House ends in farce after MPs fail to turn up despite ‘put your sneakers on’ plea from Speaker
A meeting of the House of Assembly ended in farce on Friday as not enough MPs returned to the chamber after lunch for the legislative session to continue.
Dennis Lister, the Speaker, made repeated appeals for MPs to resume their seats so that the basic number of members needed to be present – 14 out of 36 – would be there to allow business to go ahead as scheduled.
At one point Mr Lister used the live broadcast of proceedings to urge MPs to “put their sneakers on and run” back to the chamber.
After the session resumed at 2pm following the lunch break, Mr Lister was asked by Jarion Richardson, One Bermuda Alliance deputy leader, if the required number of MPs needed to proceed with the session – known as a quorum – had been reached.
Mr Lister confirmed it had not and stated that under parliamentary rules, the necessary quorum must be achieved within five minutes or the session would have to be adjourned.
Mr Lister said: “Members who are in the listening audience, in the listening ear, if you are not present, I suggest you put on your sneakers and run to this direction.”
The Speaker told Government whip Neville Tyrrell: “You have got five minutes to get your members in here.”
The incident meant that two Bills – one impacting on the minimum wage, and another dealing with overstays by visitors – the Employment (Minimum Hourly Wage Entitlement) Act 2022 and the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Amendment Act 2022, had to be put on hold until next week.
Mr Richardson expressed dismay at the situation. He said: “It smacks of arrogance and hubris. There were a lot of empty chairs.
“A quorum isn’t useless protocol – it’s how we make sure that there is enough general population Bermudian voices participating in every debate.
“I would imagine it is quite embarrassing for David Burt. The Government couldn’t sustain a quorum to pass legislation?
“Then how are you supposed to solve the problems facing Bermuda? They were supposed to field a team and they couldn’t do that.”
However, the PLP branded the incident an OBA “stunt”.
Last night Mr Tyrrell said: “Earlier today in the House of Assembly, shortly after the lunch break, the Opposition whip called for a quorum in the House of Assembly.
“At the time of the call there were 11 PLP MPs in the House and only 1 OBA MP, as the other 2 OBA MPs who were present after Lunch left right before the OBA whip called for a quorum and didn't return when the Speaker called for a quorum.
“As is normal, a number of ministers had engagements during the lunch period such as the Premier who was still meeting with residents of St. David's at the time the OBA whip called for a quorum.
“It is unfortunate the OBA's planned PR stunt led to a delay in passing important legislation related to the minimum wage today, but we will return next week to complete the business of the Government.
“As the newly elected Government whip, I take this matter seriously and will be speaking with all members of my parliamentary caucus to ensure that despite the political games that may be played by the Opposition, we will always have the required numbers present to advance the Government's legislative agenda. “
MPs, who usually have other jobs as well, are paid a basic salary of $55,000 to represent their constituents in Parliament, with junior ministers and Cabinet ministers receiving higher amounts on a sliding scale of seniority.
One senior PLP source told The Royal Gazette: “The Government needed just 14 MPs to be there.
“There are 12 members of Cabinet and the whip – that’s 13 just by themselves – where were the other ministers? Why weren’t they there?”
The ruling PLP has 30 members of the House of Assembly, compared with six for One Bermuda Alliance.
The House of Assembly is set to reconvene next Friday.