has not been officially recognised and followed, ministers answer questions every debate, every debate. You would’ve seen the Prime Minister answer questions during this debate.”
“You would’ve seen that I would’ve gotten up and objected to some things and answer questions in this debate so I don’t want the perception to go out there that somehow this administration is not answering questions.
“We answer the questions that would’ve been put forth in the House.”
As it relates to having a specific question period for the Prime Minister alone, Mr Wells said the matter is something the government would have to take under consideration.
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.