Five members of the House of Assembly accused Speaker of the House of Assembly Hon. Julian Willock of trying to hinder them from contributing to the 2020 budget that was passed in the House of Assembly on 13 December. The scathing allegation of a matter that escalated to the point where assistance was sought was outlined to members of the media at a press conference on 16 December.
During the sit-down with the media all five members stated that they dub the occurrence as an unfortunate situation where they claimed that they wished to clear the air because there was misinformation being circulated that as members of the Opposition they had abdicated their duties as representatives.
As such all of the five members said that they were sitting with the press because they wanted the public to know that on Friday they were placed in a precarious situation where they each had to passionately plead for their right to represent their constituents in the budget debate.
According to Leader of the Opposition Hon. Marlon Penn, a major medical matter arose and he needed to be at the hospital, and so he communicated to the Speaker Hon. Willock that he was going to be unable to be at the House before 11:00 am. Hon. Penn said that the Speaker promised to convey his message to the other members of the House and acknowledged his apology.
However, Hon. Penn said that he got to the House at 11:00 am and understood that the sitting commenced ten minutes earlier. He said that later discussion revealed that his apology was not conveyed to the members. Further he said that he was informed that the budget debate was closed.
In recounting the matter Hon. Penn told the media, “This was unheard of where the Opposition was not given a chance to have their voice heard in the process. There was some discussion in the background between the Premier and his government and the Premier subsequently came forward and asked me to have a discussion where we decided that we will move forward with the debate and that’s where you see we started back the process of the debate .”
Further Hon. Penn indirectly referenced comments that were made in the House of Assembly that only one member of the Opposition continuously participated in Standing Finance Committee. In relations to that statement Hon. Penn said that he wanted to make it known that the Opposition did not abdicate its duties to debate the budget and that the members of the Opposition did support the government during the Standing Finance Committee in deliberating the budget.
“We want to make it clear, there is this perception that somehow the Opposition wasn’t playing their role it was the Opposition who ensured that the Standing Finance process continued. We are the ones who ensured that there was a quorum at every meeting so that the process could continue when the Government has a eight to five majority. We are the ones that ensured the Committee stage continued.”
Zooming back on the situation that occurred at the House of Assembly on Friday Hon. Penn emphasized that the Speaker was adamant about his position on the matter closing the debate and that the Premier intervened after listening to the plea that was made by the members of the Opposition.
“We are disappointed… We had to fight to ensure that the people’s voice were heard,” Hon. Penn said. However, the Leader of the Opposition noted that the situation might have been avoided if the Premier was aware of his earlier apology. Hon. Penn said that he believes that the Premier was not informed about his call to notify that he was going to be late, because he said that the Premier is not “irrational.”
Senior Member of the House of Assembly Hon. Julian Fraser explained that the Speaker did everything correct procedurally. However, he explained that the Speaker made a “rookie” decision. Hon. Fraser pointed out that by “rookie” he meant that there were some options that he has seen in the past, such as the delaying of a sitting that could have been used. Hon. Fraser declared, “It was wrong what they were trying to do.”
In recapping what happened Hon. Fraser said, “I got there at 11:00 and while I’m at the door to get into the building I was being told by the Leader of the Opposition that the debate was closed and I am trying to figure out what are you talking about. He said the debate is closed and I go inside and I really notice that it was closed and people were gathering for the Committee stage. Well I did what I had to do because I wasn’t going to be denied.”
“A 414M budget you can’t just pass that as if it was something that you did in the cover of night; maybe the government doesn’t understand this but there is a certain responsibility,” the Third District Representative declared.
Meanwhile, Fourth District Representative Hon. Mark Vanterpool explained that the matter was sorted out in a “mature” manner when the Premier came into the picture. However, he said that he was puzzled by the fact that prior to the Opposition’s plea to speak members of the government did not debate.
The Fourth District Representative said that he is pondering whether there was “something sinister” because he couldn’t understand. “It is not just opposition should debate the budget, the Ministers of government should elucidate what the budget is about as it relates to their ministries, and backbenchers need to be involved also. To open a budget debate on Friday and close it immediately without the ministers elucidating what the budget speaks to for the ministries really suggests that there is something sinister because the public would not have heard if we didn’t take the stance we took. The public would not have heard from Ministers as to what the budget is about,” Hon. Vanterpool said.
On the other hand, Second District Representative, Hon. Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull said that he is perplexed that everyone received the Standing Finance Committee report late yet the matter was dealt with: “I believe it is absolutely important to note that we have been there through the entire Standing Finance Committee sittings as the opposition as well as through this process… We received the report close to 7:00 on Thursday night for a budget debate that was supposed to be on Thursday. I think that’s an important point to make. We all sat and we all agreed that we would meet on Friday to debate this budget… I stayed up almost til 5:00 in the morning making notes and preparing for this budget debate, so the fact that we didn’t start on time is an error of all of us collectively.”
On the other hand, Sixth District Representative, Hon. Alvera Maduro-Caines said that she was stunned when the Speaker announced that the budget was going to be wrapped up and found the situation weird that members of the government were not debating. “I remember the Speaker saying that he would give three more minutes, that’s what I recall hearing and if no one says anything he is going to wrap up the budget … but as he said three more minutes he said okay I’ll ask the Premier to wrap up and it wasn’t three minutes unless I heard wrong. I am saying to myself the other ministers are over there it is their budget, it is ours too, but it is mainly their budget. They could have gotten up and said something but no one stood up and I thought it to be real weird.”