House shutdown exposes differences over OBA tactics
The abrupt shutdown of Parliament due to a lack of MPs in attendance last week has exposed a clash of tactics within the One Bermuda Alliance.
Cole Simons, the party leader, said it would have been better if all three available OBA MPs were in the House of Assembly chamber last Friday in order to try and prevent an adjournment of the session.
Mr Simons, who was on a visit to the UK at the time, stopped short of criticising OBA members who were absent, stating they may have had a legitimate excuse not to be there.
However, Michael Dunkley, OBA shadow minister and a former Premier, said he did not return to the chamber in protest at the Government’s failure to provide sufficient numbers of MPs to get its agenda through.
Mr Dunkley said he and fellow OBA MP Craig Cannonier had caught the Government “asleep at the wheel” and woken them up.
In extraordinary scenes, Dennis Lister, House Speaker, urged MPs to “get their sneakers on” and run back to the chamber so that proceedings could continue as scheduled.
Jarion Richardson, the OBA deputy leader, informed Mr Lister that a quorum – the required number of at least 14 MPs – was not present when the House of Assembly returned to consider business, including a Government Bill on the minimum wage, last week.
The Speaker advised Neville Tyrrell, who was appointed as Government whip by David Burt last month, that he had five minutes to get the necessary number of MPs in the chamber to avoid a shut down of the session.
The situation saw the Progressive Labour Party accuse the OBA of creating a political “stunt” to stop Parliamentary business going ahead.
Mr Tyrrell stated that 11 PLP were in the chamber at the time, while one of the six OBA members was present, but he claimed two others – Mr Dunkley and Mr Cannonier – had left the House just before the call for a quorum.
Mr Simons, who said three OBA MPs had been in the Parliamentary building, told The Royal Gazette: “This political stunt accusation is nonsense.
“It’s all about – are you there to serve the country? People put you in Parliament to get the job done and to take the job seriously.
“They have 30 MPs … the Premier could not get his team together so that they are all there on time when the Parliament reconvened after lunch.”
Asked if all of the OBA MPs present in the Parliamentary building should have gone to the chamber when the Speaker made his appeal, the OBA leader said: “Yes. But, I can’t say they were remiss because I don’t know why they were out.
“They may have had a legitimate reason. I would have preferred them to be there, but, to say that it’s the OBA that is being irresponsible is farcical. It is a deflection of the PLP’s own inadequacies.
“We have a new government whip and it’s his job to roundup the troops, to make sure that there is a quorum, and to make sure that his MPs are in the House of Assembly to get on with the people’s business.”
Mr Simons accused the PLP of a “dereliction of duty” when the minimum wage issue was set to be discussed.
He said: “That’s an important piece of legislation. That’s probably the impactful piece of legislation that was due that day and yet they chose to not be back in the House in time for that.
“Those MPs have responsibility to the people to be in the House of Assembly and if they are not there it is a dereliction of their duties individually as members of Parliament, and they need to take ownership of their deficiencies and attitude towards Parliament and the respect for the position that they hold.”
Mr Dunkley insisted that he and Mr Cannonier were right to stay out of the chamber after the quorum was called.
He told The Royal Gazette: “The Government was asleep at the wheel and we woke them up.
“It is not up to us to give the Government the numbers they need to govern.
“I rushed to the chamber to get back in time for the afternoon session, but when I got there there was only three or four Government MPs – the minister who was due to present the Bill was not even there, that’s when we decided to call a quorum.
“It is the job of the Government to provide adequate numbers to do its business.”