By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel has taken issue with statements House Speaker Halson Moultrie made on Monday about a scheduling conflict in the Senate last week, insisting he did not mislead anyone on the matter or throw the parliamentary clerk “under the bus”.
While in the Senate yesterday, Mr Bethel said he felt the Speaker was accusing him of blaming the House clerk for the miscommunication.
Mr Bethel said: “This may be more on a point of personal privilege. I see that the Speaker has accused me of misleading the country. There is nothing that I would say publicly on a matter of controversy that I could not stand in this Senate and say without fear of anyone saying that I was misleading the Senate.
“What I said was the truth as I saw it based on my records. Some have WhatsApps. I have WhatsApps. Cabinet met on the 9th (of March) and we discussed procedures. Consequent to that discussion, I walked out of that Cabinet room and sent a message requesting the Senate to be called for Friday.
“There is no misleading of anybody. The statement I made was a statement merely to outline the sequence of events. No blame was ascribed to anybody. Nobody was accused of anything, just pointing to a sequence of events. And, for those who think that I would throw the chief clerk under the bus, nothing could be further from the truth.
“The chief clerk issues the notices. That was all that was stated. The chief clerk has shown himself in over 40 years of service to this Parliament, to be extremely knowledgeable, efficient, helpful and a source of guidance and support for whomsoever is in office at any particular time. He is a man who steers straight down the middle and has done a commendable job.”
Last Friday, due to a lack of quorum, the Senate adjourned to a date to be fixed.
PLP Senator Fred Mitchell immediately sent a statement to the press blaming the government for the no show of Cabinet ministers needed for the meeting to go ahead. Later that day, Mr Bethel also sent out a statement explaining what happened. He said the Senate was previously set to meet on Monday, March 15, but he learned at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, March 9, that the House of Assembly was set to also meet that day, prompting him to call for a scheduling change.
Mr Bethel’s statement said as a result of that discussion in Cabinet, he sent a note that same day requesting that the Senate meeting be brought forward to last Friday’s date, only for the purpose of tabling the resolution to approve the mid-term budget statement.
“I also spoke with the minister of state for finance on Tuesday (March 9), and indicated that I was already committed to attend two negotiation sessions in respect of two major development proposals on Friday morning. I asked him to stand in for me and to table the resolution,” the statement said.
“Unfortunately, despite my request since Tuesday past, the clerk did not issue a notice to change the date of the meeting until 6.44pm last evening (Thursday). It is important to note that during our conversation of Tuesday and until the email was sent on Thursday evening, the minister of state for finance had only received the original email setting the Senate date for tabling on the following Monday.
“Apparently, the minister of state, who had already travelled to Freeport that day, did not check his emails and thus was not informed of the confirmation of the change of date from next Monday to today’s date,” his statement on Friday noted. “This very innocent late communication, and innocent oversight, explains the absence of a Cabinet minister in the Senate this morning.”
On Monday, Speaker Moultrie took issue with Mr Bethel’s description of the events. He said he spoke with the Parliament clerk about the issue.
“The information provided by the clerk clearly indicates that the statement released to the press was a misrepresentation of what actually transpired,” Mr Moultrie said on Monday. “In fact, the information that I received from the clerk indicates that as opposed to the statement, which said that the clerk was advised from Tuesday to convene the Senate on Friday, the information is clear that the clerk received such information at 6.18pm on Thursday to convene the Senate on Friday.
“The clerk took immediate action to try and convene the Senate as per the request of the president of the Senate, which came, as I said, late Thursday evening.”
Yesterday in the Senate, Senator Mitchell said the government owes the country an apology for the no show of government senators. He would not accept the explanation from Mr Bethel.
He said, “I think, notwithstanding the explanation that was given, the fact is that we were summoned here at 10am on Friday last and no member of government appeared. There are three ministers in the Senate. The business of who said what and who didn’t say what is not the affairs of the country. The country expects that when the government summons us to do business in this place, a government minister is supposed to be here.
“I thought that at the very least, and I heard the explanation, there ought to be some kind of apology to the country for what happened. It’s the most extraordinary thing. And then, the question of not assigning blame. When I read the press statement, and certainly the public has drawn the conclusion, it was clearly throwing the clerk under the bus. Even if that was not the intention, that was the way it came off.”
Senator Mitchell said as he understands it, ministers are responsible for their personal acts and those of their departments.
He continued, “So the question of whether the clerk sent the notice out or did not send the notice out should not have arisen. It should be a simple bare statement, we regret or apologise for what happened and move on. All of us (in the opposition) were here with the exception of Senator Clay Sweeting. Ministers are to be on the job. They set the meeting. They said 10 o’clock on Friday, not us.”